Gear for the West Butress Route of Denali

Gear for the West Butress Route of Denali

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Activities Activities: Mountaineering

LOKI 2005 DENALI EXPEDITION -Denali Gear Suggestions for the West Buttress Route-

                                                                   HERE IS A MOVIE OF OUR EXPEDITION: LOKI 2005 DENALI EXPEDITION

                                                                                                          ABOUT DENALI GEAR FROM THE PAST....
                                We carried a lot of gear we didn't need for testing Loki Gear experiments etc, if we were to do it again, we could improve with lower weights all around by applying newer ultralight backpacking gear.  Online direct to consumer websites with ultralight gear are where its at., Enlightened Equipment and many others are breaking barriers and going direct to consumer to make it affordable. Below is our thoughts about gear from briefly after our trip, if there is interest we will update this over time or create a new page for discussion:

We 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 general suggestions, 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 minimum 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 summited. He did this because of his scheduled break between ski guiding and then raft guiding around this time.


Carry 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.


I'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.

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.


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 expedition 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 System

As 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) Integral Designs(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 faster.

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 Pads

We 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 GT

We 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.


My 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 Minerals

I 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.



My 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!


- 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 Beacon

No 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.
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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 cleanser

Liquid 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 Progress


So far;
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.

Need a Head lamp?

No way baby. I realize I might be stating the obvious here but the eternal light of the north was certainly new to me. It definitely gets dark enough to get cold on the north side of the huge bulk of Mount McKinley, but never dark enough to need light. I still brought a super small Photon Micro Light with a shock cord to make a mini headlamp. I can't recall using it, but it made me feel "prepared."


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I wanted to use skis to make the potential of wading through deep powder an easier prospect. I also imagined a possible descent of the Messner Route, the Rescue Gully, or at least to ski above base camp while acclimating. Many of the skiers left theirs skis at the 11,000 foot camp. I highly recommend carrying the skis higher if you are at all confident on the boards. Motorcycle and Squirrel Hill are a bit steep for skinning so just carry them up.

SKIS All in all it was a great trip. I hope my gear tips help. Don’t over think it. You will be fine. Just DON'T DROP YOUR GLOVES. Don't Ascend above 14,200' feet in bad weather.

Denali Axe

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Viewing: 1-20 of 20

edl - Aug 18, 2006 2:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Great Suggestions!

One other item to bring is a small personal FM radio with headphones. FM reception is great, especially higher on the mountain. You'll do a lot of tent time, and I find that listening to the radio is more relaxing than reading. Or get an MP3 player with lots of audio books. Get one that uses "AAA" batteries so you can carry some spares. An Ipod with only rechargable batteries will go dead on you long before the end of the trip.


seth@LOKI - Aug 19, 2006 5:37 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Suggestions!

Thanks edl. I added your suggestion! All are welcome to add their suggestions and experiences here. I want to make a good resource for people going to Denali. Thanks for the help!


seth@LOKI - Aug 18, 2006 7:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Thanks for the idea!

I did bring an MP3 but didn't use it that much. I mostly soaked in the beauty. Not something I thought I would do. I'll consider adding that to the suggestions. There are alot of things I have to add... Especially like the radio idea. It is surprising that you can get signal there. I recall hearing some playing it. Jess Roskelly brought a DVD player and we watched Jeremiah Johnson in the Irish Tent. Kind of cool!

edl - Aug 19, 2006 4:09 am - Hasn't voted

Little details

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.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the Loki jackets with the built in gloves and face shields. Constantly having to adjust a face shield or keep pulling your mitten cuffs over your jacket sleeves seems like such a minor thing, but it can really start wearing you down physically and mentally. I’m going to have to look into these jackets more closely.


seth@LOKI - Aug 19, 2006 8:25 am - Hasn't voted

thanks. more....

No reason to not have a back up for mitts or a neck gaiter. For me, it was a neccessary luxury.

I also had my knife shock-corded to one cargo pocket of may pants, and a lighter to another. dummy cords. Key as well.


clarkr - Aug 20, 2006 11:50 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Info

Enjoyed the article, very informative. The ice box igloo has peaked
my interest. That might be one of my next investments.

Denali, I guess right now for me would be a dream.

