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North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley, Denali Diamond, Second Ascent

Mt. McKinley, Denali Diamond, second ascent. Kenton Cool and I arrived in the Alaska Range at the beginning of May, hoping to steal a march on other potential suitors to a new line on Foraker. After failing to climb the standard West Butt route for acclimatization, with Kenton turned back by dizzy spells around 20,000' and myself not even able to get out of the tent at 17,000', we returned for a peep at Foraker. After a day and night spent staring at the face, I’d about convinced myself that my optimistic guess at “only” three or four hours beneath the myriad death seracs overhanging the lower third of the route was an acceptable risk for the prize. Luckily, Kenton was still thinking straight and vetoed the plan, an example of our partnership kicking in to make sensible decisions.

As a fine consolation we managed the second ascent of the Denali Diamond in five days. It surprised us that this route, first climbed in 1983, hadn’t seen a repeat, but perhaps the epic 17 days spent on the first ascent and talk of a 25' A3 roof had put people off. Unbeknown to us, as soon as we left base camp the forecast changed—typical. Having opted for a lightweight approach with one-season bags and a one-person tent to share, and plans to snooze in the afternoon sun, we were shocked to encounter snow for the final four days and no sun at all. Other events of interest were the tent poles breaking beyond repair, a dropped axe just before the crux pitches, and a malfunctioning stove. Our solace was that at least we opted out of our original single-push plan.

The climbing itself was superb, with sustained mixed climbing, several pitches of vertical ice, and a trio of crux pitches that gave me my best day’s climbing yet in the mountains. The first of these proved the hardest—a cracked wall with overhanging sections that bypassed the aid roof. I was able to dry tool this with one rest point and a tension point. All free, it would rate Grade VIII, 8 in Scotland. The personal crux for me, however, occurred the following day when I had one of my worst days in the mountains. Plodding on the upper reaches of the Cassin Ridge, I eventually burst into tears on 40° snow after almost passing out twice. Again the partnership kicked in, and Kenton pulled me through with words of support and a momentous session of single-handed trailbreaking.

We topped the Cassin, ticked the summit, and descended a combination of the Orient Express and West Rib, all in zero visibility. We were surprised to find our arrival at the 14k camp, at 11:30 p.m., met by a welcoming party of climbers and rangers (supposedly the alert was out for us due to the conditions). The support and hospitality offered by our fellow climbers was a heart-warming highlight of the trip.

Ian Parnell, United Kingdom