This climb was part of the Denali For Dreams Make-A-Wish campaign of Idaho. The project consisted of raising money for children with life threatening diseases and using the climb of Denali as the focal point for getting donations for the children. This campaign raised $325,000, all of which went to the Make-A-Wish kids. Climbers paid for all their own expenses; gear, travel, campaigning etc. There were 8 climbing team members, with a support cast of about 50 others. The local Idaho media really embraced the project with lots of coverage- we were on every local TV and radio station many times. The Statesman ran many articles; including a front page article when we summited. Articles were written in newspapers as far away as New York State. Many fund raising events occurred in Boise including a farewell speech from Beck Weathers and an intriguing slide show by Eric Simonson. The Denali for Dreams climbers had a range of skills and experience beyond just mountaineering and climbing. One of the ways to raise money was to try and broadcast images and video from the mountain via cellular modem to a web site. To accomplish this we brought along a laptop computer, cellular phones, a digital camera, solar panels, and two battery charging modules. By the end, three team members (Bryan, Rob and myself) made it to the summit. The campaign was a success in many ways, most importantly, enabling Make-A-Wish children to have their wishes.
Arrived in Anchorage and stayed in a hostel the first night. Had a hard time getting to sleep, due in part to the fact that it was still light out at midnight. Headed up to the small town of Talkeetna the next day. We weren't able to fly onto the glacier because of weather conditions.
Arrived at Talkeetna Air Taxi by 8:30am, but had to wait until 1pm until we flew out. We had more gear than the average group of eight would have (hi-tech equipment, too much food), so it required several flights onto the glacier. The flight onto the Kahiltna glacier was quite exhilarating, as we flew over giant crevasses and between giant rock spires. Channel 7 (Boise) flew onto the glacier to get some footage. They ended up getting stuck on the glacier overnight because of weather. We set up a tent for them and gave them our sleeping pads. They got off the next day. Temp 23 F
Headed down Heartbreak Hill, the first and last downhill section of the journey across the Kahiltna. The going was slow, as team members were getting all their gear dialed in and working comfortable. At about two miles in, we stopped, and my rope team went back up Heartbreak Hill to get the remaining items. We all had heavy sleds and packs and this took my body a day to get used to. My total weight (pack and sled) ranged from 80-140 lbs, depending on the day and how others were doing. We then made it out about 3.5 miles and made our first camp at 7300 feet. I saw Juncos and Rosy Breasted Finches here. It was warm and bright at times, bitterly cold other times. Very changeable weather. Traveled 9 miles /1100 feet. Temp 21 F
Went from camp at 7360 to camp at 7800 feet at the base of Squirrel Hill. Rob, Bryan, Patrick and myself then went back to the 6800 ft area and picked up a cache to bring it up to the 7800 camp. Others on the team went up to 9000 feet to drop a load and then came back to 7800 feet. I saw some ravens today. The weather forecast is good. Patrick is a good guy who means well. He seems to get on some people's nerves and unfortunately this doesn't help his cause later on. I find myself having to be very honest (and blunt sometimes) with Patrick about things, but this seems to be the most effective way to communicate with him. He helps out around camp and is an efficient winter camper. His travel / climbing skills have been fine- he bears his share of the load. Traveled 10 miles / 1600 feet. Temp 10 F at 7am
Went from the 7800 Camp to 9300 Camp today. We then went ahead to drop a cache at 10,000 ft. Bryan and I convinced Rob and Will to go up to 10000 feet, as Rob was hesitant because of the windy conditions. We thought it was best to do this cache since we've been traveling real slowly all in all. I had a very heavy pack today (60lbs) and my sled was in the 75-85 lb range. We didn't rope up for the 7800 to 10000 leg, as all crevasses are deeply buried. The weather is mostly sunny, but windy. Our 9300 Camp is not the best as snowdrifts buried our tent when we were gone. Others on the team helped out by making our dinner. Patrick helped us dig our tent and create windbreaks. There's no cell coverage yet, as I'm anxious to speak to my wife Maureen. Bryan and I played Trivial Pursuit in the tent. I changed my socks and underwear for the first time today. Traveled 4 miles / 2200 feet. Temp 25 F with a 20-40 mph wind
Climbed up to the 11,000 foot camp today with great sunny weather. Unfortunately, Bryan and I were last out of camp, so we got stuck with a ton of left over and heavy team gear. Our sleds are just fat pigs. Bryan pulls an extraordinarily heavy sled and does a great job this day. This haul was a tough one for me- we stopped at the base of Motorcycle Hill. The campsite has a great view through the Kahiltna Pass and you can see the shimmering of the many lakes in the Denali Park lowlands. We adopted an abandoned snow shelter and it's complete with a covered igloo latrine area. I was very hungry today after the heavy haul, but I got scolded for taking too much food from the pot. Motorcycle Hill above presents the steepest terrain yet- crampons will be needed for the first time. Traveled 3 miles / 2000 feet. Temp 18 F at 8am
