Well the weather hasn’t gotten bad yet. We made it up to High Camp in yet another day of splendid blue skies. The highlight of my day (and possibly my trip) came as we broached the top of Washburn’s Thumb, a giant rock that you have to climb around using a second set of fixed lines. It is about half way between the top of the fixed lines and High Camp along the ridge. We had just started up after taking a break when I heard the unmistakable noise of a plane moving at high speed. Planes, though not an uncommon sight to see (or sound to hear) on Denali, are not usually that loud…or close. I looked behind me and sure enough, there was a formation of F-22 fighter jets practicing. We had all noticed, and stopped to watch them. Joe began jumping up and down and waving his hands like a little kid. I have to admit, it was really exciting. Then one of the planes broke formation and circled around so he was flying straight at us. He shot right over our heads and I swear he was doing it for us. (Though small, we do stand out on the ridge due to the contrast between the bright hues of our clothing and the monotonous white and rock of the slope.) It was like this pilot had just saluted us, and wished us good luck for the remainder of our climb. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
We then continued to High Camp—only an hour or so distant at that point—without incident. We were all pretty tired by the time we reached 17,200ft (the altitude at High Camp), both because of the thin air and also the exertion of the day’s climb. Though we made good time going up the Headwall, the second half of the day—climbing the 16,200ft Knife-edge Ridge—was surprisingly difficult and tiring. We were going very slowly the whole way, our progress inhibited by the constant stopping to clip through the fixed protection lining the ridge. We were all just happy to make it to High Camp and to set up our tents in good weather.
On another note, the June 15th Mountain Trip team summited today! I am so, so proud of them. They are all great, hard-working people and they definitely deserve this summit. We hope we will be able to repeat their success in a couple days when we make our summit bid.