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Trip Report- Denali West Buttress

Trip Report- Denali West Buttress

Trip Report- Denali West Buttress

On May 22nd after months and months of planning and training my good friend and longtime climbing partner Dave and I headed to the Alaska Range to climb North America’s highest peak, Denali, via its famous West Buttress. The preparation, logistics and commitment required for an unsupported climb of Denali is a somewhat monumental undertaking that loomed large in our minds. Denali has been on our radar for years. Even after multiple expeditions to the Himalayas we often talked about it as a “some day” goal.

Last fall, a series of events lent themselves to opening up the possibility for us to make our dream a reality. After once again revisiting our idea for climbing Denali over a few beers, Dave and I both met Elliot, the co-founder of a Boulder based nonprofit call Climb for Colon Cancer independently of each other. All the sudden our dream to climb Denali could be about more than just a climb- we could join forces with Climb for Colon Cancer and raise money for colon cancer research as well as awareness of colon cancer while climbing.

By early January we had committed to climb Denali as a part of Climb for Colon cancer. We spent the next five months training by sticking to regimented workout plans (crossfit for me, a triathlon training program for Dave), climbing 14ers in Colorado, fund raising for C4CC and working out the gear and logistics needed to make our dream a reality.

Headed up the Dead Dog in mid winter conditions on a training climb.

Another Dead Dog shot.

Top of the Dead Dog

As the Spring progressed we acquired several gear sponsors and ramped up our training regiment. We were spending weekend after weekend away from home sleeping high and climbing 14ers- Quandary, Torreys, Sherman, Longs and Shavano. We often found ourselves climbing in conditions that might have otherwise turned us around. The combination of Denali gear (very warm double boots, big expedition down parkas, alti mits, etc) and thoughts of “Denali could be much worse than this and we need to be able to climb in this” kept us going. On one particular day we had 70+mph wind gusts and God-only-knows wind chills on Quandary and we still pushed on and made the summit.

In addition to our workout and climbing training, we spent a day with local IFMGA Guide Dale Remsberg brushing up on our crevasse rescue skills. We dialed in our 3:1 and 6:1 haul systems and absorbed as much info as we could about Denali.

We finished our 14er training two weekends before leaving by carrying 70+ lb loads up the Angel of Shavano and sleeping at close to 14,000 feet. We spent our next weekend (and last weekend before leaving) working out final logistics and planning meals. To save time in Anchorage, we bought 99% of our food in Colorado before leaving.

Finally, after months of preparation we flew to Anchorage on May 21st with over 300lbs of equipment and food. We spent only a few hours in Anchorage before an old friend of Dave’s drove us to Talkeetna.

The next day we met with a mountaineering ranger in Talkeetna and finalized our permit. We got word that few groups were summiting because of bad weather and bad conditions. There had also been several fatality accidents high on the mountain.

Following our meeting we organized our gear at Sheldon Air Service. The weather that morning wasn’t cooperating, but by early afternoon it had turned from a no-go to a go and we were off to base camp on a 45 minute flight.

Taking off in Talkeetna

Our pilot Dave, who has more hours than any other pilot in the Alaska Range.

The glaciers in the Alaska Range are so much larger than anything I’ve seen in the Himalayas.

Foraker is angry. That lenticular cloud is a sign of 1- very high winds aloft (>70mph) and 2- an imminent storm that will hit the range in the next 12-24 hours.

Denali is somewhere back there in the clouds.

Looking down on base camp with Hunter looming large.

Upon landing, we unloaded our gear, dug a cache to bury food and fuel for our return to basecamp and started gearing up. There were large avalanches coming down off many of nearby peaks as they shed themselves of recent snowfall.

A class 4 or 5 slide.

This particular avalanche on Foraker ran about 6,000 vertical feet and was about 3/4 of a mile wide. We were amazed at the size and scope of the slides coming down, and it didn’t even cross our minds that there might be people in them. As it turns out, there were two climbers killed by a slide right outside basecamp.

Caches at base camp with Denali (center) in the background. The summit is more than 16 miles and 13,000 vertical feet away at this point.

