Mt. Foraker, first winter solo. On day 39 of my expedition, I stood atop Mt. Foraker. It was March 10, 2007, at 5:03 p.m. The temperature was -50°F, with 20-30 knot winds, making a wind chill of almost -100°F. I only stayed for 10 minutes, but this was the culmination of four years of attempts to solo Foraker in winter.
My journey began in the summer of 1995, when I climbed Denali and dreamed of climbing solo in the winter. My dream became a quest to climb each of the three highest summits in the Alaska Range (Denali, Foraker, Hunter) in winter. After 10 winters of climbing, I had stood atop Denali in winter, and Mt. Foraker twice just a few days after the spring equinox.
On January 31 I flew into the Kahiltna Glacier with Paul of Talkeetna Air Taxi and unloaded 300 pounds of gear. The next day I started ferrying my gear to the beginning of the Southeast Ridge (6,700'), and then to Camp 1 at approximately 8,100'. On day 4, my 14' aluminum safety poles were put to the test when I stepped in a hidden crevasse and the poles and skis stopped me from a serious fall.
Above Camp 1, the climbing became more technical and on several occasions I had to fix my two 200' ropes. It took me eight days to make five trips to Camp 2 (9,780') and build a snow cave, where I was established by day 19. From Camp 2 the views of McKinley, Hunter, and the rest of the Alaska Range were fantastic. The winds began to pick up. I was stuck in my snow cave for five days, until I could start moving to Camp 3 at 11,300'. It took me four trips in a six-day period to ferry my gear to a point just below Camp 3. In the first week of March, I continued making carries toward Camp 4 (High Camp, 13,400'); this took me six days. It was good to finally be at High Camp with my supplies. High winds keep me at camp for the next three days (days 36-38) as lenticular clouds formed over Mts. McKinley, Foraker, and Hunter. I sat, watching and waiting. On March 10 lenticulars still formed on McKinley and Hunter but not Foraker. I will try!
I first encountered a steep, knife-edge ridge with an overhanging cornice. I had to stay back from the cornice, but high enough not to cause an avalanche. Next, I came to a tricky, time-consuming crevassed area. The rest of the way to the summit was hard ice and snow, and I had to watch my step so I would not slip.
At last, after 9 hours 15 minutes of climbing, I reached the 17,400' summit. I only stayed 10 minutes in the -100°F wind chill. It was late, and my glasses were fogging. With this and the flat light, it seemed too dangerous to try to cross the crevassed area and the knife-edge ridge. After descending for three hours, I made an emergency snow cave at 14,500'. It took me 3½ hours to dig the cave. I spent a cold night without a sleeping bag at -20°F.
I woke to a calmer day and descended to High Camp, but by afternoon the winds had picked back up, so I spent another three days there. It took me another nine days to descend to my old base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier, which I reached on day 52, March 23.
The wind had made the landing area extremely rough, so I had to ferry my gear three miles to a protected area on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna (standard base camp for McKinley climbers). On March 28 Paul arrived and flew me back to Talkeetna. After a long, hot shower, I ate two double cheeseburgers, two house salads and two orders of french fries. I topped this off with two desserts at Latitude 62. [Editor’s note: Kuriaki normally weighs 130 pounds.]
Masatoshi Kuriaki, Japan