-Denali Gear Suggestions for the West Buttress Route-I had a ton of gear related questions that I tried desperately to find answers to on the web while preparing for the trip to climb Denali (aka Mount McKinley, AK 20,320 ft.) . I want to share my experience with gear on the mountain and to help future inquisitors like myself. We had a great trip! I'll cover a couple of genral suppestions, then dig into the nitty gritty. This is a work in progress for me as I recall tricks and take tips from SP contributions. Please add ideas and ask questions at will.
Timing; Plan on 3-4 weeks mostly in June.2 important things I found. Go for June. Get started on the mountain late May, but be sure to give yourself a minumum of 3 weeks scheduled on the Mountain, 4 weeks in Alaska. Reason; Summit success is MUCH higher in June, and folks that had 2-2 1/2 weeks couldn't wait long enough for a weather window.
I know a guy that has been on the mountain seven times in May and has not summated. He did this because of his scheduled break between ski guiding and then raft guiding around this time.
TrainingCarry TONS of weight up steep trails. (or on a stair climber if that is your option.) Graduate the weight from 40 up to 80 pounds for the average climber. If you can practice dragging a sled as well that would really help prepare your body and your packing and rigging skills for the trip. Winter camp a lot to get down the methods of keeping you water warm in your bag and drying your socks and boot liners in the sleeping bag as well. Make sure your bag is big enough to hold this gear while sleeping.
Prepare your mind for suffering and train yourself for down time. Be prepared to enjoy the views and the company of others. MP3's are great but you will be in a stunning place that should not be shut out. Take it in.
LOKI OUTERWEAR- AKA KEEPING YOUR FINGERS AND NOSEI'll put this right up front and get it out of the way;
I am a patented inventor and designer of LOKI® Outerwear. We have patented a new system for outerwear that incorporates full function mitts on the sleeves of our garments and an attached and hide away neck gaiter built in to our hoods. The neck gaiter (we term the Facesheild™) is a no-brainer addition to the system. The Mitts (we call LOKI Mitts™) Have been tested and used by myself and a few early adopters in the lower 48 states for four years prior to our Denali trip. I was not certain that the LOKI system would be effective at forty degrees below zero at twenty thousand feet.
WHAT IS LOKI GEAR?
This is a quick demo of the unique features on all LOKI JACKETS-
IN environemnts Like DENALI, there isn't a good reason not to have crucial gear like mitts and neckgaiter secured to your system. PERIOD.
INTRODUCTION DE LOKI EN ESPANOL
Advantages to the Loki system are numerous; The mitts are integral to the sleeve of the jacket so they cannot be dropped, lost, or stolen, they retain heat that radiates from the arm and the rest of the body, the mitts have no gap at the wrist that can be exposed, the mitt portion is always being warmed by the body when not being deployed, the mitt cannot be filled with snow when not in use. The one drawback to the design is that the sleeves are about 3 to 4 inches longer than most to allow full range of motin when the mitts are used. This sole drawback is not even noticed by anyone unless you show the mitts and the wearer notices the difference but up high on a peak there is no reason not to have them. The importance of keeping ones hands warm in cold environments is absolutely paramount. One must be able to hold an ice axe, to light fires to melt water, adjust backpacks and gear.
At the time of the expedition the warmest piece of LOKI gear available was the Lodur Highloft jacket. A Medium insulated Belay style jacket with 133 gram Primaloft Sport synthetic fill with a Pertex classic shell for quick drying and great breathability. We had purchased over filled Feathered Friends Rock and Ice Parkas to wear over everything. We tried to get them made using the Loki Mitt design but it became to large a task for the company to complete. We wore these monster jackets for 30 minutes when we arrived to negative -25 degree temperatures after an exhausting single carry climb from 11, 200 foot camp. The entire rest of the climb we wore a combination of our eVENT LEVITY Shell Jackets, light wool base layers, light LOKI Midi Micro Fleece, and the LODUR jackets. Integral Primaloft pants were essential above 17,200 feet to keep the toes warm. On most days of acclimating and shoveling at 14,000 foot camp I wore the base layer shirt and the Lodur Jacket! I wore woolie bottoms and light softshell pants. I had everything I needed right there with me in one piece and no chance to lose anything like mitts or neckgaiters. It was a freeing experience and everyone on the trip that noticed it was impressed to say the least.
