Mount McKinley, West Buttress, Denali National Park, Alaska 2009
(by Vlado Matuska 2/12/2010)
Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Alaska, USA
Mount McKinley, south summit, 6194 m (20320 ft) standard rout via West Buttress
Kevin Alexander, Vlado Matuska
Dates of the climb:
22 May – 13 June, 2009 (23 days)
Once again, my wife Viera gave me wonderful anniversary gift, a permission to climb “normal” mountain somewhere in the world… Originally we were planning to visit Saint Elias mountain range in Alaska which borders with Wrangell Mountains. Our goal was to climb Mt. Bona 5005 m (16,421 ft) and Mt.Churchill 4767m (15638 ft). These are quite remote peaks, so we were hoping that we could join some other expedition and be safer that way. Our decision became complicated by the eruption of Mount Redoubt volcano in March 2009 which brought some uncertainty regarding flying to Anchorage. After having a discussion with a mountain guide from the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, WA state, we decided to try Mount McKinley. His main point from the safety perspective was that this mountain is not as dangerous as many people think and in addition, there are many climbers who may help in case of emergency, the climbing route is well marked, a 50 degree steep section of the Headwall is secured with two fixed ropes (one to go up and one to go down), access to Denali Pass is well secured as well with snow anchors used for running belay and lastly, rangers are permanently stationed at two locations, at the Base Camp and at the Basin Camp (Camp#4). Lot of useful information can be found on the Summit Post web site (https://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/150199/mount-mckinley-denali.html ).
We had one National Geographic topographic map downloaded from the Summit Post, but we did not use it as much, primarily because route was well marked. In addition, we both had compass and altimeter and Kevin also had GPS which we also did not use too much.
Almost 24 hours, none of us had brought any headlamps.
Must be issued 60 days prior to climb, you can register on line, fax or mail. (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/registrationinfo.htm). In 2009, 1161 climbers registered to climb Mt.McKinley, and 682 made it to the summit, that is 59% rate of success. Climbing fee was $200 per person and of it $25 is payable at time of registration. What I found interesting was the requirement to describe applicant’s climbing history. I thought that was good idea, McKinley should not be a person’s first high altitude climb, but this probably does not apply to guided climbs. It is also necessary to make an appointment with the rangers in Talkeetna Rangers Station before flying to glacier.
We had too much of it and ate less than what we calculated. At Basin Camp (Camp-4), before our departure, we followed the example of many others and gave away a lot of food to rangers and other climbers. However, if the weather was very bad, all that extra food would have been essential. Our favorite was “Mountain House” freeze dry, which actually tasted pretty good. It gets more complicated for the foreign climbers who can not bring any meat with them to USA, but with all the weight restrictions on the airlines, we did most of our shopping in Anchorage, we went to Costco http://www.costco.com ; 4125 DeBarr Road, (907) 269-9510) and to Fred Meyer (7701 Debarr Road, (907) 269-1700). Last minute climbing equipment and freeze dry food can be also purchased in REI store (http://www.rei.com ; 1200 West Northern Light Blvd, (907) 272-4565).
Travel to Talkeetna:
This little bit complicated. We had help from Tami, a sister of my friend Mark who originally was member of our team. Mark had to cancel because of his new job. Travel to Talkeetna takes about 2 hours and since there is no scheduled bus connection, most of the climbers are forced to take quite a expensive shuttle service charging on average $150-250 per person, round trip. Price includes 1-2 hours stop for food shopping in Anchorage, which may not be enough time. Tami came to our hotel around 9:00 AM, she took us to Costco (which I am member of) and to Fred Mayer supermarkets as mentioned above. We were done with shopping around 11:30, went to Tami’s favorite Thai restaurant for lunch and made it to Talkeetna at 15:00 afternoon. Our appointment with rangers was at 15:30 PM. It was quite an interesting discussion; we were shown pictures of dead climbers, or climbers with severe frostbites, it almost scared us from climbing McKinley, then we talked about our climbing equipment and other logistics. At the end we received lovely green bucket and plastic bags for our toilet needs. Information regarding support services can be found on Denali National Park web site www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/support-services.htm
Accommodation in Talkeetna:
Our airline tickets purchased from Hudson Air Service included two nights in Talkeetna Hostel where we stayed one night before the flight to the glacier. Hostel was OK, good enough for one or two nights.
