I became the youngest British female to summit Denali, age 17, on the 30th June 2010, with my dad. We were part of a fantastic Alpine Ascents team, lead by Paul Koubek and Eitan Green, with 4 other climbers - 2 of whom were my age!
This was by far the toughest climb I've ever done - 2 weeks of hauling sledges and packs up to over 6000m and then 2 horrific days of descent... No one seemed to mention just how difficult the descent actually is, and you can't prepare for it. After a 13 hour summit day we went to sleep for the night, and then had a 17 hour day going down 10,000ft, about 2 hours sleep outside on the glacier and then a final push all the way to the airstrip. On top of that, pulling sledges downhill is so much harder than taking them uphill, it sounds unlikely, but trust me - it's terrible.
On that light note, this was actually an amazing trip, albeit the tough physical demands. Because it's such a small team and quite a long trip you all become very close, and our guides were the best. There is no way we could have done this without them, and we were fed so well and with such good food (think ice cream and pizzas...) that I actually gained weight! Also, having two other teenagers, plus a young guide (Eitan's young too) was great, we were Rope-team Underage, also nicknamed the Young Guns, and we were consistently faster than the adult rope-team. We were very proud!
We had a beautiful summit day, with perfect weather, in fact, we were incredibly lucky with the weather for the whole trip. The only time we were delayed was leaving Talkeetna to actually get onto the mountain, and that worked out pretty well for us, as while other climbers were stuck on the mountain waiting out the vicious weather, we were sitting in the lovely Fireweed station, stuffing ourselves with good food and exploring the one street in the village.
Denali was an amazing mountain, with stunning scenery - gaping crevasses on the lower glacier, exposed ridges and pretty snow slopes. The weather was very unpredictable, one minute it would be fairly warm, and the next it was freezing... although we didn't experience anything too bad at all compared to what we could have, we still had to use the full face masks to protect ourselves from the wind, and we had one morning before we moved up to high camp where we were a little anxious about getting frostbite - with swollen fingers and toes etc.
We also got used to waking up and having a layer of snow on our sleeping bags and where we had been resting our heads, from our breath, and snow on the inside of the roof of the tent too!
This was a huge step up from the other climbing I've done, this was the first time I've used fixed ropes and running protection on an actual expedition, it was the highest altitude I've been too, and it was the coldest weather I've faced too. Plus, this is one of the only mountains in the 7 Summits where you have to carry all of your own equipment, so that was very demanding (huge thanks again to our guides - who pulled and carried unbelievably large amounts). However, I would go back there in an instant if I had the chance - I enjoyed it so much, I loved our team, and it's left me very much wanting more! I especially want to try some more technical climbing - rock and ice, so we'll have to see where that goes!