On May 8, after having climbed McKinley by its West Buttress, the five members in our party—Kurt Bittlingmaier, Peter Hennig, Bernhard Segger, Lowell Smith and myself—returned to Base Camp on the east fork of Kahiltna Glacier. The next day, the seemingly indefatigable Lowell and Kurt set out for an exploration of the southwest face of unclimbed, 12,835-foot West Kahiltna Peak. Since the difficulties of the anticipated route appeared only moderate, we decided to climb the mountain in one day from Base Camp. On May 12 the weather was finally good enough for an attempt. Most of the morning we spent threading our way through the séracs of a wildly cascading icefall. Around noon we reached a broad plateau at 10,000 feet, directly under the south face of West Kahiltna Peak. A steep ice face, interspersed with some rock, separated us from the upper, easier slopes of the mountain. Bernhard, leading all the time, cut with boundless energy innumerable steps into the hardest ice we had ever seen. Progress was agonizingly slow. At eight p.m. the first rope with Bernhard, Lowell and Peter reached the gale-swept summit. Kurt and I had turned back half an hour earlier to avoid a bivouac. We might as well have continued with the others. Coming to the steep part on the way down, we were forced to wait for our friends, who had all the long rappel pickets. By the time we had rappelled 400 feet, it was midnight and almost completely dark. Since we were still high up on the ice face, we decided to wait for the daylight, sitting on a small ledge cut into the steep slope. Next morning we reached Base Camp at eight o’clock. The rest of the day we spent carrying and dragging our 700 pounds of equipment to a point outside the park boundary, where Don Sheldon was authorized to pick us up with his light airplane.
J. Richard Hechtel