As of Thursday evening, there are 1,120 people registered to climb Denali, and 599 are currently on the mountain. To date, 242 climbers have finished their expeditions, and forty-six have summited, making the current summit rate a very low nineteen percent. On Mt. Foraker, ten climbers are registered, and eight are currently on the mountain. The two climbers who have completed their trek succeeded in reaching the summit.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Team Butte America, a team of four climbers venturing into the Alaska Range for the first time. This week, Team Butte returned safely from their climb, but were not able to reach the summit of Denali. They were caught in a long period of poor weather, which is often what stops teams from summiting. Dave and Tom Johnson say that they did make an attempt when it looked like the weather might improve on Monday.
“The forecast was clearing, so we were hoping, even though we were going into the clouds, that it would eventually get better. But, as we got toward the top, it got worse. At the top of the headwall was, easy, forty-five mile-an-hour winds with low visibility…so we came back down.”
Before Team Butte left, Tom Johnson said that he would be disappointed if the expedition was turned back by weather, but that it would have been much more disappointing if a lack of physical conditioning stopped him from summiting. He says he felt good on the mountain, and that the team made the right decision in playing it safe.
“It was a really unique experience, and I feel good because I felt strong. I felt strong going up the headwall, I felt strong climbing, I was acclimating very well, but its just–you can come back with grand stories of summiting with some missing fingers and toes, or you can come back smart and hit it up again.”
Right after they spoke with me on Wednesday, Tom and Dave Johnson got in their truck for a long drive back to Montana. The other two team members, Andrew Higgins and Dr. Derek Boyden, had returned safely from the mountain the day prior to get back to jobs in the Seattle area. Dave Johnson, who is sixty, says he probably won’t make another attempt, but Tom, Dave’s son, has not ruled out making another try at standing on top of North America.