On May 12th, I left my home in Dallas, TX to go climb the West Buttress Route on Denali, or Mt. McKinley with my dad. We went with RMI Guiding Service. This was one of the best experiences and one of the worst experience of my life. There were times I was loving every second, and there were times I was miserable, but it was completely worth it.
Let me tell you, you can not train enough for this mountain. You must do everything you can to prepare. It is not something to take lightly. Being in Texas, there are not any mountains around that I could train on, and I certainly could not prepare for the cold weather. I would load my pack up with 80 pounds and do the stairmaster for an hour and a half or hike around town with it on. I also did weight lifting mainly for my legs, back, and shoulders because these are the muscles you use the most on this mountain. If you are planning on climbing Denali, try and train as hard as you can and then train some more.
We flew into Anchorage and then drove to Talkeetna. This small little town was great. Only a few restaurants. I would recommend Roadhouse for breakfast, and then Mountain High Pizza for lunch, and the West Rib for dinner. The people in town were awesome; very hospitable and very friendly. We checked and double checked all our gear at the hangar. We had bad weather for two days and then flew out to the mountain on May 15.
Flying into the Alaskan mountain range was exhilerating. I could tell that these mountains demanded respect like no other mountains I had yet been to. We landed at base camp (7,200 feet) at the base of Mt. Hunter and stayed the night. We woke up the next morning at 2:30 and packed up. We hiked for 7 hours and set up camp at 7,800 feet. The next day we carried some gear and food that we sould need that evening up to 10,200 feet and burried it or cached it, then headed back down to camp. The next day we hiked up Ski Hill to 11,200 and set up our next camp. We used an abandoned campsite so we did not have to build our own walls at that camp. The next day we went back down and picked up our cache that we had burried the day before. The next day we cached some gear at 13,500 and came back down to 11,200. Then we went all the way up to 14,500 up Motorcycle Hill, around Squirrel Point, and around Windy Corner. We had been hiking for 7 or 8 hours and then when we got there we had to build some good walls. This was extremely difficult because we were already exhausted and dehydrated. A few climbers who were well rested at this camp helped us build our walls but they were not the highest quality walls, but we were happy to get some rest. The next day we woke up and weather was pretty bad. Visibility was pretty bad but we pushed through it to go back down and get our chache. Later in the afternoon the sun came out, but it was still very windy. A gust of wind came at about 50 mph and knocked down a section of our wall. We all went out and started building the wall up again. When we were almost finished, another gust came and knocked down even more than the first time. It was miserable. The wind came one more time a little later and knocked down a different section of the wall. We had been trying to rebuild these walls for 4 hours. I did not realize how cold my fingers were getting. I checked on them and two of them were white with frost nip. I immediatly got in the tent and warmed them up but they actually stayed numb for a couple weeks. Eventually the walls were very strong and could withstand the wind gusts. The next two days were bad weather so we got some very needed rest days. Once the weather cleared up, we cached some stuff at 16,000 feet. The next day we picked up that cache and climbed all the way to 17,200. This included going up the fixed lines section and across the intense ridge to 17,200. We reached camp and spent 3 hours building a camp. All we had to do now was wait for a good summit day. 2 days later we got our chance and took it. It was so windy that day. It took two hours to get to Denali Pass where we took our first break. We left camp at 9:00 in the morning and reached the summit at 5:30 in the afternoon. We only got to stay on the summit for about a minute because it was so windy. It was such an awesome experience though. It took us two days to get down. When we flew off the mountain I weighed myself when I got back and I was 23 pounds lighter. I was feeling very weak but it was all worth this trip of a lifetime.
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