Two days before Nigel Vardy lost his fingers and toes, the weather forecast predicted light wind and a gentle snow.
Vardy and his climbing partners Steve Ball and Antony Hollinshead had climbed nearly 4,000 feet that day up Denali’s West Rib. They were just 300 yards shy of the summit when a sudden storm made it too dangerous for them to press on.
Denali’s West Rib is a challenging, avalanche-prone route that rises 12,000 feet in less than three miles. The climbers were flown into the ice at the beginning of May and dropped at basecamp, which sits just off the main flow of the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,000 feet. On the morning they set out to make their last skyward push, they had been on the mountain for more than two weeks.
“[It was] the three of us and four American climbers, and that was about it. [It was] pretty quiet around there,” says Vardy. “We got to the highest camp that we could—about 17 days to that point, but about four or five days pulling the kit in. Then we climbed alpine style. No fixed ropes, [just a] 50 meter rope, and you just go. Which is what we did. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.”