American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mount McKinley, Snowboard Descents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

Mount McKinley, Snowboard Descents. In June, I was on Denali to climb and snowboard. Joining me were Wade McKoy, a photojournalist, and Rob Haggard, who was shooting video. We set out for the summit on a windy June 18 in the midst of unstable weather. After about an hour, Rob turned around with a respiratory problem. Wade and I continued at our separate paces unroped. At Denali Pass the wind was so strong I nearly got blown down, and I told myself I would turn around if I were blown to the ground. Fortunately I was not, and continued. After about five hours I reached the summit via the West Buttress at about 6 p.m. in fine weather and not much wind. I waited for a while, thinking Wade had turned around at Denali Pass, but to my delight I spotted him on the football field as I was scoping the best line of descent. I waited for him; he arrived after another hour. We descended from the top soon after his arrival. Wade carried skies, but decided to walk down the exposed summit ridge. I put my snowboard on at the top of North America. This was the third part of my “Seven Summits Snowboarding Quest,” a seven-part dream to climb and snowboard the seven summits of the world. (I had already completed Aconcagua and Mount Elbrus.) It was a treat to finally stop fighting gravity and descend in minutes what had taken hours to ascend. Wade skied and shot pictures. We got back to Camp 2 as the sun set. We descended to the 14,000-foot camp the next day, Wade and Rob by the West Buttress route and me on my snowboard down the Rescue Gully again, having done it after an acclimatization climb a few days earlier. On June 21, after a rest day, I climbed the Messner Couloir alone in about six and a half hours and descended it* in less than 15 minutes—seven feet a second! The conditions were windpack that I broke into occasionally on the ascent, but not at all on the descent. It was one of the best descents of my life.

Stephen Koch

*This was the first documented snowboard descent of the route.

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