Just after we were all packed, roped up and ready to head out for an evening jaunt over to Camp I a powerful storm rolled in. The Foraker lenticular had been right. With 50 mph winds, snowfall and zero visibility we decided to set up camp, hunker down and head out the next morning.

Day 1 (first full day)

The next morning we re-packed and headed out for our 5.5 mile trip across the lower Kahiltna Glacier to Camp I.

Dave gearing up.

Heading down heartbreak hill out of base camp.

Looking back up at Hunter

On the lower Kahiltna. That’s Denali above Dave, with the summit about 16 miles and 13,000 feet above him.

There is no doubt about it, the move from Base Camp to Camp I is a slog, and a major slog at that. It is 5.5 miles with a 600 foot drop at the beginning and a gradual 700 ft gain over many miles. We each had loads of 120-130lbs at this point. I carried about 70lbs on my back and hauled 50+ lbs in my sled. At 5’11” and 190 lbs (me) and 6’1” 188 lbs (Dave), we were built for this kind of work. Even so, it was tough going and we had to make a few adjustments throughout the day. I found it much, much easier and more comfortable to attach the sled to the padded hipbelt on my Deuter Aircontact 75+10 than to attach the sled directly to my climbing harness. I also found that I could adjust the vari quick back system on the pack to a shorter torso length so that the hip belt rested above my climbing harness and not on top of it, which leads to chaffing and discomfort.

Rest break

After about 5 or 6 hours we reached Camp 1, dug in, cooked dinner and started the never ending process of melting water. Many avalanches were coming down around us and we could hear the huge, thunderous booms of avalanches and serac falls coming from the NE Fork of the Kahiltna.

Camp II with our awesome Nemo Moki tent.

A message to my girlfriend back home.

Another large avalanche, this time above Camp I

Dave looking at a large avalanche coming down.

Looking up at Denali, with the summit still about 13,000 feet above.

In the first several days of the trip, we ran into lots of groups on their way down from the upper mountain. Not one had made the summit. Pretty much everyone looked like they had just survived some kind of intense battle, and most would just say things like “two weeks stuck at 14” or even simply “17” as they walked past with blank looks. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Day 2

On our second full day, we cached a few unnecessary items at camp and geared up for a single carry up ski hill to Camp II at 9,600 ft. Most guided groups were double carrying (caching high and sleeping low), but we felt strong and were up for a grueling day hauling all of our gear 2.5 miles and 1,800 ft or so up the mountain.

My 75lb pack.

A large crevasse.

The day ended up taking us a long time, but we made it to Camp II in time to set up camp before a storm rolled in.

At Camp II I ran into my friend Val, who was on a 9 day mountaineering course with Mountain Trip. Her team had tried a few times to summit Kahiltna Dome, but were turned back by weather each time.

A team coming into Camp II

Day 3

After an evening storm we awoke to clear skies. We moved camp 1.8 miles and 900 vertical feet to Camp III at 11,200 ft. This day would be our last large scale single carry.

On the way up to camp, we saw the Park Service helicopter heading up high the mountain. This is generally a bad sign, and it turns out that the chopper was indeed responding to an accident high on the mountain. An Alpine Ascents guided group had fallen just below Denali pass, resulting in two deaths and two serious injuries. It was very sad to hear.

Dave still had energy upon our arrival at camp, so while I finished setting up and started cooking he and our new Canadian friend Brent went and slayed a ski line above camp.

Dave slaying it under a massive serac above Camp III on Denali.

Day 4

We performed the first half of a double carry, moving 50 lb loads up to Windy Corner at 13,000 ft.

Dave decided to attempt to skin motorcycle hill (a steep 700 foot hill above Camp III), which actually took a lot longer than hiking it in crampons and he then had to switch to mountaineering boots and cache his skis, taking more time.

Dave headed up to Squirrel Point (~12,000 feet)

Up towards Squirrel Point, we had our first encounter with blue ice. While Denali is usually mostly ice free up the West Buttress, this year was a very low snow year and there was a lot of blue ice. For us, this meant that we would not be taking our skis above Camp III. The lack of snow and presence of ice made for some complications in the route- in some places, what might otherwise have been easy 40+ degree snow climbing was blue (sometime rotten) ice. In other places, thin layers of snow on top of ice were ready to slough, which was a contributing factor in at least 3 deaths this year when climbers lost footing in this combination of snow on top of ice. In yet other places, seracs that would have been well covered in a normal snow year were exposed, absorbing solar radiation and falling off the mountain.

