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A friend and I had been planning a wilderness backpacking trip in Denali for nearly 2 years. The end result was that while we were not as experienced or prepared as we thought we were, we still managed to have a great time. Fast forward to day three, we had spent the better part of a day scaling and finally reaching the double mountain pass in Unit 5. Exhausted, we wanted to reach the Teklanika River in Unit 6, and we began our descent.
FIRST APPROACH @4PM - Follow the river in the center. The river on the descent path, an inlet to the Teklanika, was much steeper and treacherous than the other side of the mountain. Within 30 minutes, stalled, 15-20ft waterfall, rock cliffs, no escape. 30 minute backtrack.
SECOND APPROACH @5:30PM - Cut south over the mound. After about 30 minutes of hiking, stalled. Deep cliff drop-off. 30 minute backtrack. It was at this point in the trip the mistakes began to really happen.
THIRD APPROACH @6:30PM - Cut to the North and try another river. At this point in the day we were so determined to get to the bottom of the mountain that we started attempting to traverse terrain that was not suited for human travel. Small to medium cliff edges with wet, fragile rock that kept breaking under our feet.
THE CRITICAL MISTAKE - we reached two small waterfalls, each had a 7 foot drop-off with extremely slippery edges that were made of single smooth rock, no footholds, no escape route. We committed to it and both slipped down the waterfalls, getting soaked, the 39 degree Denali water did not help in the mountain weather. At this point we walked no more than 20 feet just to realize that we were stranded between a rock and a hard place, a 25 ft waterfall on one end and an unclimbable series of waterfalls, wet, cold, windy, and out of dry clothes.
We were officially stuck. I activated the beacon at around 7:00PM Alaska time. I would later be told that the signal was instantly received, and the responders had launched a helicopter shortly after. We waited, put on as many dry layers as we could find and insulated ourselves from the wind. At around 9:30 the responders arrived, airlifted us out, and took us back to the park airport. They initially offered to even let us continue our trip, but had to withdraw.
Thank you ACR!
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