Friday, August 15, 2008

Denali 2008, Trip Report

Climbing Denali is a lot of work. The verdict is still out whether or not the West Buttress (AK Grade2+)[our route] is climbing or hiking. I would have to say both, hiking up to 13,000 and climbing to 20000+ feet. This was my first time to the Alaska range and I must say I'm hooked. I've never seen mountains on this scale before, they refer to it as the "Alaska Factor". Mountains that look like they would take an hour to skin to in the Wasatch take days to reach.

We loaded the glacier plane in Talkeetna (south side of Denali park & best town ever) we were allowed to bring 125 pounds of gear a piece, we weighed in at 124 pounds each. We took off in marginal weather in a 1950's era "beaver" and I soon realized we weren't flying over the mountains to get to the landing zone, we would be flying in between them.

I was pretty terrified at this point, running circles through my head trying to decide what crucial item I forgot. I had never spent a month on an ice-cube before and the thought was kind of daunting.

We landed safely and we immediately begun racking for glacier travel, we had about 7 miles of crevassed terrain standing between us and the base of the mountain. We covered the ground the first day and slept at the base of the mountain. The next morning we realized how much work this was going to be as we tried carrying 125+ pounds of gear up our first "hill".

A few days worth of uneventful but beautiful skinning and kicking steps later we were parked at "medical camp" @ 14,200 feet. This is the ideal camp for acclimatization so we dug in and made camp comfortable enough to withstand storms for a few days. We spent the next few days eating a lot of food and shuttling food and fuel caches up higher on the mountain. This is when I first started to notice the altitude.

After a 4-5 days of waiting out storms and acclimating we were running out of food because we shuttled most of it up high on the mountain at this point. The weather was terrible and no one was moving but we had no choice, either go up and eat or retreat back to the base of the mountain where we had food cached. The choice was obvious, we started up the 50 degree 2000+foot icewall before the break of dawn. I was in my ice-climbing gloves so I could do rope work and use my jumar. I ended up getting frostbitten for the first time in this push to high camp.

Once at high camp I started understanding the effects of altitude and exhaustion. Sometimes you are too tired to even make yourself water or go to the bathroom. Simple everyday tasks take heroic efforts. High camp on Denali is cold and windy. At 17,400 feet (20000 feet in the Himalayas due to atmospheric pressure differences) storms are unforgiving. At night ambient air temps reached -30F in late June with wind chills approaching -85 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say , without a good tent and sleeping bag you could die. We were rocking the Mountain Hardware EV2. This tent was extremely light and absolutely bomber in windstorms, however for a long expedition like this I would have rather taken something a little "roomier". My climbing partner at 6'5'' 215 pounds isn't exactly someone you want to be sharing confined spaces with (no offense Sam) for weeks in an alpine tent.
We spent 4 days at high camp waiting out storms, in the tent. Thank god I brought a comfortable sleeping pad (a large Thermarest Base camp), this is something I would never, ever skimp on. As far as sleeping bags go, this is your best friend. Buy a cheap one and prepare for sleepless shivering nights, I got mine from and it was the absolute warmest and most comfortable high quality bag I have ever slept in by a long shot, Marmot just does sleeping bags right.
So here we are 5 days at high camp after a failed summit push on day 2, running out of food again, low pressure dominating the area still and no good outlook on the forecast. But one thing you can bet the farm on, on Denali is the weather can turn at any moment from clear skies into the most horrifying lenticular windstorm you've ever been in. We woke up on morning 6 at high camp June 29th and decided today was the day or else. We woke up with marginal weather and started breaking trail up to the summit, no one had made it in quite some time. We pushed for 10 hours breaking trail at altitude with the weather improving more and more as we climbed. Sam was vomiting profusely on the last 1000 feet of the climb to the summit, but held it together and made a heroic effort.

Success, after 15 days of climbing, freezing, enduring AMS, not sleeping we were the two highest people on the North American Continent.
Denali is the most beautiful, coldest and unforgiving mountain I've ever stepped foot on. Next springs climbs skirt the two tallest peaks around Denali. Since we finished our climb a week early, we spent 7 days in Talkteena mingling with the locals, completely defiling ourselves with pizza, beer, icecream and hamburgers. If Deanli is on your "tick list" don't hesitate another season.



Blogger powstash said...

stunning report! Thanks for posting it!

8/22/2008 12:43 PM

Blogger Kellie said...

Nice work ... pretty incredible place to be sure!!!

9/03/2008 12:02 PM


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