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Back from the top of North America – The 7 Summits with Derek Mahon

After 18 days on the mountain, we were delighted to see the safe return of our sponsored endurance athlete and mountaineer Derek Mahon to Ireland in June.

For those who followed his pre journey preparations, this blog highlights some of the key stages Derek and his fellow climbing team had to endure.

Welcome back home Derek, and well done! We are as always in awe of you and if anyone needs inspiration then look no further, Derek is it!

Here we go!

At the base of the mountain

Anchorage to Talkeetna

Having reached Anchorage, Alaska on May 15th, the expedition travelled 3 hours to Talkeetna, where we caught our flight up onto the mountain range.

Excitement, anticipation, freshly shaven faces, clean gear, new duffel bags, a few pairs of new high-altitude boots (which is always a worry), new ice axes and a pleather of carabiners added to the atmosphere.

Having weighed and loaded the bags our flight took 35 minutes and what seemed like flying way too close to some of the ranges we landed safely on the Kahiltna Glacier, if somewhat white knuckled.

Airplane taking us to Denali

The immediate change is the temperature, from Celsius plus teens to Celsius negative and altitude at 7,200 feet, visually affected some of the climbers.

We set up camp and had something to eat, then… for the first time we set eyes on Denali.

Denali in the distance

It’s always a “whoa” moment and leaves you ponder what’s to come, questions such as: are you ready, how are your fitness levels and are you mentally prepared for what was muted as “your first day will be your toughest day”. On reflection now, it was tough but I felt tougher days were to come as gradients steepened and temperatures increased, negatively.

The different stages

Denali, unlike all other mountains does not offer any assistance to each individual climber, no sherpas, no porters, no mules, no yaks, no help whatsoever. This is your struggle, your climb, your mountain, and your summit hard earned!

There are several camps to reach before attempting summit.

  • Base Camp at 7,200 feet
  • Camp 1 at 7,900 feet
  • Camp 2 at 11,200 feet
  • Camp 3 at 14,000 feet
  • Camp 4/High Camp at 17,200 feet
  • Summit at 20,310 feet

Denali Camps

The Good and the Bad

Denali offers so much to enjoy and for me little to not.

The scenery throughout was just breathtaking, the absolute silence was an experience, the 24 hours light, the depth of the open crevasses were extraordinary, the occasional avalanche always grabbed attention, and the very bright sunshine and reflections against the snow and ice. Above all the very constant cold temperatures which had to be constantly planned against with liner or heavier gloves, extra hat, warmer jacket, and at times heavier duck down filled lined trousers.

Denali high campThe final climb

Having reached Camp 3 at 14,000 on May 25th, we were rewarded with our first official and a very welcomed “rest day” which literally meant “a do absolutely nothing day”’! We loved it!

As it turned out, our one day of rest turned into three days, as the weather at Camp 4 had deteriorated with high winds and very cold temperatures. The extra days really helped us to energise and further acclimatise. The time passed quickly which we enjoyed and in no time, we were back climbing and reached Camp 4 (also known as High Camp) around mid-afternoon on the 29th.

On the morning of May 30th, we left for summit at 11 am and having negotiated The Autobahn, Zebra Rocks, Pig Hill, and the Summit Ridge, to mention a few key points, we reached summit at 7.30 pm, tired, relieved, and excited after relentless steep and near vertical gradients. A total of 8.5 hours ascent to the top of Denali, from Camp 4.

Derek Mahon on DenaliFeelings from the top 

Derek and The Panel at the top of Denali

With the weather having turned, we were so fortunate to have an exceptional summit with miles on miles of visibility over the Denali ranges.

After we all grouped together, took our summit photos, and settled down from high fives, hoops, hollers, and hugs, we all took time to enjoy our achievement.

As temperatures were negative 40 with strong wind chills, staying any length of time could create problems and so after 25-30 minutes we began our descent.

One thing that I am always conscious of having reached summit is my mindset switch and that repetitive voice “the climb begins now” and “let’s get down safely and alive”.

The journey back down

80% of accidents on mountains happen on descent, so despite how you feel you must remain focused, alert, and conscious of your fellow climbers, guides and conditions.

We were lucky to descend quickly and without any issues. Just above High Camp we all grouped together and hugged knowing we were all safe and sound, if very exhausted. It was 12.30am, a 13 plus hour round trip.  The sun set in a Mars like red mid sky and was a fitting end to what was an extraordinary day.

The next morning, we gathered all our gear and headed back down to Camp 3 where we rested for a few hours, before leaving at 11 pm reaching Base Camp at 6.45 am. We eventually flew out of the mountain range at 2.30 pm! … Dinner in Anchorage that night was fun, fun, fun!

What a trip. Loved every minute of it!

Next up is Mount Vinson, Antarctica and planning is already taking shape for December 2023.

Dream, believe, achieve my friends!