Preparing for Denali

It’s May again, which means it’s time for my annual migration north to Alaska.  For the past several years, May has meant guiding on Denali.  This year is no different.  

I’ll be guiding two trips on the West Buttress for Alpine Ascents - trips #6 & #7 on the mountain for me. 

 Alaska is a special place for me.  High peaks, vast glaciers, beautiful coast lines, wilderness as far as the eye can see.  It’s an incredible state. 

 Our first Denali trip starts tomorrow, which means for the past two days, Don (my husband and co-guide) and I have been in Talkeetna prepping for the expedition.  We have packed 22 days of food, sorted and checked tents, ropes, stoves and other expedition gear for 8 people (6 clients and the two of us), and packed our individual gear.  We have checked in with the park and with Talkeetna Air Taxi, ensuring that they have us on the books for our “usual” briefing time and flight time on to the glacier. 

 For me, the preparation is exciting and also challenging.  Each year, I wrestle with what to bring for personal gear on the glacier.  This year, I’m feeling well-equipped.  My gear list includes a slew of clothing from Outdoor Research.  My OR mountaineering kit includes: 

OR Sequence Top OR Radiant Hybrid Tights OR Rumor Hoody OR Ferosi Hoody Jacket OR Trailbreaker Pants OR Paladin Jacket & Pants OR Virtuoso Down Jacket OR Alti Mitts OR Alti Gloves OR Vert Gloves OR Crocodile Gaitors   I have supplemented this list with an expedition parka and expedition down pants from Feathered Friends, as well as a few wild, flowery hats and buffs, a straw hat for the sun, glacier glasses, and mountaineering gear such as a harness, glacier travel & crevasse rescue kit, ice ax, ski poles, pack, and a sleeping system. 

 For the next 3 weeks, my focus will be working as a team with Don and the 6 climbers who are joining us, to safely and successfully move up the mountain and climb the West Buttress route on Denali, a route first climbed in 1951 by Bradford Washburn. 

We schedule 3 weeks on this climb in order to allow for acclimatization of the team, as well as to allow for some bad weather days.  Last year, my first trip summited on Day 13 and flew out on Day 15.  This was the fastest climb I have ever worked.  My second trip summited on Day 17 and flew out on Day 21.  Both trips were a ton of fun and successful on many levels.  I never knows what the mountain will hand us on a given year, so I show up hoping for sunshine and high pressure for the three weeks, but prepared for cold and stormy weather. 

The key to a safe, successful Denali trip is patience.  Climbing Denali is like running a marathon.  You need to pace yourself and your group.  You need to eat well and stay hydrated.  You need to laugh and enjoy the surroundings.  You need to work together as a team.  One essential trick that Don and I have figured out is to think of Denali as two expeditions – one expedition climbing up to 14,000’ camp and another expedition above 14,000’ camp.  If everyone can arrive at 14,000’ camp feeling strong, well-hydrated, well-fed, and relatively rested, then the likelihood of success on the upper mountain is significantly higher.  This can be a hard concept for folks just flying on and eager to demonstrate their fitness and strength after training for the climb all year.  It is essential to arrive at 14,000’ feeling strong, though, as above 14,000’, things get significantly harder.   

 You can follow our Denali expedition at: http://www.alpineascents.com/denali-cybercast.asp We’re Team 3 this year.