“We wanted an adventure, not a competition with precise objectives to be pursued at all costs: pure, free, unconditioned adventure, no schedules, no timetables, no constraints of any kind, free-minded. With a single objective: climbing and moving safely. There would be plenty of other times and especially planned occasions for everything else.
And this was the spirit driving us as we prepared for our journey to Mount McKinley, at 6,194 metres, the highest mountain in North America, with a reputation as the coldest on the planet, so close to the Arctic Circle.”
Mario and Giorgio, great friends with an easy, natural rapport, united by their obsession with the same mountain: Mount McKinley. More correctly called Denali, this peak is miles from anywhere, in Alaska, a region that has always been the ultimate byword for big adventures. February: the time has come to leave.
They are surprised when they arrive in Anchorage to find the sun awaiting them, and a temperature of 20 °C, but the outward journey is not over yet. They have to get to Talkeetna, a small, western-style town with 700 inhabitants, the only place offering flights to the glacier base.
13 February: it's a beautiful day, and the conditions are perfect for a single-propellor plane to take off, travelling over magnificent scenery, a vast array of mountains with sheets of ice that stretch for miles. No sooner are they on the ground, than the pair have a sled each attached to their waists, laden with all their supplies to be pulled from 2000 to 4400 metres' altitude. The game is on, and after four gruelling days they reach Base Camp.
Six days later, a suitable moment for the climb finally arrives. The sun has not yet risen, and the cold is immense. Two hours into the climb, Giorgio starts to lose any feeling in the toes of his left foot. Despite the regular pace of their climb, Mario immediately notices that something is wrong.
Giorgio kicks with his foot to try to regain some sensation as he continues to climb. The biting cold is relentless, and concern for the loss of sensation in his toes is increasing. At this point, Mario makes a decision: they will go back down. Giorgio is at risk of frostbite, which could have irreversible consequences.
They are in Alaska to experience an adventure all their own, made of friendship, respect and support for each other, and Mario has made his decision. The conditions no longer allow them to continue safely, so they turn back, tied together by the same rope that has joined them like an umbilical cord through these past days, crossing crevasses, seracs and steep slopes. Despite the favourable weather conditions, today is not the right day.
Several expeditions made it to the top this year, but many more had to abandon their ascent for numerous different reasons. And that's how it is with mountains: you climb if the conditions are right, but above all, you climb if the mountain lets you.