Went down from the 11,000 Camp to pick up the cache at 10,000 feet and brought it back up. I spoke with Maureen at the 10,000 area in a pocket of cell coverage. It was great to hear that she and our unborn son John were okay. Then, Rob, Bryan and myself donned the crampons and shuttled some food up from 11,000 to 12,700 feet. It felt great to use crampons and have that positive sure feel. The ridgeline that you reach above Motorcycle Hill is quite nice. I felt strong- my O2 saturation was at 90% (we had an O2 meter). I saw an avalanche come down on the side of Motorcycle Hill today and it had some poor climbers underneath it freaked out- they ran in fear. Luckily it did not get them. It was incredible to see the awesome force of moving snow. The weather was pretty good- pockets of cold and heat, snow showers at time. Will decides to head out at this time, as his ankle is hurting. I'm saddened that Will is leaving as he's a good guy- he's a genius when it comes to electronics and he's also something of a joker which makes for great fun, especially when you're on a mountain or under adverse conditions. The 11,000 Camp is nice, slightly sloping, but good enough to throw the football around. We find out that Joe and Ryan are from Boise and they are our neighbors at this camp. We've been seeing these guys all along the climb so far. Traveled 5 miles / 2700 feet. Temp 18 F at 8am
Rob, Bryan and I climbed from the 11,000 camp up to the 13,500 foot cache site, then back down to 12,700 to pick up yesterdays cache. We then brought that up to the 13,500 cache, and returned to the 11,000 Camp. We found out Eric twisted his ankle on a cache run and will be going off the mountain. Eric is a great guy and devoted so much of himself to the cause of this climb. He's also very upbeat, positive and a real pleasure to travel and climb with. I will miss Eric. Will left earlier today with another climber heading out. S scores a bunch of gear from Eric (jacket etc.) S had a homemade jacket. She had some definite opinions about which gear was best for the team that turned out to be way off. A few of us knew better about the best gear. While I believe she meant well in some gear recommendations, some of her ideas were outdated. At this time of year, it stays light all the time. The whiteness of the glacier amplifies all the light. Traveled 6 miles / 3000 feet. Temp 0 F at 8am
No travel today- light snow and gusty wind, but relatively warm. Tough to keep busy in tent without going crazy- reading, talking, eating, thinking. Temp 23 F at 8am
The weather forecast (broadcasted by radio up the mountain from 7000 ft to 14000 ft to 17000 ft by line of sight by the NPS) calls for 12 inches of snow and -5 today, but much to our pleasure that forecast is a bust as it's sunny and warm (30s). I've come to realize how difficult it is to accurately predict mountain weather. We break camp and make our way up to the 14,000 Camp. We pick up some of S's gear on the way up. This isn't the first time that she drops gear along the way and I could accept the fact that she couldn't carry the weight, except that she boasted to me that she feels "very uncomfortable with the skill level of this team" and she knows she's a better, more experienced climber than anyone else. This turns out to be almost a comical statement given her behavior and performance on this mountain. On this stretch of the mountain, the toughest part is pulling the sled on the traverse, as the sled hangs downhill and wants to pull you down. We make it through Windy Corner and up to the thriving metropolis of 14,000 feet. There are probably 100 tents here all on perfectly flat snow. The National Park Service has a large medical tent here and there are designated latrines- boxes to sit on out in the open. We have cell coverage here and find out that Will and Eric made it out safely. The route to the 16,000 foot ridge and 17,000 Camp sits above us and it looks awesome- steep with fixed lines near the top. You can also see the steep Rescue Gully that comes down directly from 17,000 to 14,000 feet. Two guys next to us from Berkley, CA use our cell phone in return for a Make A Wish donation when they get back- nice guys. Joe and Ryan (Bill & Ted) make it up to the 14000 Camp also. Traveled 3.5 miles / 3000 feet. Temp 35 F but windy
