FORT WORTH Six Fort Worth firefighters are safely back home after braving white-out conditions that forced them to hunker down for nearly six days at 17,200 feet on Mount McKinley in Alaska.

The team narrowly missed reaching the 20,322-foot summit, but is thankful to have simply made it off the mountain.

'I remember thinking, 'This is nuts,'' said firefighter Kasey Gandy, who helped organize the climb.

Before leaving in late June, News 8 outfitted the men with a satellite phone and GoPro cameras so the team of six could document their journey.

The cameras started recording the instant they touched down in Alaska.

'I'm ready to go,' said firefighter Matt Magoffin. 'We leave in 30 minutes [from the hotel]. Hopefully, we'll get some decent weather and fly up to glacier today.'

The group departed from a small airport in Talkeetna, a town that is the base point for most Denali climbs.

They double- and triple-checked their backpacks, which weighed up to 50 pounds. Each man hauled an additional 40 to 50 pounds of gear on a sled.

After a 30-minute flight to a mountain glacier, they started their ascent, and they made excellent time.

'We're pulling our sleds, we've got some [stuff] stashed in our packs. It's a beautiful morning,' one of the firefighters can be heard saying on the video.

Clear weather initially let the team make it to Camp 4, or 'High Camp,' at 17,200 feet in only nine days.

'We were definitely ahead of pace, by at least a day,' Gandy said.

But that is when conditions took a change for the worse.

After spending one night at Camp 4, the team started a final push for the final 3,000 feet up the Audubon toward the summit.

After only an hour, though, the lead guide on the rope team didn't like the snow-pack conditions.

The team was forced to turn around, and when they returned to Camp 4, nature dealt a dangerous blow.

According to the team, temperatures plunged to around 20 below zero. Winds of 50 miles per hour were constant. The sun didn't set.

'We're there five nights, nearly six days,' said Magoffin. 'It started to really grate on us, wear on us. Our guide had done that mountain 20 times, and had ever spent more than three nights.'

After almost six days hunkered down inside tents and with their collective mental state deteriorating a short weather window emerged.

'We had to go... then,' Gandy said. 'You're placing your feet so carefully because sometimes you only have an area as wide as your foot.'

Tethered together, one-by-one, the team stake-roped down the West Buttress ridge. The falloff at some points on the route is thousands of feet.

The team descended for six straight hours before taking a break. When they restarted their treacherous trek, the camera started rolling again.

'We can hear avalanches going off around us,' said Magoffin. 'Four of us have fallen into crevasses in just the last hour.'

Fortunately, none of the firefighters were seriously hurt.

The team soon returned to base camp, and after pounding a few beers and preparing a quick meal, were flown off the glacier.

Even though they failed to reach the summit, the firefighters said the 16-day ordeal was well worth it, because they were climbing for a bigger cause.

'Your mind races all over the place,' Magoffin said. 'I thought about the support we had back at home. Hearing from somebody who is a burn survivor, they're supporting us, it helped, it really did.'

To date, the climb has raised more than $10,000 for Sons of the Flag. They are still hoping for more donations to help burn survivors.


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