Our first encounter with the blue glacial ice that caused so many problems on Denali this year. Certain sections were kinda like a hockey rink turned up on its side.

Massive seracs above Camp III

Finally level with the clouds at 13,000 feet.

We dug our cache at 13,000 feet and encountered our first real WTF moment of the trip. Other parties had spent what must have been hours burying their caches under half assed piles of rocks that they had gathered from a large area at windy corner. Within 10 feet or so of one of these caches, we probed the snow and found a depth of 8 feet- more than enough for a cache, safer (ravens can’t dig that deep to find food, but they can peck in gaps between rocks) and much easier and less time consuming. When we told a friend back at camp his response summed up many of the oddities we would end up seeing- “Denali is a weird place.”

Day 5

With our cache in place, we headed up the mountain to Camp IV at 14,200 feet. We had thought of taking a rest day, but we held to our policy we had developed of not sitting on good weather.

We left camp late in the day (a habit we had formed) and didn’t arrive at Camp IV until close to 10pm.

Looking down on the lower Kahiltna from Windy Corner.

While we were setting up camp we met a Japenese team on their way down from making the summit in a single day from 14k. They had been caught in a storm at High Camp for 3 days and had retreated back to Camp IV. They had one more push left in them, so they went for it and made it. The idea of going for it from Camp IV was now planted in our head.

Days 6-9, Camp IV

We spend day six resting at Camp IV and hanging out with other teams. While several of the guided groups had very high quality guides and provided good beta/info to us, we got the feeling of a rift between the unguided groups and the guided ones. This was mostly a one way kind of feeling (people in the guided groups didn’t dislike unguided climbers) that was no doubt fueled in part by the recent deaths on the mountain. “Tying into a rope with some of these wankers is like jumping into the ocean with an anchor tied to you. Some of these people are useless to self arrest, useless to stop a fall and generally useless all around. I’d hate to be a guide up here” one very experienced climber going for the Cassin Ridge told us.

On day 7, our second day at Camp IV we retrieved our cache from 13,000 feet.

We met some great people on the mountain and became particularly friendly with a Scottish team (Paul and John) and a two man team from Alberta and California (Mike and Brent). We shared plans and info, swapped stories and tuned in together to the twice daily (8 AM and PM) weather forecasts broadcast on FRS frequency 1.0 from base camp.

Camp IV above the clouds.

Looking down on clouds from Camp IV

Me with Foraker in the background.

There was word starting on day six (Saturday) that a powerful storm with 60+ mph winds was headed our way and would show up Monday, so we spent a lot of time quarrying large blocks of snow with a snow saw and building large, thick walls.

On day seven we headed up to the fixed lines at the headwall (15,500 feet) to acclimate. We turned back below the lines because of seeing firsthand how long it was taking people to negotiate the lines and how much of a junk show it was.

Looking down on Camp IV

The supposed storm kept getting pushed further and further back, but word was it was still powerful. At first it was supposed to come Monday, then it was supposed to come early on Sunday, then on Sunday the forecast said it was coming Tuesday. Eventually it was forecast for Thursday.

We were growing impatient. We hadn’t moved up from Camp IV because of the storm- High Camp is not a place to get caught in a storm as it is not possible to descend the ridge back to Camp IV in a storm, so we kept waiting at Camp IV for a clear weather forecast.

We discussed our options with a few other groups. Both Paul and John as well as Brent and Mike were keen to summit in a single push from 14. Both of their teams were planning to acclimate on the West Buttress before heading to the Cassin Ridge. Dave and I put some serious thought into it. We didn’t want to have to spend all the time caching up high, returning to Camp IV and then heading up to High Camp and spending another day retrieving a cache before heading for the summit. It required way too much good weather, and many of the unsuccessful groups coming down had been worn out by the arduous process described above, only to be caught in a storm and deteriorate mentally and physically at high camp.