Temperature in the morning rose from 0 to 50 F in 30 minutes as the sun hit our camp. We ferried a load up from the 13,500 ft cache to the 14,000 Camp. We fortified the camp, built snow walls and set up the Mountain Hardware Satellite Tent- a geodesic dome tent that comfortably holds 10 people. We dug out the center so our feet sit down in the hole as we sit around in a circle within the tent. We also set up the Prayer Flags for the Make-A-Wish kids. Each flag had a different kid's name on it. The Italian team next to us asked to charge up some batteries using our power module. The communication barrier and translation were interesting. They gave us some Swiss chocolate (from Mexico) in return for the power charge. Several other people from various teams helped us dig out the Satellite Tent setup. It's quite a carnival like atmosphere at 14,000- people wandering around talking and hanging out. It's quite similar to the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. This evening we had a bunch of people in the Satellite Tent- we were very loud; so loud that our neighbors, the Italian team, came over and told us in broken English "ders great big angry bears trying to sleep- don't wake dem!!". He was referring to the very large climbers on this team that were resting for a summit attempt the next day. These guys lugged up a rubberized full size keg of red wine to this camp! S spent lots of time with other teams at 14,000 and at times didn't seem to be part of our team. Traveled 2.5 miles / 500 feet. Temp 0 F at 8am
Went up to the 16,000 ridge to drop a cache. Had to go up the fixed lines including a small vertical section at the bergschrund. I needed to dig in and pull up with my ice ax at this point. The rest was straight forward- must have been 30 sections of fixed rope ranging in size from 9 to 15 mm. I'm glad I had my Petzl Expedition Ascender to easily pass the knots. It would have been slow going with a prusik cord. Before the climb, S claimed that she was going to use a prusik cord to do this section which would have been absolutely crazy and slow (passing 30 knots) . Luckily for her, she borrowed an ascender from another team at 14,000 ft. The ridge was windy, snowy and cold. This was the highest I've ever climbed in my life and I felt strong. Patrick made it up to the 16,000 ridge quite easily and in good solid time. We retreated to the 14,000 camp and later that evening threw the Nerf football around camp. With the thin air, we were able to easily chuck that football 50-60 yards. We played poker in the Satellite tent that evening with some guys from the U.K. Traveled 1 mile / 2000 feet Temp 23 F at 8am
Rob and I went up the headwall again and on to the 17,000 Camp to cache food. The ridgeline from 16,000 to 17,000 feet is quite exhilarating- easy going, but no room for a mistake. The ridge weaves in and out of boulders and snow, goes up and down and there's another small fixed line before Washburn's Thumb. Along the ridge is where the infamous Orient Express is, and there have been many slips and long falls in the past. From 17,000 feet we can see Denali Pass. I felt real strong today and can almost taste the summit. Rob is a hulk of a guy and a very strong climber. He's also one of the nicest guys I've ever met- very considerate, intelligent and goes out of his way to help out. Traveled 2.5 miles / 3000 feet. Temp 7 F at 8am
Today was mandated a rest day by most of the other team members. It's a crystal blue clear day and quite warm. I'm slightly anxious that we did not take advantage of this nice weather. This rest day comes back to bite us and cost us 4 days in a tent at 17,000. No worries though as we're feeling strong. The future weather forecast doesn't sound good. Others on the team decide Patrick is not going to go up any higher. This is a puzzling decision, as he was easily the 4th strongest traveler. Also puzzling and sad, was the fact that S was adamant that Patrick didn't go on, yet it was obvious she had about the same skill level and technical expertise as Patrick and was a lot weaker and much slower. Patrick was visibly upset when the leaders told him that he couldn't go on. S continued to rub it in and belittle him, even after he was in tears. That night Bryan and I talk for along while about delaying a few days and teaching / practicing various skills with Patrick, so that he could go on. The others reject this idea, especially S who is very vocal about Patrick. Temp 15 F at 8am
Broke camp at 14,000 feet and climbed with Rob to 17,000 camp where we set up camp and waited for the rest of the team to arrive. We plan to head for the summit tomorrow. We see Ryan and Joe, returning from the summit on this Bluebird day. They picked the right day to go up. These guys were really something else- very impressive! Bryan radios up to Rob and I that S and Pat are moving dangerously slow. S has to cache some gear here to lessen her load. They finally arrive into camp and Rob and I have some dinner and liquids ready for the weary travelers. Traveled 2.5 miles / 3000 ft. Temp 7 F at 8am
Awoke disappointed that the predicted storm arrived early- no summit bid. The NPS ranger, Joe, advised that we head down as he is going down. We make an attempt to get back down the 17,000 to 16,000 ridgeline, but very high winds 50-60 mph make travel hazardous. At times we have to crawl to keep from getting blown off the ridge. The small saddles on the ridgeline where wind funnels through are particularly bad. With packs on, this type of travel along a narrow ridge in the high wind is very dangerous. We make the decision to go back to 17,000, as we cannot make it across. We start really fortifying our 17,000 camp with large snow block 2 layers thick and higher than all the tents on all sides. This work is about the toughest thing I've done- at 17,000 feet, with little oxygen, it's tough moving these heavy blocks of snow for 3 hours. I equate it to lifting weights in 10-degree weather at 17,000 feet. The weather forecast says winds are predicted to be of hurricane force. Again, we make another attempt to retreat down, but it's now impossible to cross the ridgeline. We hunker down with 3-4 days of food, with the expectation that it will be 3-4 days before we can leave our tents. Traveled 3/4 mile / 400 feet. Temp 15 F at 8am / 50-60 mph winds