Flight to Talkeetna:
As already mentioned, we used Hudson Air Service, Kevin compared the prices and this was the cheapest one. Price included 2 nights at hostel and the sleds (www.hudsonair.com ). Roundtrip ticket was $500/person; we also paid an extra $5 for package of 75 wands and purchased 3 gallons of fuel for $10/ gallon, 3 gallons was enough. All this was received on the glacier after landing. There are also other air services, such as Fly Denali (www.flydenali.com) or K2 Aviation (www.flyk2.com) with equally experienced pilots, but more expensive since they fly bigger and more modern airplanes.
Climbing Equipment, Temperatures, and Weather:
Entire climb is on the glaciers, so ice axe, crampons, ropes, harness and all the necessary rescue equipment is absolute must together with snow shoes or skis. Our list of equipment is included. We received plastic snow sleds at the glacier landing strip, these are typical kid's sleds, we picked wider ones which are more stable. We have seen narrow ones tip over many times. Weather-wise, McKinley is overall cold mountain. It is the tallest subarctic mountain in the world, just to compare, Mt. Everest is 2400 miles (3840 km) south from Denali’s latitude. I did not want to carry very heavy sleeping bag, so mine was goose down bag, 700 fill power and was rated to -10F (-23C). I planned that if it gets really cold, I will combine bag with down parka, down pants and down sleeping booties. Weather was warmer than expected, night temperatures dropped to -20F (-30C), but because of very low humidity, we didn’t feel it as cold. However, you really have to be prepared for the nasty weather. Weather forecastS weren’t very reliable. Storms arrive very fast from the Bering Sea and Alaska Range is the first one to receive it. Our first 5 days were very beautiful, then we had 5 stormy days and the rest was mixed. Week before the trip, I climbed Mt. Rainier (14,411 ft) with my friend Nick, to pre acclimatize and to get use to heavy backpacks. It not only helped to improve my condition, but helped me to realize that our 2 person North Face tent was too small for 3 week stay. We rented 4-season, 3-person Hilleberg tent for $160 from American Alpine Institute in Bellingham. Its big vestibule was very very practical not just for the storage, but also for cooking, especially during the storms. I wish it was cheaper Tto purchase, normally it costs around $700. Also, my synthetic sleeping bag officially rated to -20F was worthless, I felt cold on Mt. Rainier, so I purchased Cabelas X-Treme goose down sleeping bag. This sleeping bag worked on Mt.Kinley really well.
Unlike previous training when I always focused on hiking with heavy backpacks, this time my training consisted mainly from bicycling, primarily because I signed up for the Seattle to Portland bicycling event (STP) ,200 miles long trip (320 km). Last 2 months before departure to Denali, I bicycled on average 20-30 miles daily and hiked every Saturday 6-8 hours with 40-50 Lb heavy backpack.
McKinley climb – Vlado’s log book:
Day1 - May 22 (Friday) –
I arrived to Anchorage from Seattle around midnight, and was surprised to see still plenty of daylight outside. Kevin arrived from Pittsburgh one hour later and we met at Holidays Inn hotel.
Day2- May 23 (Saturday) –
As mentioned previously, we met Tami at 9:00 AM to begin our food shopping and made it to Talkeetna around 3:00 pm. Our appointment with rangers was at 3:30 PM; after about 40 min talk we received our expedition label with #861 and small green toilet bucket which included biodegradable plastic bags. Afterwards we walked to Hudson Air hangar and started packing; it seemed that we had too much stuff. I noticed there were two Italian climbers who faced the same dilemma. Each of us had one 50 Lb (22kg) heavy backpack and 70 Lb duffel bag for the sleds. We used inexpensive duffel bags sprayed down with extra silicone water repellent which worked out excellent for us. We made it to Talkeetna hostel at 8:30 PM, ready to eat something and go to bed with expectation of good weather next day. The hostel was OK, it seemed neglected, but who cares, it was only for one night.
I made one last phone call to Bellingham and talked to my family; we were told that the cell phone reception on the glacier is almost non existent so we left phones in Talkeetna (Hudson Air's safe) along with other valuables.
