Denali for Antipodeans

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 23, 2011
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring
Denali Pics and Video on my website

Earlier this year I was invited on a private trip to attempt the Upper West rib of Denali with three other people. This was my first trip to Alaska and also my first private trip in quite a while. I would like to outline some of the things I learned on this trip as an aid for someone contemplating this trip for 2012. A special thanks to Stu Remensnyder for inviting me along and Christi Massi and Matt Schonwald for putting up with me for several weeks . Due to weather, Christi and I managed to get to the top via the West Buttress route on May 23rd. Unfortunately Stu and Matt had to return home after 2 weeks for work commitments.

First things first

When to go - May or June? May is colder and less crowded. June the opposite and more likely to encounter troublesome crevasses. There is a good discussion on

Subject to change, but before you set foot on the mountain, you and your team must have registered 60 days prior to the onset of your trip. The only loopholes are that an individual may join a previously registered expedition 30 days out. Previous summiters may get a 7 day permit but all persons on that permit must have summited.

The permit cost is $200 but there is talk of raising this to $500.
Matt climbing up Motorcycle HillMatt on Ski Hill


Getting there

I flew to Anchorage from Singapore to Hong Kong to bloody Chicago, back to Seattle and then to Anchorage. Thus the perils of flying United. I ended up flying to 3 additional cities that were not in my itinerary (Hello.. Hong Kong. Chicago and San Francisco) I chose an american carrier for the more generous baggage allowance and United’s partnership with Continental to aid in getting my baggage directly to Anchorage.

In Anchorage, I stayed at which is a bit of a climber’s hangout with awesome daily home made choc-chip cookies. They also provide a shuttle to Talkeetna and back for $120. The only downside was that despite us calling mid afternoon from the airstrip at the end of the trip, they were not able to pick us up till the next morning. I strongly suspect that they have become somewhat fearful of collecting passengers after 2-3 weeks shower-less on the mountain without the appropriate biohazard suits.

One of our team members had been to Alaska before and chose K2 aviation over the more popular Talkeetna Air Taxi. His rationale was that in brief windows of weather, it was easier to get on a K2 flight rather than TAT. I believe both air companies have early bird booking discounts. We paid $550 each for the return journey. We were also limited to 150 pounds per person of luggage. We also for a small fee (which I cant recall) bought 4 gallons of fuel for 21 days. This in itself was not enough but we managed to obtain fuel from other finishing parties.

Top of the fixed linesChrsiti at the top of the Fixed lines

Food and Gear

I have yet to figure out why I paid 32c for a banana in Anchorage and $15/kilo in Australia. My point is, in Alaska everything is comparatively cheap for Aussies. I am not too picky about food and for those of similar ilk , I would suggest you buy all food in Anchorage unless you really miss Vegemite and Tim Tams. We paid about $700 for food for 4 people for 21 days and probably had 25% excess and whooa didn’t I just love the pre-cooked bacon and Reece’s peanut butter cups. As for gear, I took advantage of REI’s free store pickup to get a lot of gear that I didn't have already.

For anything more specialized, AMH had some great stuff as well. . These two shops are about 100 m from each other.

Now Denali was the coldest trip I have ever been on, although my experience has been limited to the Khumbu and Aconcagua. I took a -40 Mountain Hardwear bag and this was perhaps slight overkill for May... but only slight. I didn't mind stripping down to my jocks on the ‘relatively’ warm nights and appreciated the extra insurance when my bag got a bit clammy from several days without sun and a leaky nalgene. I bought too much clothing, I ended up wearing the same thermals for 19 days and thus my spare pair were redundant, although if you are going in June, one might appreciate a lighter pair. From 17k camp to summit and back, I wore a full-length fleece suit. I have found this invaluable in really cold temps. Rab. MH and OR make some nice stuff, although I am still on the lookout for a merino bodysuit.

On my feet were LS, Olympus Mons. I saw a lot of Spantiks and Baruntse, La Sportiva seemed to be the preferred footwear on the mountain, with brief appearances by Scarpa and Koflach. The rest of the body, I wore goretex bibs and jacket. Additional insulation was provided by a Montbell Insulated Flatiron jacket from This was just good enough for summit day, mainly as I had a TNF expedition parka that inadvertently flew across the mountain, although I was able to retrieve said jacket on the descent.

As for hands, I as usual bought a variety of gloves. I really like Hestra gloves, so used some insulated hestra leather gloves for most days. Glove and my brief review on Amazon.
For the really cold days, I used OR Alti Gloves. On summit day, I used OR Alti mitt outers with Alti Gloves inners to handle the constant tradeoff between warmth and dexterity.With regards to pack, I initially thought I would try one of BD’s new Mission 75s but the bloody thing never arrived in time for the trip. That’s the only thing that REI let me down on. So, in the week before the trip started, I Facebooked a plea to Graham from Cilogear and in about 5 days, I had a spanking new Cilogear 75 waiting at the Earth B&B in Anchorage. (Yes Earth does take delivery of parcels). This pack is a bit different from the Cilogear 60 l I used on Everest. The pack is designed to take heavier loads and has some special sled pulling tabs. I also appreciated the lower zip compartment for those times, I just want to pull out my sleeping bag and nothing else.

Sled Pulling with Cilogear 75Sled pulling with Cilogear 75 - Photo by Stu Remensnyder

The last special item that I used to completely blow my credit card out of the water and internally justified purchasing by imagining I will use on many trips is the Goal0 Sherpa 50 kit. For quite some time, I had been looking for an easy way to charge my electronic gizmos without having an electronics degree and a car battery. The Goal0 for me is a godsend. I can plug anything into that bastard from a USB Apple cord to a dodgy taiwanese battery charger with an Australian plug.
The Sherpa 50 battery seemed oblivious to the cold, even retaining full charge after being buried in a cache. On sunny days at 63 degrees North it sucked up the sun rays like... (insert inappropriate reference to sexual act here) Well, let’s just say it worked very well. Also be aware that I bought it for $100 less than RRP from REI.

While researching for this trip, I used the following sites with considerable help from some fine people that hang out on the UKClimbing, Summitpost and CascadeClimbers forums.

Supertopo Alaska
Alan Arnette's Denali page
Massive Denali Guide
Summitpost Denali Tips

Homeward bound


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