Today, Sunday, April, 6, 2014 the Rōbert Report will share Part IV of The Next Pitch by Peter Lev & each subsequent Sunday morning, serialized just like the old pulp fiction novels of the 50’s or getting the NYT on your weekend doorstep, until the story is told. Or you can read it all at once by simply going to the hyperlink at the bottom of each week’s posting. I look forward to sharing Lev’s mountain adventures with you and believe you’ll enjoy the ride, this very cool trip with a real mountain person.
THE NEXT PITCH
by Peter Lev
MOUNT McKINLEY – DENALI
Denali, and the East Buttress (center right) from the Ruth Gorge.
In 1963, Barry Corbett and Jake Breitenbach, two of the Exum senior guides, were going to Everest on the big national expedition. We wanted to go to the big mountains too, so Al Read, Rod Newcomb, Jed Williamson, Fred Wright, and Warren Blesser (not from Exum) and I decided that we would go to Mt. McKinley, or better known among natives as Denali, ‘The Great One.’ Jed knew Brad Washburn and consulted with him, and Brad said, “You boys climb this route here, it’s called the East Buttress, and it has not been climbed.” And we dutifully said, “Okay.”
On the lower East Buttress.
(Man in audience) This is the one that took 63 days? Fifty-two days. We were slow. But also, I didn’t have anything else to do! (Laughter) For one thing, we’d never done this sort of thing before and every move was given due consideration. We supplied ourselves well, so this was not a modern lightweight expedition. The moves up to Camp III required three load carries— carrying high and sleeping low. I found being on the mountain and being a climber much more appealing than ordinary life, so I wasn’t in a rush to get back.
Fred Wright leading the ice cliff just below Camp III.
We have just arrived at the site of our Camp Three. Jed has his arms outstretched, declaring, like Brigham Young: ‘This is the place!’, with Warren to Jed’s left and Al left of Warren. It was, indeed, a fabulous place.
Rod Newcomb working on the route above Camp III. We are dragging and fixing lines preparing for the final heavy load carry.
Leaving for first summit attempt from 17,450ft High Camp. Mount Huntington rises in the early sun below.
Our Camp IV was at 17,450 feet near the crest of the Thayer Ridge and very exposed to the weather. On May 22 we got up at 2:30 a.m. and made a summit attempt during which the weather turned and Fred became dangerously ill from altitude, so at Denali Gap, Al and I brought him back to camp. Warren, Rod, and Jed kept going for the summit in very high winds and deteriorating conditions and made it back to camp about 7:30 p.m. A foot of snow fell that night and we all rested the next day as the blizzard raged. On the later successful summit climb Rod noted in his diary evidence they had made it to a hump about 100 vertical feet from the summit on the May 22nd attempt.
The Great One casts a huge shadow as we began our climb and Alpenglow sheds light on us both going and coming back.
On May 24, after a huge meal of macaroni and cheese drenched in butter, Al, Rod, and I departed for the summit about 9:00 p.m. – at sunset – and climbed all night in the crystal clear arctic half-light of late May, reaching the summit at 3am on the 25th of May, 1963, 15 minutes after sunrise. I can remember thinking this was all extremely satisfying, including the day and half of the collapsed tent flapping on our noses! Of course, by now we were as Spartans and in great physical condition. To this day, Rod Newcomb and Jed Williamson and I have remained steadfast friends, for which I am grateful.
NEXT WEEK: YOSEMITE