Glad you had a great trip, and thanks again for the info.


seth@LOKI - Aug 21, 2006 9:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Info

Thanks for reading...I have more to add the more I think about the trip.
Denali is a dream! I still owe a bit on it...I think the main thing gear wise is that is different is teh big jacket, some insulated pants, and a warmer bag, maybe an upgrede tent. Stuff you and I might never use again.

I strongly recommend the box. Denali snow is such that an igloo can be built by "cut block" technique. I would practice as much as possible and learn the techniques and get a feel for the snow types. We had 3 hrs. per day that made snow "maluable" enough to pack the blocks. Once it was made...heaven! I have heard of some parties attempting to only use igloos. I do not recommend this. If you could learn how to build cut block, that would save you four pounds, but conditions are rare in the lower 48.

Brad Marshall

Brad Marshall - Aug 21, 2006 4:53 pm - Hasn't voted


All good suggestions. The hand sanitizer is very important on a mountain like Denali for keeping things sanitary. You might want to add in 2 packs of non-alcohol containing baby wipes. They work well for cleaning all your private areas and for general bathing in the tent every week or so to keep smell to a minimum.


seth@LOKI - Aug 21, 2006 9:57 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Info

You have some nice pis of Denali by the by. Thanks!


seth@LOKI - Aug 21, 2006 9:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Yes. Good idea but could be more trash than you want to deal with.

I think we brought some wipes, but mostly used the liquid. I kept a small bottle of liquid in my cargo pockets at all times and used it alot! The trash you pack out won't be very nice to deal with could throw it in the pit toilets but I'd avoid trash wherever possible.


1mvertical - Aug 23, 2006 1:55 am - Voted 10/10

This is the kind of information I am looking for.

This was a great article for me in planning my own Denali adventure. Thanks for taking the time to share.


seth@LOKI - Aug 24, 2006 4:00 pm - Hasn't voted

I wrote for YOU!

I hope this helps. Ask anything anytime! I'd love to relive this experience and make it better for you if I can!


steste - Aug 24, 2006 6:14 pm - Voted 10/10

Thanks for...

.... sharing your experiences. A lot of precious informations in your suggestions.


zenalpinist - Aug 28, 2006 7:47 pm - Voted 10/10

Ice box

Yes, the Ice Box is great. After this early winter months, I hope to have a nice article detailing our use with this great device. Have built several igloos around in Colorado in mid-to-late conditions, but need some early season data/experience. A must-have for extended base camps...not too useful on one or two day, alpine-style pushes; use a small footprint tent.

ps: good article, look to be heading to Denali once grad-school is done.


seth@LOKI - Aug 29, 2006 7:16 am - Hasn't voted


I added to the suggestions. More. I'll edit that and add more soon. thanks!


seth@LOKI - Sep 6, 2006 6:12 am - Hasn't voted

Igloooo fun for the family tooo.

We made five igloos before Denali to train. I thought they were fun to build. The sirst one in cold sugar/powder January snow took 12 hours but lasted nearly all winter and was great fun for kids and all to stop off during a ski tour! The fastest and last one we made was in spring glop on top of Red Mountain Pass near Ouray. That one took 1 hour 45 minutes! True they are "functionally" superior for base camps, but they are also "fun" for the fun of it!


giggy - Sep 19, 2006 6:10 pm - Hasn't voted


nice article!! - I have the 2005 myth soft shell and have used it on rainier/shasta and hood as well as the past 2 winters in the whites (NH) - read: COLD!! (ok - maybe not as cold as denali)

great product - my only regret is I wished i waited to buy the 2005 version - cuz the 2006 looks better!! darn....

thanks again - I hope someday to get up there myself.
Very useful article.


seth@LOKI - Sep 22, 2006 5:35 am - Hasn't voted

Thank you!!!

Have I perhaps seen a photo or heard from you in the Whites?


Alpinist - Jul 31, 2007 1:19 pm - Voted 10/10


This is a very useful article. Thanks for posting it. How much fuel did you use per person, and where did you purchase it?


seth@LOKI - Aug 2, 2007 10:45 am - Hasn't voted

fuel from memory

We took four cans of gas for the trip. As I recall we purchased fuel from Talkeetna Air. We left some at the air strip. I do recall recieving perhaps another can worth of fuel in various containers as well as a variety of food from descending parties. We probably would have been fine with out extra, but we did pitch in for massive amounts of tea with the Irish Team.

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