Day3 - May 24 (Sunday) –
Departure from Talkeetna to Kahiltna
Glacier was in the morning at 8:30, the weather was perfect which made us really happy. There were 4 people in the airplane, pilot, Kevin, myself and Jody, hiker from Los Angeles Sierra Club, who just went for an observation flight. Flight to Kahiltna Glacier was very smooth except for the turbulence before landing. Views were fantastic and as we approached Denali, mountains growing bigger and taller as we got closer. We noticed a lenticular cloud covering the summit of Mt. Kinley. Finally we landed, Base camp is at 7,200 ft altitude (2190m) and views of Mt.Hunter and Mt. Foraker from there are very majestic and almost intimidating. It reminded me of pictures of Himalayan Mountains.
At the Base Camp we picked up our fuel and sleds, and then buried enough food for 3 days. First climbing speed bump encountered, we forgot to get our wands from Hudsun Air in Talkeenta so we had base camp manager radio back to Hudsun Air who had their ground support pack wands for us on another carrier already scheduled out to glacier about an hour later. The next problem encountered was almost the most costly for us. Our one and only shovel broke burying our backup food cache. We scrambled asking the Park Rangers and Landing Strip Manager for any parts/assistance. To our great relief the Rangers had an extra shovel discarded from a previous expedition and also had a stainless steel hose clamp to repair our broken one. Thank you Base Camp Rangers!!! We did not encounter any shovel mishaps the rest of the climb. Finally around 1:00 PM started our 5.5 miles (8.8 km) long journey to Camp#1, which we reached at 6:30 PM. Camp#1 is sometimes called Ski Hill Camp and its altitude is 7900ft (2400m). Despite heavy loads (backpack +sleds), it wasn’t very bad. First part of the trip is downhill (which is heartbreaking when coming back) and the rest is slightly uphill. Glacier was in excellent condition, no big crevasses. Without problem we found an empty tent site surrounded by snow wall, which saved us a lot of work. Walls offer additional protection against the fierce winds which are very hard on the tents.
Day4 - May 25 (Monday) –
In the morning we packed about half of our load (30 kg each) and hiked a short 3.2 miles (5.12km) to Camp#2, where we buried our cache and sleds. We used our wands and our expedition label to mark the location. Camp #2 is 9,700ft high (2900m) and we moved pass traditional Camp #2 closer to Kahiltna pass. I noticed that most people don’t go as far as we did. Altitude gain was 2100ft (640m). The weather was still very beautiful, but little bit windier. We made it back to Camp#1 without any problems.
Day5 - May 26 (Tuesday) –
We packed the tent and left our campsite around 9:30 AM. No need to hurry at this point, we wanted to acclimatize well. We were sorry we left our sleds at the Camp#2, our backpacks seemed too heavy. When we reached the campsite, once again we found perfect site with an already built snow wall. The views were fantastic, it reminded me pictures of Antarctica, the Kahiltna Glacier is huge 36 miles long (58km). The weather forecast was every day at 8:00PM, but radio reception once again was bad and we could not understand anything.
Day6 - May 27 (Wednesday) –
We woke up to a cold miserable morning. It was windy and snowing and we were kind of surprised to see the end of our beautiful weather, it was easy to get used to nice weather. Wind gusts were reaching perhaps 40mph (60kmh). The weather was bad the whole day, almost total white-out, so we made it our first official rest day. In the evening two Polish climbers arrived and built their tent next to us.
Day7 - May 28 (Thursday) -
It snowed through the whole night and day, but it was less windy. Visibility was very poor, so we decided to stay another day thinking that at least we will be well acclimatized. We were trying to stay busy, our tents were partially buried by snowdrifts so we were shoveling them, rebuilding snow walls and Kevin was trying to resolve his puzzle book, while I made (shoveled) the most elaborate latrine found on the Kahiltna Glacier. Our polish neighbors Robert and Jurek from Krakow did the same. Radio weather forecast at 8:00 PM failed again.
