National Geographic : 1953 Aug
246 Past 20,000 Feet and Still Going Up: Climbers Ascend South Peak's Crest The actual summit of North America's highest peak is about 50 to 60 feet of hard-packed snow. Here Bill Hackett (ahead) and Jim Gale. of the 1951 expedition, toil up the final slope, completing the first ascent from the west. An 8-foot bamboo pole (upper right), placed by the author's 1947 party, marks their goal. It was still riding out the gales last year when Hackett again made the climb. As we topped the final crag of the ridge, a level snow field stretched ahead to the foot of 1)enali Pass. The weather was worsening. The warm west wind could bring us nothing but trouble, and we dared not linger long in this desolate and exposed spot. We cached our loads and weighted them down with rocks, then hurried back down the ridge, collecting rock speci mens set aside on the way up. Next morning, we climbed back up with 55-pound loads. The clouds grew so dense that when we reached our 17,200-foot cache it was impossible to see 100 feet ahead. We had to push on to find firm snow for building our last igloo. After 15 minutes of aimless groping we found ourselves back near our cache. We had walked in a circle. Lining up our direction with the rocks, I poked one of the birch trail markers into the snow 50 feet out from the edge of the ledges, then proceeded to the end of the rope. Jim beckoned me a bit to the right until I was in line with the first wand. Then I stuck in another. An hour later, surveying ourselves forward across the plateau through the dense fog. we saw sharp chunks of rock protruding from the icy snow at the foot of McKinley's final cone. This was the spot we had chosen for our last camp site, at 17,300 feet. Suddenly a patch of blue appeared over head, our shadows became visible on the snow, and the clouds cleared away like magic. Hours later, as the sun slipped behind the great cliffs of the North Peak, a sea of golden clouds filled all the valleys below us. Only Denali and Denali's Wife rose above them like two enormous islands (page 244).