Boots- aka keeping your toes-I wore Scarpa Laser AT boots. They were much heavier than my old Dynafit TL3 boots but they sufficed. I didn’t latch any buckles except the very bottom one. Walking wasn't natural, just sufficient. I had Intuition custom inner boots molded to my feet. Caution on thermo molding! Be sure to wear all the socks you intend to wear and if you use an orthotic which Intuition does not recommend, try to get it molded in the liner with your foot. If you don’t you could have your heel raised up to where the heel will rub against the contour that was meant to hold your heel down. Not cool. This happened to Dirk and myself.
I wore thin liner socks, vapor barrier liner by Integral designs(tm), with expeddition weight wool socks over all layers for long days out.
Around both the 14,200 foot Camp and t 17,200' Camp, I often wore just the 40 Below Over Boots with bare feet for short trips to take a leak or check the weather. The neoprene alone kept my feet warm enough for short term use.
In June, no Biggie.
40 Below Over Boots! -keeping all your toes-I brought 40 Below Purple Haze neoprene over boots. My conundrum here was if I could modify the over boots to fit with the ski bindings. The answer is maybe, but, I did not need to because it is not cold enough to need the over boots below 14,200 feet on Denali. The approach and descent on skis was no problem. Motorcycle Hill, Squirrel Hill, and Windy Corner above 11,000 foot camp were too steep to use climbing skins on the skis (skin up)so we put crampons over the over boots from here up. When we arrived at 14,000 foot camp the sun had gone behind the mountain and the temperature dropped to -25 degrees below zero so it was a good thing we had our over boots on then.
40 Below Over Booties- (same thing)
Besides the basic advantage of keeping your ski/mountaineering boots warm, 40 below over boots were awesome serving the role as camp booties! In fact I wore them most of the 12 days at 14,000 foot camp just over my boot liners with out the plastic boots on unless I went skiing.
Dry Gear Every Night!!! Very Important-
When sleeping, always have boot liners in the sack with you to dry. ALWAYS DRY YOUR SOCKS, LINERS, AND FOAM BOOT LINERS! This is Major! Just do it. You will thank me and your resiliance. Put your socks under your long underwear shirt right next to your skin. Woll underwear help big in keeping from getting too funky.
Sleeping SystemAs per recommendation from Ian at Integral designs, we used a -25 degree Western Mountaineering down bag synthetic overbags. To maintain the dryness of the down for comfort and security we bought custom Primaloft(R) IntegralDesigns(tm) over bags sized to fit over the down bags. This system is used by the Canadian Military and works wonders to pull the through moisture inner down bags to dry fater.
Again it is vitally important to dry your socks, underwear, keep water warm and have many other items in your inner bag to dry out while you sleep. We felt it was a great set up to manage this neccesity. The large Primaloft bags were also excellent for sleeping in the solstice warmth of Talkeetna, Fairbanks, and the Arctic before and after the trip.
I've heard many stories of down and even synthetic bags getting gradually heavier and less warm from retaining moisture. Especially with Dryloft and other bags with barriers. We did not experience this at all with our system.
Sleeping PadsWe used huge Intuition base pads (intuition makes the best ski and climbing boot liners), a full length thermarest Prolite 3 inflatable pad, and a cheap-o blue foam pad from Campmor. I slept on a cloud sandwich. Foam pad base, then cushy infation pad, topped off by a narrower blue pad, aaaahhhh. There are a lot of options here but I would not skimp on sleeping comfort and I would not entirely trust an inflatable pad alone.
Tent 1 Igloo Box by Grand Shelters
I highly recommend building an IGLOO for Denali at the 14,200 foot Camp-
The number one cool part of our trip was the security of the Igloo form we brought. It was a 4 pound Ice Box™ Igloo block form from Grand Shelters in Colorado, $200SRP. We practiced building 5 igloos during the winter and spring to get a feel for the construction and the snow conditions. The first attempt in cold powder took 12 hours to build. In spring snow it took us less than 2 hours! so it is very dependent on conditions as to how much effort and time it can take to build a shelter this way. Once most igloos are built they are very sturdy and comfortable. It is said that igloos can withstand category 5 Avalanches.