Day8 - May 29 (Friday) -
The weather improved some what, it snowed less and we could see the sun peeking thru the clouds. We decided to pack everything and hike all the way to Camp#3, also called Motorcycle Hill. Its altitude is 11,00ft (3300m) and is only 1.3 miles (2km) away. At first I did not have any problems, but the last section was steeper and my MSR snow shoes did not hold very well. Somehow it made me very tired despite having two days of rest. On the other side, Kevin was doing very good and felt well. I was also struggling with my sled, at first I tried to connect them to my harness but it was pinching my hips, then finally I followed Kevin’s approach and attached them to rear straps of my backpack which worked much better. Afterwards I was thinking that it would be easier to take half of the load and do two trips in one day, instead of one heavy single carry. Next to us camped climbers from Germany, Bavaria and Switzerland.
Day9 - May 30 (Saturday) –
After yesterday’s single carry we now had all our gear at Camp#3. We were going to make a cache of food at Camp#4, but the weather worsened and got very windy especially around the Windy Corner, where wind gusts were reaching 60mph (100kmh). Our German neighbors tried to make it through, but did not succeed same as Polish climbers Jurek and Robert who even spent night below the Windy Corner.
Day10 - May 31 (Sunday) –
Same old same, occasional snow and high winds. Six Italians attempted to succeed over the Windy Corner, but had to retreat. Meantime we noticed many more climbers arriving from lower camps.
Day11 - June 1 (Monday) –
Still cloudy, but less windy. We decided to try again to make cache at Camp#4, our neighbors Joseph and his wife Cornelia from Bavaria and Peter and his son Manuel from Switzerland decided to do the same.
The winds above Motorcycle Hill were strong, so very reluctantly we buried our food cache at the Squirrel Hill, which is below the Windy Corner. Kevin was beginning to have doubts about his abilities to continue on up the mountain in such high winds and bad weather. We saw that someone/group had dug a snow cave previously and there was equipment still in it. Back in the camp, our friends Jurek and Robert were getting low on food, so we gave them some of ours.
Day12 - June 2 (Tuesday) -
Same old same, but we had to do something, we already lost 5 days because of the bad weather, and so despite the high winds we packed some additional food and decided to try. I made choice to leave the sleds at the Camp#3, I could not stand them any more, on steeper hill they became a real drag to me. Kevin was much tougher and was able to tolerate them. On the Squirrel Hill we picked our cache from previous day and continued. We almost gave up again, and then we saw Jurek and Robert waiving at us and telling us that it is not so bad up there. They were right, as soon as we got around the desolate, windswept rock and ice of Windy Corner, it got much quieter, and pretty soon we found ourselves above the clouds and reached Camp 4 at about 4:00PM. This camp is sometimes called Basin Camp and its altitude is 14200ft (4328m). The weather to my surprise was quite pleasant up there, but we had no choice and had to go down. After passing the Windy Corner, all the sudden Kevin fell into narrow crevasse on the small plateau above the Squirrel Hill. I could not believe it; I thought there were no any crevasses. It looked bad, his right elbow took the hit and I thought he broke his leg; my immediate thought was how in the world I will get him down from here. Fortunately nothing happened, only some bruises. We suffered down most of Motorcycle Hill in a near white-out, we moved to a wand and stopped until we could see the next wand, thank you to all the groups that leave extra wands. We will remember this and position our extra wands along the route.
Day13 - June 3 (Wednesday) –
Finally, beautiful blue sky. We packed the rest of our junk and left Camp#3 for good. Windy Corner was boringly quiet. At Basin Camp, once again, we found good abandoned campsite for our tent. We were happy to be there, and we felt like we were finally getting somewhere, to us it was quite an accomplishment to make it to the Camp#4, after all those storms... We both liked the location; it seemed to be shielded from storms, plenty of room for campsites with majestic views of Mt. Foraker, two toilets and rangers.
Day14 - June 4 (Thursday) –
Morning started with the clouds, but later on it partially cleared. I joined Joseph, Peter and his son Manuel in small acclimatization trip to the Headwall; we made it all the way to the ropes, which is about 15675 ft high (4777m) and turned around. We all felt very good. Kevin decided to stay in the camp. Later on in the afternoon, clouds rolled in and it started to snow.