We are socked in at 17,000 feet. High winds continue, yet there has been little snow and even some sun. S decides to head down with NPS rangers heading down- she is cold, complaining about sleep etc. That leaves Rob, Bryan, Pat P., and myself. The batteries in our cell phone are dead, so we have lost contact. At night I have small bouts of breathing difficulties-I awake it seems every half hour during sleep feeling like I'm suffocating. From all my reading, this is normal up here where the air is so thin. Bryan and I spend time taking apart the XGK stove for entertainment, along with lots of reading and talking. Temp 15 F at 8am / 50-70 mph winds
A decent morning, gives us an opportunity to try and climb. I led the team up a slippery traverse toward Denali Pass at 18,300 feet. The going was slow due to the fact that I had to kick steps up steep snow- the high winds buried over and iced any remnants of a path. At Denali Pass the wind was fierce. We turned around, as it took us about 6 hours to go just the 1,100 feet and 1 mile. This is my anniversary day and I felt sad that I wasn't able to speak with Maureen. Traveled 1 mile / 1,100 feet. Temp 10 F at 8am / 20-40 mph winds
Woke up to strong winds again and was uncertain that we would be going up. Some team members wanted to retreat and get food from a 16,000 cache. Bryan, Rob and myself started up at 11:45am. About half way up, we ran into a guide that had summited 41 times- he was with two clients and was turning around. This prompted some debate amongst us as to whether we should continue. I strongly urged that we continue since the weather was mediocre, and we did. We were in a thin cloud as we crossed the "football field" and it was relatively warm at times, with only intermittent winds. At 19,500 feet, we left the packs and headed up to the summit ridge. It was tough to breathe as I wanted to keep my face warm by covering my mouth with my baklava, but at the same time I felt the lack of oxygen more when I covered it up. We crossed an incredibly thin knife edged ridge, no more than 8 inches wide for 50 yards and dropping off 8,000 feet on one side, 2,000 on the other. After a bit, we reached the summit where we hugged, flew the Make- A- Wish Prayer flag and took some pictures. The Denali For Dreams banner accidentally flew away- it rocketed off into a white cloud in seconds. The retreat was slow and careful, as we were all aware of most accidents occurring on the retreat after a hard day etc. At camp, Pat made us dinner and we told our summit day story. My only regret was that Pat P. didn't make it all the way to the summit with us. It was a great thing that Pat P. stayed behind for the better of the team and it took a real man to put aside his aspirations, ego etc. for the better of the team. He's a good leader and I was glad to be on the team with him. To our surprise S returns to camp, up from 14,000. She has the cell phone and I'm eager to try and phone my wife on our anniversary. S tries to plays some type of power game with me and refuses to let me try and use the phone. I could have accepted the fact that she's slower, weaker, less technically sound etc than some of us on this team, but she built herself up before this trip to be way above everyone else and much more experienced, traveled. The sad thing was, Patrick R. was much more honest than she about his ability and was penalized because of it. Now she pulls this power trip deal with the phone. Traveled 3 miles / 2900 ft Temp 15 F at 8am
We headed down to 14,000 feet where we ate like kings (as far as mountain food goes) there. Many other climbing teams were attempting to get rid of extra food (and weight) so I scored some tasty treats. From here we headed to 11,000. Along the way my sled kept tipping over and over and over. We started talking about cheeseburgers, which fueled the desire to get off this glacier. We end up pulling double sleds on the way out- this is unusual, but with all the extra technical gear (laptops, cameras, battery modules, solar panels) and extra food, there's a bunch of gear. We arrived at 11,000 feet at 11pm. Traveled 6.5 miles
Busted it hard to get from 11,000 to Kahiltna base camp at 7,000 feet. We started by getting rid of an extra 75 lbs of food we had. Unbelievably, we still had large heavy sleds, even double sleds for some of us. We barely caught the last airplane off the glacier. I was very relieved that we did make it. I heard stories of climbers making to base camp, but having to wait a week to fly off because of weather. We got a room at the Roadhouse in Talkeetna and had cheeseburgers and cake.
Well- I'm sure glad I did the mountain, but I learned a lot about dealing with people, team dynamics, power / leaders. I would much rather have done it alpine style (not expedition), but it was a charity climb, so I can't complain too much.
Steve- Thanks for checking out the Trip Reports. Denali and Aconcagua are definitely highlights of my mountaineering and I've learned a lot from those trips, mostly about dealing with people in extreme circumstances. Take care.