A member of a team of Jackson Hole ski patrollers/employees who turned around at 19,000 feet had what turned out to be a great idea- his team had been worn down by carrying heavy cache loads up high, so he suggested if we received word of a weather window of as little as 30 hours that we single carry loads to High Camp with 3 days worth of food and then go for it the next day if we were feeling up to it and the weather was decent. We had to put ourselves in a position to summit and not just sit at Camp IV. This was the perfect balance for us between a single push and the expedition style assault, and it was as if a piece of the puzzle was handed to me. I had a really good feeling about it.

On day 9 we packed up all of our gear and thought about heading out, but the visibility was bad and it was snowing, so we set up camp again and waited one last night. The forecast called for summit winds below 45 mph until a storm moved in Friday (it was Tuesday night). We’d make our move the next morning.

Day 10

For the first time on the climb, we set an alarm and headed out early. We didn’t want to get stuck behind other teams on the fixed ropes above camp. We awoke to cloudy weather. Mike and Brent swung by to say hi- they were on their way to the summit in a single push. We wished them luck and they were off. We expected to see Paul and John make a move, but they decided to stay in camp since they didn’t like the looks of the weather.

We were fourth and fifth people to reach the fixed ropes that day behind Mike, Brent and a soloists who made a cache at 16k. There was no line.

Me climbing the fixed ropes at the headwall.

We moved up the headwall and onto the West Buttress ridge. I was leading everything and clipping pickets and rock slings to protect the ridge climb. There was more blue ice, making the climb a bit more heart pounding than it otherwise would have been, especially with our relatively heavy 45 or 50 lb packs. We knew there was exposure to both sides of the ridge, but in the fog and clouds we couldn’t see how much.

1/2 inch of snow on top of ice and a 45 lb pack made this a bit more interesting than it looks. (Kevin leading)

The ridge was definitely a snowy class 3 climb- not technically hard, but with heavy packs at 17,000 feet it wasn’t easy.

Getting in some pro.

It took a seven hours to make it to high camp with our loads and shortly after we arrived we ran into Mike and Brent, who were on their way down from the summit. They had made near record time and had been the first up to the summit that day. They told us that there were lots of other climbers still up high, with no visibility. Because they had both climbed the West Buttress before, they knew the way and were able to move quickly. This time, they wished us luck and headed back to Camp IV.

We set up camp, cooked a carbo-load dinner and talked to and Alpine Ascents group who was thinking about going for it in the morning. The weather forecast was inconclusive at the forecast winds had increased from 20 or 25 to 40+ for the next day. We decided to make the go/no go call when we woke up in the morning.

No one else had come down since we ran into Brent and Mike at 3:30 when we went to sleep at 10pm. Visibility was bad.

Day 11 (Summit Day)

We had an alarm set since we didn’t want to get stuck behind a crowd on the Autobahn (a steep section below Denali Pass where 3 deaths had happened this year) in the event that we decided to go for it. We slept though the alarm by about an hour and I woke up and looked outside the tent. Winds were swirling on the ridgeline above Denali pass, but skies were pretty clear.

I woke Dave up. He immediately informed me that he wasn’t feeling up for it today- he was tired from the big push the day before and his legs were at 50%. I told Dave that I didn’t come this far to sit in a tent at 17,000 feet and not summit. A storm was coming tomorrow, we can’t sit on good (ok, marginal) weather. “If you wait for good weather to summit Denali, you won’t summit Denali” someone had told me. Dave decided pretty quickly he was up for it.

Other teams were gearing up and heading out as we made breakfast, boiled water and geared up. For the first and only time, we put on our overboots. We went through our summit day mental check list- do we have enough food? 2 liters of water each? Where’s the climbing pro? Have your mitts? What about a second pair of gloves? GPS? Compass? Is the tent secured so it won’t blow away? “I’ll carry the entrenching tool and the snow saw, you take the stove and pot.”

We were going to do this- we had come so far, and this was the day. We talked to the guy in the tent next to us as we made our final preparations. His team and most other teams from the day before didn’t make it back until 3am from the summit because of bad conditions.