Day15 - June 5 (Friday) –
The weather is bad again. Kevin had officially decided to bail out of the climb, the cold and storms were making all of us miserable, his elbow was still hurting him, but it was especially his right shoulder which he injured a week before Denali. At first it looked like it heeled, but then the pain was coming back, mainly when he was moved his right arm upward. It was disappointing for both of us, he was in very good condition and well acclimatized, and I was hoping he would change his mind, but I was very grateful for his support up to this point. As I was reminded many times during my climbing career, a good climber is good as long as he/she is alive. The plan for me was to take cache of food to the pass above the Headwall. Kevin decided to give it try and followed me to the Headwall ropes and then he turned around. I continued by myself, wall is about 100m long and 51 degrees steep, but fixed ropes and mechanical ascender (jumar) made it relatively easy. When I reached the pass (altitude 16200ft; 4898m), it got really windy and stormy; my two glacier glasses were immediatly covered by snow. I needed goggles to keep the snow out of my eyes, it was miserable. In a hurry I buried my cache and started fast descent. Rappelling on the ropes did not pose any problem.
Back in the Basin Camp, climbers Scott and Steven from Salt Lake City (whom we met first time in Talkeetna), invited me to join their team and continue to climb with them to High Camp tomorrow morning, but it would require to exchange their two person tent for our three person tent. I was pleased by their offer, but I felt very tired after today’s climb to the Headwall and needed some rest, so we agreed to exchange the tents and the plan for them was to take it next day to High Camp and Sunday they will attempt to go for the summit. I will rest tomorrow, climb to the High Camp on Sunday and I will try for the summit following day, Monday, while they will return back to Basin Camp. All I will have to do,is take with me my sleeping bag, stove and pickup my Headwall cache on my way up. It sounded logical, I believed I was well acclimatized, no headaches and the weather forecast was calling for high pressure for the next three days.
Day16 - June 6 (Saturday) –
Morning was nice, there were strong winds on the summit, but good enough weather to go to High Camp. As planned, we exchanged the tents with Scott and Steven who left for the High Camp together with Joseph and Cornelia from Bavaria and Jurek and Robert from Krakow. Peter and his son Manuel decided to stay and on Sunday, they will attempt one day climb, from Basin Camp all the way to the summit and back. That will be hard I thought, it is huge altitude gain of 6134ft (1866m) and I did not feel like I could do it, although I did it twice before in Andes on Aconcagua climbs. After lunch, Kevin and I took short walk to the Edge of the World, rocky viewpoint with awesome views of Cassin Ridge, Mt.Foraker and 4,500ft drop to lower glaciers. I highly recommend it.
When we returned, we received bad news, the weather forecast changed once again, Sunday will be beautiful, but Monday weather will worsen and storm will arrive in late afternoon. I had to change the plan, perhaps I should try one day climb as Peter and Manuel. Kevin was also very supportive, I have nothing to lose he said, at minimum I can make it to the High Camp at 17,200ft (5200m), and if I feel good, I can continue.
Day 17 – June 7 (Sunday) –
I could not sleep well, I was agonizing over my decision. I will be solo climbing whole day, what if the weather changes and I will be stuck in the High Camp as 4 Polish climbers were before our arrival to Basin Camp. Finally, at 4:00 in the morning, I made-up my mind, I decided to go. I noticed that Peter and Manuel were about to leave and when I left the camp at 6:00 AM, they were already in the middle of the Headwall. I reached the High Camp after 5 hours of climbing, at 11:00 in the morning, just when Scott and Steven and many others were leaving the camp. Everywhere else in high mountains it would be very late, but not here, remember there is 24 hours of daylight and also, strong morning winds (30-50mph) typically quiet down around noon. Scott and Steven asked me to join them, but I needed a short break, so I stayed, enjoyed my delightful freeze dryed lunch and left the camp at 2:00 PM, still 3264ft (993m) to climb. Diagonal traverse to Denali Pass was steeper than expected, but not bad.
On the summit plateau called Football Field, I passed Manuel who was feeling sick and decided to stay and wait for his father Peter who continued. I also met Scott and Steven and also Joseph and Cornelia, as they were coming down after successful climb to the summit, I was happy for them.
