Common Knowledge on the Washburn face

It was day 18 of the trip. We had just spent 3 days sleeping and eating copious amounts, trying to recover from our ascent of the Cassin Ridge. Our base camp friends had all left and the 14000 ft camp was starting to feel abandoned. The snow walls fortifying our tent were drooping and looked more like ruins that would tumble over in the next breeze. We where starting to feel the pull of civilization, but we where also feeling like we needed to climb again to make the trip complete.

We woke up at 3am after a restless night. The temperature was -20c and we moved slowly. I could feel the hesitation in both our movements. At any moment if either one of us would have expressed doubts, we would have went back to bed. We pushed through the discomfort and packed our bags.

We left the security of our shelter and leaned into a cold, and relentless wind. We had a four hour descent ahead of us, with ample opportunities to justify a retreat. Once again we forged forward, without talking or looking each other in the eyes. The lack of motivation to continue was like a thick haze, I was wondering when it would clear. I got my answer when we made a long, overhanging rappel above the bergshrund.

Raphael descending below some small but intimidating seracs. It took 4 hours to get  from 14000 ft camp to the Peter’s Gl.
The route Common Knowledge marked in red. The lower half of the route is 1100m long and the upper (where the line goes right) is 1000m long. 

The route Common Knowledge presented itself in front of us. A thousand one hundred meters of ice climbing (up to grade WI6) would lead to the upper face. From there we would have to slog through fresh snow (at times 85 cm deep) for one thousand meters! We soloed a large majority of the lower face and then roped up for four pitches including 2 pitches of simul-climbing. Raphael, being the stronger climber took the lead for most of the technical portions. I was disappointed I was not leading more of the harder pitches but this feeling fizzled when the midnight sun dipped below the horizon and the ‘summit’ slopes rose indefinitely above me.

Raphael S. gettin amongst it on the Candelabra pitch. He place 4 pieces of marginal rock gear over 30m of climbing. A bold lead. 
The waterfall ice pitch and the last of the steep ice climbing.  As the first ascentionist said “…a pitch of WI 4 that would be more at home in Crawford Notch, NH, than at 14,000 feet on Denali”. 

Hour 24 came and went and my body started to shut down. I barley had enough energy to keep my fingers and toes warm or for that matter, move upwards. Raphael continued on above. With a bitting wind pushing from the east and arctic temperatures, stopping was not an option. Once he saw me nearing the summit he quickly disappeared, traversing towards the fixed lines. A thick windslab slowed my progress as I was approaching the crest of the face. His steps had already blown in and I was re-breaking the trail. I would look back at my steps and disappointment would rob any hope I had left. I was completely empty. My blood was dry, my body was cold, my mind was transparent and my consciousness was now looking down at me. I laboured through, knowing that I only had one option.

Once I started traversing the west buttress towards the fixed lines I thought I was ok, but this was a false sense of security. Until I was in my sleeping bag I wouldn’t be able to stop. At one point, I remember turning my back to the wind and while standing there, trying to get some rest, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. When I opened them I had the same adrenaline rush as you get while falling asleep behind the wheel. This was a sobering feeling and i was starkly reminded of my situation.

Raph slogging up avalanche prone slopes.  At times there was 85cm of snow to break trail through, slowing our progress to  a snails pace. At this point I think I told Raph we should go one at a time, just in case. 
The last rays of the sun.

I arrived to a quiet camp, 26 hours after leaving. My exhaustion was complete and so was the trip.

For a complete description of the ascent check out Raphael Slawinski’s blog, he did a great job telling the story.

We would like to thank MEC for there generous support via their Expedition Support Program.

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