We were one of the last teams to leave High Camp as we headed up towards Denali Pass and the most dangerous part of the route this year- the Autobahn (named, by the way after a team of German climbers roped together slid to their deaths years ago).

The Autobahn was everything we had heard it to be- steep, crappy footing, dust on ice and ready to slough you to your death. It is a bottle neck where other teams can really slow you down. Luckily for us, most of the teams in front of us were moving efficiently today. There were dozens of fixed pickets to clip the rope into and Dave and I spread ourselves 45 meters apart so we would always have multiple pieces of gear between us.

Our plan for summit day was that I would lead us to Denali Pass and Dave would take over from there to the Summit Ridge where I would finish leading us to the top of North America.

Climbing the Autobahn. We ended up passing every group here on our way to the summit.

Halfway up, I heard a familiar voice behind me- it was John, with Paul following behind him somewhere. They were making their push from 14k and were cruising, carrying no rope and almost no weight on their backs. We wished each other well as first Paul and later John passed on their way up.

At one point, a 3 man international team passed us on our high side- in they fell, they would have taken us out as well. As the climber in the back of their rope team passed me I saw that he had been pulling off every fixed carabiner on the route. WTF? I yelled at the team leader and told them to get their sh*t together. We had enough biners between Dave and to make it up and down without issue, but it would still be a problem for other groups.

We finally reached Denali Pass (a little more than a thousand feet above high camp) after 2.5 hours per so. The team who had pulled the biners was winded and out of breath as they got chewed out by yet another team. They left the biners in an obvious place for the first team down to grab.

I checked in with Dave- at first both of our legs were sore from the previous days efforts, but now we were feeling strong. We ate a quick snack, put on our down parkas and headed off.

Just around the corner from Denali Pass, we started to make good time. We passed one team, then another and another (including the biner yankers, who we never saw again). We made our way S-SE along the ridge and passed even more teams, including our Polish friend Lucas.

The wind was whipping at about 40 mph and it was -10. We couldn’t have any exposed skin. I stopped for a second and changed into my OR Alti Mits when my hands got cold. Within minutes, they were cold no more.

We found ourselves in a flat area at around 19,000 feet- the football field as it is called. We had good views looking down on clouds behind us. I checked in with Dave. We both felt strong. Wow, we might just make it.

Me somewhere above 19,000 feet.

Ahead a cloud covered what must have been the summit. It wasn’t so much a cloud as a gigantic rooster tail of snow being blown off the summit ridge by strong SE winds. We continued across the football field towards Pig Hill. At this point, I think we both knew that we were going to summit.

There were a ton of teams on Pig Hill (a short but steep section leading to the summit ridge) trying to negotiate some type of fixed line. I yelled to Dave who was leading at the time to try to find a way around- the teams were at a standstill and looked freezing. Dave found a way around the fixed line and some fixed pickets as we passed another 4 or 5 teams on our way to the summit ridge.

We checked in one last time on the summit ridge, but didn’t swap leads. I didn’t want to take the time to rack all of the carabiners and runners that Dave had for leading from his harness to mind with my mitts on. Dave continued on behind a very slow German/Austrian team. We ran into John again, on his way down from the summit. We congratulated him and he us. “Good work boys! The cream rises to the top! You’ve got 30 minutes at most until your there.” We then ran into Paul and had a similar conversation.

The summit ridge was in a cloud, and the first half was very windy. The wind subsided about half way up as we made our way to the west side of the ridge. Once again, we knew there was massive exposure (particularly on the east side of the ridge), but we couldn’t really see it.

After about 25 minutes or so Dave yelled back to me- “100 yards”. A minute or so later, there was tension on the rope. Dave was on top (I couldn’t see him) belaying me in. We had made it!

Dave and I on the summit of Denali!

Although we were one of the later teams leaving camp, we were one of the first to summit. We spent about 10 minutes on top, eating and taking a few photos. With all the death this year (7 in the range so far), we didn’t at all feel like we could relax. We had a long way to go.

We carefully negotiated our way back down to Denali Pass. Coming down, we ran into a climber on a Polish team who was having trouble walking. He had severe AMS and possibly HACE. I talked with one of his teammates, who decided to give him a Dex injection. The injectable dexamethasone was too cold, so I gave the teammate some of mine in pill form and gave the climber most of my remaining food and water.