I was getting tired; fortunately I did not have any headaches or dizziness. Getting to the summit ridge from the Football Field was physically hard for me, but once there, the summit seemed very close and it energized me with summit fever. The ridge is exposed, little bit of knife edged on some places, and it is critical to have good weather on this last section of the climb. A few more steps and finally, I reached the summit at 8:20 PM, 14 hours of climbing after leaving the Basing Camp. The weather was perfect, it was quiet, not windy, not very cold either, I was very grateful to God for that. There was one more climber who was just leaving and I asked him to take some pictures of me. The views were incredible, huge long glaciers to the south with dominant Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter, and in contrast, much shorter glaciers to the North with noticeable flat tundra sprinkled with many lakes. It was good feeling to be up there, 20,320ft high (6193m), highest point of North American continent, but too tired to fully enjoy it. I stayed on the summit only 20 minutes and then left, after all it is only half of the climb.
Down at the Football Field I took short break, drank some tea and all the sudden I threw-up, without warning, I had to be too tired I thought. When I reached Denali Pass, Peter and Manuel were waiting for me, and Peter suggested to rope together. I gladly accepted, we all were very tired and many accidents happen while descending from Denali Pass. Running belay technique and snow anchors worked very well for us. Peter was leading, Manuel was in the middle, and I was last one on the rope. Half way down, around 11:30PM, we experienced very unique sunset, the sun was coming down, but before it reached the horizon it stopped and started to climb again. We made it to the High Camp at midnight, I was very happy to have tent and sleeping bag there, also Peter and Manuel made deal with some Italian climbers and stayed in the High Camp as well. Scott and Steven welcomed me with warm soup and water to drink, I was very dehydrated. 18 hours of climbing was more than enough, it was foolish to climb in one day, but it worked, however, 2 day climb is much better way to go.
Day 18 – June 8 (Monday) –
As forecasted, the weather worsened early morning, summit was covered with clouds and it had to be very windy up there, not good day for the summit. Most frostbite accidents happen when the winds are 30 mph or stronger. After never ending melting of the snow and still feeling thirsty and dehydrated, we finally left High Camp around 11:00 in morning. When we reached the Headwall pass, for the first time, we had to patiently wait in line, there were too many climbers on the rope, trying to repel. Some clients got scared on their way down and we all were stuck there on the steep icy slope for two hours, not too pleasant.
Finally, around 4:00 PM, we made it down to the Basin Camp. Kevin was happy to see us unharmed and welcomed us with warm soup and plenty of tea. It started to snow, according to the weather forecast, they were expecting one foot of snow, that was scary, none of us wanted to experience fierce winds at Windy Corner again. Very reluctantly we started to pack, especially me, I wanted to rest before going down. We still had plenty of food left so we were trying to give it away for free, but had to compete with many others doing the same. We passed Windy Corner without any problems and reached Camp 3 late Monday evening
Day 19 – June 9 (Tuesday) –
It snowed over night, but morning welcomed us with blue sky. We didn’t know what to expect, completely different weather outcome, but we shouldn’t be surprised, it happened so many times. Kevin wanted to leave the mountain today and I was getting more relaxed and wanted to take it easy. But besides his injured elbow and painful shoulder, he was getting some strange blisters on his left hand. We could not figure it out, he ate same food as I did, and it seemed he was allergic to something. Later on he learned that most likely it was caused by very cold and dry air. Finally we packed everything and left Camp#3 at 11:00AM. We had 13 miles (20 km) ahead of us, I hated our plastic sleds, we did not have any special harness, so they were constantly hitting us on our way down. I nicknamed them "plastic pigs".
After we reached Camp#1, snow got much softer and we noticed many more opened crevasses. No wonder rangers leave this place after July 4th. We were glad to have snowshoes. Finally we reached last section called Heartbreak Hill, 690 ft (210 m) climb to the Base Camp airport. At last we made it, it was 5:00PM, very tired, but happy. We talked to dispatcher, who called Hudson Air and they confirmed they would be able to come today around 7:00PM. The weather was fantastic, we had one more job to finish, dig out our food cache. It was hard to believe that our expedition was over. Our airplane arrived around 6:40PM; on our way out, we enjoyed the last beautiful views of Alaska Range, and landed in Talkeetna at 7:35 PM.
Day 20 – June 10 (Wednesday) –
We spent whole day in Talkeetna, doing nothing, after so many days spent on the glaciers, it felt very good to be clean again, although my wife probably doesn’t believe this. Everything looked beautiful and green color of the grass and trees was unusually refreshing.
