Ain’t no mountain high enough! Bas Smith summits Denali


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Bas Smith Ray White Queenstown
Left picture: Bas Smith in orange jacket. Right picture: Base camp.

“Certainly one of the adventure highlights of my life… it was a fantastic achievement to pull this off in the style that we did.” 

That’s how Ray White Queenstown Principal Director Bas Smith described summiting Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

The unforgiving Denali, with a summit elevation of more than 6,100 metres has claimed the lives of 96 climbers between 1903 and 2006, and was the next step on what has been an adventurous ladder for Mr Smith.

“I’ve been mountaineering for many years and carried out some of the more serious climbs in my 20s, but becoming a dad, my adventures became more focused on adventure racing at a high level and shorter local explorations,” he said.

“Through Ray White and real estate, I met British mountaineer and former SAS member Harry Taylor, and it was through discussions around our love for mountain biking that Denali came up as a topic.

“Harry’s somewhat of a high-altitude mountaineering icon and is still incredibly strong. He was the second Brit to climb Everest without oxygen and led the first team to traverse the three peaks of Everest.

“I got a call from him one day saying he and another ex-British Special Forces chap Bill Freear were climbing Denali and he asked if I’d like to join. I don’t think I even took a breath before saying yes!

“My wife and two children know how adventurous I am and we’re an active family so their support was immediate – and it actually worked out well because they would be away in Europe at the time.”

Camp 1 – Base camp out of sight down the valley.

Not only did Bas Smith and his team summit Denali, it is no exaggeration to say they did so in literal double-quick time.

“We summited Denali in 10 days, where normal expeditions take 20-24 days, with the mountain climbable for only a two-month period between May to early July,” he explained.

“Being very close to the North Pole, it’s 24-hours light during the summer. It gets as dark as twilight for about one hour, then the sun comes up again.

“Conditions were very challenging, with lots of heavy snow and variable temperatures getting down as low as -40 degrees centigrade at night, but up to +20 on the glacier at midday.

“Many unpredictable periods of poor visibility matched with high wind on the upper quarter of the mountain pushed us into an aggressive strategy.

“Denali is a huge mountain and has a reputation for creating its own weather which is in complete contrast to the surrounding area’s weather forecast, and this equals high risk for climbers when you lump in the cold and the altitude.

“As we jumped on the Beaver to fly into the glacier we chatted with three very experienced Slovakian guys who were being treated for badly frost-bitten fingers and hands after being caught out high for a few days.

“During our time at camp four, there were three helicopter evacuations for pulmonary edema-related issues, which is a constant worry, especially for teams like ours that push the time.

Left picture: Summit success rate. Right Picture: Bas Smith in orange jacket.

“When we flew in, there had been an eight per cent summit success rate for the season. It’s normally circa 40 per cent annualised, but global warming is making it a more difficult mountain to climb without risk.

“We towed heavy sleds for eight days, setting up four camps across about 30km of steep heavily-crevassed glacier, until we reached camp four which is a staging post for the high camp and summit attempt.

“After lots of analysis and due to the tricky weather patterns, we decided to skip stopping at the high camp and go the whole way from camp four to the summit and back to camp four in one push over circa 26 hours.

“We travelled overnight in full down suits so that we could handle the super cold twilight.

“There were a bunch of hotshot teams on the mountain at the same time but we were the only team to summit, that day. Conditions on top were clear, -28 degrees centigrade, with only a little wind and huge views, so we made good calls.”

Mr Smith went on to explain how experience, excellent quality kit and some good old ‘grit the teeth and get the job done’ mentality worked for this incredibly hard mission.

“I thought a lot about life and leadership during the climb,” he continued.

“My intention had been to ski from the summit but conditions were not safe for that and the team came first.

Denali summit view

“I’m aware that I’m more comfortable to make confident decisions in situations as above than I often am in normal business.

“Something resonated about creating correct environments which allow for successful leadership to flourish.

“I love that Ray White advocates for people in their global team, who are willing to grow their leadership skills, to have the ability to take time out during their day to have a clear view of their goals.

“It’s easy to talk about but much harder to do. 

‘’Health and wellness, being able to visualize and revisit your goals is something we must make time for.”

Ray White Group Managing Director Dan White praised Bas Smith for his efforts and described his achievement as ‘mind-blowing.’

“This is an incredible story of courage and achievement… to call Bas a tough guy would be such an understatement,” Mr White said.

“He should feel very proud of what he and his team have achieved, and there must’ve been a lot of learning throughout.”