A month ago, Denali hopefuls waiting in Talkeetna for their flight to The Mountain may have seen two women in the queue packing sleds humbly saying, “We’re going to go climb the West Buttress.”
No doubt, some dudes from Colorado in trucker’s hats -— testosterone and shiny new snowshoes in tow — tried to start conversations with the duo by offering to help explain what the all-female team could expect on the glacier.
One of the women in the pair was Katie Bono, a former Denali guide who is a total crusher. Katie has several Denali seasons under her belt, has climbed the Cassin Ridge, hold’s the women’s speed record on Mount Rainier, and climbs M13: her goal this year was a speed ascent to the continent’s highest point (20,320ft).
While no doubt many of those ‘mansplainers’ are back home blaming the weather for a ‘short trip,’ Katie is now the first woman to climb Denali round trip in less than 24 hours.
I got a call from her on my way to Anchorage from Denali Park. Katie and her expedition partner Savannah had just gotten off The Mountain and needed a ride. I had been skiing with them both in Leadville, Colorado just before they left and was psyched to have a chance to hear how the trip went.
Margi and I already had a pretty full car, but we pulled into Talkeetna and squished two more people and their expedition gear into our Subaru and heard Katie regal us with stories of needing to be, “scrappy but lucky” in this years conditions.
The last update I had heard from The Mountain was of bad weather, cold temps, and stuck climbers. I knew Katie had already missed one shot at a speed ascent, helped evac a climber with appendicitis, and dealt with really tough conditions from 40 below to rain. Needless to say, we were incredibly impressed when we found Katie at the Talkeetna Roadhouse literally fresh off the summit.
Apparently after a few weeks acclimatizing, Katie unlocked the secret to going really fast in the mountains: Taylor Swift on the way up and Beyoncé on the way down. At least that was the playlist on June 13th when she climbed the West Buttress, fixed lines and all, round trip in 21 hours and 6 minutes from Kahiltna base camp at 7,200ft.
Killian Jornet’s still holds the overall Denali record with a time of 11:40. He set this crazy time via Rescue Gully in 2014. Ed Warren’s previous record of 16:46 from 2013 used the West Butt as the ascent route, but I m not sure of the descent, anyone know if he skied Rescue Gully on the way down (if Ed skied Rescue Gully, then Katie’s time is the new all around record for an up and down on the classic West Buttress)? Katie’s time firmly beats the pre-Warren, Chad Kellogg time of 23:55.
Katie’s time is the new women’s speed record for Denali, she joins a very small handful of impressive speedsters who have climbed the mountain in less than 24 hours.
Hat’s off to Katie going real fast!
Dr. Alex Lee lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching philosophy and environmental studies. He also works as a sometimes guide, naturalist, writer, and photographer.