It provided windless and flapless rest and we were unconcerned with the chance of our tent breaking a pole, being wrapped around our faces, or blowing away. It did take us three days to erect it as warm compactable conditions were only available a few short hours of the day. This combined with acclimatizing to 14,000 feet and shoveling a lot is not easy. You have to shovel to build or improve existing snow walls around your tent anyway so no real loss there. We did of course bring a great tent for the way up and for camp at 17,200 feet.
Jim Hale's group, also from Grand Junction, made a cut block igloo at 17,200 ft. This technique is doable but I still recommend the box to learn to make an igloo in less than ideal conditions.
The igloos were fun to build and great fun for kids.
Tent 2 Hilleberg Namatj 3 GTWe brought a Hilleberg Namatje 3 GT. The Hilleberg Tunnel design is much like our Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R tent but has more guy lines to stake out for wind stability and has a great vestibule for safe and convenient cooking in a roomy area in front of the tent. We received many comments at the handiness of this feature and the weight savings of the -10 pound sturdy tent.
Many other parties carried Black Diamond Mega-Mids’ or Posh(tm) tents for cooking and hanging outside of tents during the day. These "cook tents" for larger parties are very nice communal option and serve well as a back up tents.
FoodMy Brother Dirk and had special concerns because we have gluten intolerence. We had the non' wheat options of rice, corn and...potato flakes! and lots of them. We lived mostly on the potato flake soup with various flavorings and additives. Butter chunks and Bertoli Olive Oil.
The Bertoli also came in handy for keeping the only tent door zipper from freezing shut in the relentlessly wet and heavy snow fall at the 11,000 foot camp!
Scam food and gas from climbers descending or relenting at the 14,200 ft camp. Up high, carbs are king. I still craved cheese, milk and other calcium and protien soruces. We recieved more meat than we carried. I was thankful for that!
On the way down from the summit, Dirk and I enjoyed a world famous mint cake that a nice gentleman gave me. Eh? all sugar and so-so, but not that great. no wonder the brits teeth are famous.
I took four pill vitamin supplements daily and religiously. I also have a weak and damaged knee from snowboarding injuries. My right knee can't lift more than five pound leg extensions on a weight machine. My left can do 100 or more. Not good. I can't even really telemark anymore. It worried me so I brought a 3 week supply of Glucosemine caplets. It worked. Ski poles helped hump all that weight using four limbs instead of one and a half legs.
Gu is nice up high as it doesn't freeze and it is easy to digest. We had a lot of Gu in our pockets at all times. I'm sure there are other brands and flavors that we carried. Make sure it is a non-freezing complex (maltodextrin) sugar.
Vitamins and MineralsI took four pill vitamin supplements daily and religiously.
I have a damaged knee from snowboarding injuries. My right knee can't extend more than five pounds on a weight machine. My left knee is fine and can lift 100 or more. It is so bad I can't telemark anymore. It worried me so I brought a 3 week supply of Glucosemine caplets. It seemed to help. Ski poles helped hump all that weight using four limbs instead of one and a half legs.
For the three days at 17,200 feet I'm not sure if vitamins were being assimilated, but I took them to be sure.
DrugsMy brother Dirk consulsted Dr. Peter Hackett for advice on preventative maintanence, disaster drugs adn general strategy. Peter Hackett spent 12 seasons on Denali, some high profile time in the Himalaya, and is widely considered the foremost physician of altitude studies and practice. We had Viagra, Dex, Epi pens, and Diamox. We used aspirin and ibuprofen as blood thinning agents to ward off symptoms as we gained altitude. I took Diamox when we arrived at 14,200 and on Summit Day. I don't think Dirk took anything more than the over the counter stuff on the trip.
We lifted our spirits once in a while (!yeah baby!), particularly at 14'200 with a nice shot of scotch from a trio of brits who scored our spot after we summated. Thanks chaps, very kind!
Helmet- No need for them on this route. We had considered climbing the Upper West Rib but abhorrently deep and dangerous snow conditions prevailed for most of the difficult routes on the mountain during our time there especially on the Rib. Helmets even on the Rib are a maybe.