Day 21/22/23 – June 11/12/13 (Thursday/Friday/Saturday) –
The weather worsened, we were told that nobody was able to leave the glacier for three days, until Sunday when the flights were resumed. We were glad it wasn’t us; otherwise we would miss our Saturday flight. Tammy arrived around noon and invited us with her husband to their Girdwood home with beautiful views of Kenai Peninsula. We were very grateful for their hospitality, then Saturday arrived as scheduled and it was time to go…
Compared to Aconcagua climb I did a few years ago I think Denali is harder. This is despite the fact that McKinley is shorter by almost 3,000 feet. On Aconcagua we hired mules to carry our food & equipment to Plaza de Mulas base camp. Here at Mt. Mc Kinley you have to deal with glaciers, crevasses and we were the mules. It took me 17 days to make it to the summit, but if not for the bad weather, this can be done in 12 to 15 days. McKinley is cold mountain and should not be underestimated, weather is very unpredictable, but sometimes you have to take your chances and do your carry even in bad weather; as long as it is not above the Basin Camp (Camp #4), that would be too risky. Over all Alaska Range is fantastic, countless glaciers, endless tundra… it was wonderfull adventure and perhaps one day I will back again.
DENALI 2009, Actual Equipment List
1 Down Sleeping bag, 700 fill power, rated to -10F (-23C) minimum
1 Inner bag ( optional)
1 Gore-Tex biwy bag (optional)
2 sleeping pads each, thermarest + foam mattress (karrimat)
1 pair plastic mountain boots
1 pair over boots gaiter
1 light windproof jacket for lower glacier travel
1 down jacket
1 pair windproof pants (with side zippers prefferably)
1 fleece trousers or equivalent pants
1 down pants (to combine with sleeping bag in extreme cold)
1 jacket (polartec fleece)
3 pairs of thick (wool) socks and 3 pairs of skin liners
3 sets polyester underwear (1 per week, NO cotton)
3 sets polyester long sleeve shirts (1 per week, NO cotton)
crazy creek chair (optional)
1 facemask (Balaclava)
1 sun hat & 1 warm hat
2 pair Mitts / 2 pairs inner gloves
1 pair down booties (for sleeping)
1 set of ski poles
1 pair of snowshoes
Camera, MP3 player with built in radio, Kevin was able to listen to Fairbanks radio broadcast
Notebook, pencil, book to read, games, cards
1 Duffel Bag for sleds (sprayed with waterproof coating)
Eye Mask (for sleeping optional)
Sit Pad instead of chair?
2 paper back books and suduko puzzle book (KRA)
1 large backpack (6000 cu in.+)
1 pair of crampons
1 ice axe, 2 pulleys
2-3 locking carabiners, 3 normal carabiners
3 short prusiks and 2 long slings
20 ft 6mm cord for sleds (?)
1 jumar, 1 figure-8 rappel
1-2 pairs of sunglasses, plus ski goggles
2-1L Nalgene water bottles
2 Bottle Parkas
1 pocket knife (leatherman), sewing kit
2 spoons (fork), 2 cups(normal+insulated cup)
1 pee bottle, small toilet seat (optional)
1 small personal first aid kit with blister kit
80 mg/350mg aspirins, throat lozenges, foot powder.
Diamox (for AMS or Sleep aid)
Decadron (for Pulmondary Edema)
Toothbrush / toothpaste / toilet paper
20 Hand/Foot Warmers
Sun cream ( sunblock at least spf 25)
Lip balm 2 tubes, small scissors
handwipes-were very important to stay clean
antibiotics ointment, multi-vitamins (Emergen-C)
Water Treatment (Iodine or AguaMira?, we had them but did not use them
1 Hilleberg 4 season Tent for 3 persons with big vestibul
2 MSR Stoves, 2 lighters, 3 gall. of camping fule 4 water proof matches,
2 Pots (2.5 litter pot & 1litter pot)
Plastic bags 10-8 gall, 10-4 gall
2 Sleds, 2.3 Gall.-fuel
1 Snow saw (or wood hand saw), was very usefull
2 30 m Ropes (1-8mm, 1-7mm)
2 Ice screws
Extra carabiners, webbing, cordelettes, prusiks.
1 Avalanche Probe for testing camp sites
sponge, 1 Duct tape, super glue, wire, cord
Snow stakes for tent
1 Extra tent pole