Avalanche BeaconNo need for this route- but if you and a friend or two have them bring it if you feel like it. We had them, but the safe skiing though great, is limited primarily to the headwall above 14,200 foot Camp so we never used them.
Sled Rigging!Sleds are provided free at the Kahiltna Airstrip. Most folks used these. Going up hill is pretty straight forward. The trick we finally discovered half way down is to tie multiple accessory cords laterally across the bottom of the sled to provide good breaking for the descent, even when skiing down this is EXTREMLY important! It sucks having your sled wrap around your legs when you are trying to stop or slow down. Zach Marquis lost his entire sled and gear into the abyss below Windy Corner, I imagine in part due to the bad tracking sled. I recommend timing your retreat with daylight and softer snow for the ski and sled hills, the ice was pretty hard to ski, we snow plowed most of the way down. The ice did help us cruise the flat miles in short order until heartbreak hill.
PsolarX Breathers help avoid "The Cough"We had the good fortune of meeting Lee Bagle of PsolarX. We were warned about respiratury problems at altitude. the condtion is due to super dry air at high altidude. We religiously used PsolarX exchangers to breath in our tents or igloo to warm and moisten our breath. This also tended to keep out intereior tent and igloo walls dry. This practice resulted in avoiding the dreaded "cough" that many had on Denali. Admittedly it can be somewhat difficult to breathe through the masks when going to sleep, but it was worth it to try to use them as possible. It really hepled.
Liquid Quick Drying cleanserLiquid hand cleanser that dries fast and does not require water. many parties ge sick from uncleanliness. I believe using the liquid regularly was a big help, especially after using the "pit toilet." It would sting, but I used it after the toilet to keep from getting "crusty." Sorry to be so graphic, but it worked well and I recommend it.
Little Details- Under Construction and In ProgressI WILL COMPILE YOUR SUGGESTIONS HERE. Thanks!
MP3 player or FM Radio for some Anchorage Rock!
Dummy Cords- for essential gear;
I corded my sleeping pads so the wind could not take them flying.
Corded a knife in one cargo pocket, a lighter in the other.
I corder a spoon to my GSI "fair share" mug.
The Mug- The screw on lid on these GSI mugs are great for avoiding spillage.
Reflectix- (aluminized house insulation you can buy at hardware stores) works great to insulate the cooking pot sides and lid to make water faster and more efficient. I also wrapped my GSI mug in reflectix to keep meals and beverages warm. My compatriots did not do this, and had to dump out a meal of rice because my mug helped cook the rice further and they didn't wrap thier mugs. You don't want to eat undigestible uncooked rice any time, especially not on a big mountain.
This suggestion from SPer "Edl:"
"Yea, it's amazing how the little details add up on a trip like this. A small thing like an FM radio can really make a big mental difference. I climbed in Argentina with a guy that had a necklace that had lib balm, a lighter, small knife and things like that stuck to it. Looked goofy as hell, but it really made sense. At 20,000 ft, you really don't want to have to be always digging in your pack for that stuff. Even little things like a stuck zipper or a broken shoe lace can be major headache at elevation."
I dummy corded my handkercheif around my kneck and had lip balm and a lighter corded to that. I stuffed under my jacket or shirt to keep from looking like a mega dork but it was usefull.
Tools- Ski Poles- Big Help- BD Whippets were great.
Ice Axe- Petzl Telescoping Pole was great. I took the basket off as teh snow was firm enough, and I wanted to use the axe shaft to plunge deep in case of a crevasse fall. Had one small scar on Motorcycle Hill, but for the most part no issues with crevasses. One party fell ten or so feet when the HUGE bridge beneath 14,200 ft Camp slumped. luckily they came out unscathed. The route moved toward the wall above the big crevasse.
Shovel(s)- I used my trusty Voile. I also carried a plastic "Snow Claw" for back up. Jess Roskelly bent on of our shovels. It can happen. A flat angled shovel is pretty lame.
Possibles Kit- Duct Tape is key here. lighters, extra sunglasses. back up mini-knife. More details coming.
Repair Kit- Duct Tape here too. Stove parts, sleeping pad repair kit.