Denali Pass

Following a Polish team back to High Camp (visible on the ridge below) after summiting. This team took a fall, but luckily their picket held.

Foraker- Almost back to High Camp.

We continued down, and let the team with the sick climber go in front of us on the way down the Autobahn. They had a fall where two of their team members fell. Luckily their picket held and they were able to climb back up to the team mostly unhurt.

We arrived back in camp at about 10pm, about 12 hours after we had set out. It was colder now and the wind had picked up. We had a little bit to eat and went to sleep. We made it back to camp safely.

Day 12

I woke up on day 12 with a headache. The wind was intense outside, and it wasn’t safe to head down. Another team tried to head down, only to have to return and pitch their tents again.

Throughout the day I developed mild AMS symptoms, probably due to not eating and drinking enough after summit day. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have given my food and water to the sick climber.

Day 13

The weather subsided a bit. I ate a Cliff Shot with lots of caffeine and felt better immediately. It was time to head down to Camp IV.

We negotiated the ridge. We could see now our little third class ridge had about 2,000 feet of exposure on both sides. Everything went without incident, except for running into some guided group shenanigans on the fixed lines at Washburn’s Thumb. Without giving too much detail, a guided group had put his team on top of another team while yet another team tried to pass on the fixed lines, creating havoc with the clients. “Denali is a weird place.”

Dave leading us down.

The Freedom of the Hills

Me heading down the fixed lines.

On the way down the fixed lines, somehow our CMC (Clean Mountain Can- basically a small toilet) fell off may pack. I yelled “ROCK” as it flew down the mountain, narrowly missing a Korean team. Somehow, it miraculously skipped over several crevasses and landed 1,500 feet below, right side up, right next to the trail.

Coming down to camp, a figure walked towards us at the base of the hill. It was Paul- he brought a sled for us to throw gear onto as we walked back to camp. Once there, John had tea made for us. What awesome guys!

We listened to the weather forecast that night- the next two days would be good days to fly, but the following day would be bad. There had been 11 crevasse falls on the lower glacier that day due to melting snow bridges weakened by rain. We had to make it to base camp tomorrow and time it right to ski the lower Kahiltna overnight when the bridges would be frozen.

Day 14

There was a lot of talk amongst the groups hoping to climb the Cassin Ridge that they would not have a 72 hour weather window to get it done. Brent and Mike were tired of waiting, and upon hearing news of no window in the next 6 days decided to bail. Paul and John had wanted to wait it out, but ended up to head down the next day.

We gave away most of our remaining food and fuel and packed up to head down in a single 12 mile push. We left high camp sometime late in the evening (8?) after Brent and Mike had headed out.

We grabbed our caches along the way, and picked up our skis and ski boots at Camp III along with our second sled. Once we had our skis, we moved much faster. We found it best to have the two sleds about 10 feet behind the front person clove hitched to the rope. The back person (another 45 feet back or so) could be the brake man and prevent the sleds from hitting the front man. This actually worked out really well, and we only had the sleds flip once or twice.

On our way down, adjusting my boots.

Below Windy Corner

We had a shock freeze where the temperature went from +40 to -10 in about 5 minutes, freezing the humidity in the air into billions of tiny ice crystals that sparkled in the sun. It was magical, and one of the cooler things I’ve ever witnessed.

Camp III about the clouds with Kahiltna Dome (right) and Foraker (left)

Skiing down well after midnight. The sun never really set.

We made it down to basecamp by 6am and avoided the crevasses. Heartbreak Hill (600 foot hill you must climb to get back to basecamp) didn’t feel very difficult at all after all we had just done.

Upon arriving, I threw down my sleeping pad and bivied next to the landing strip. I was awoken an hour and a half later with wiskey- Brent was up partying with Dave, drinking all the booze that they had collectively cached at Base Camp. Brent, Mike, Dave and I ate an awesome breakfast of hash browns and bacon.

Eating bacon!

Shortly after 8, Dave from Sheldon Air arrived to pick up another group. There was one seat on the plane. I jump on and flew back to Talkeetna.

Looking back at Denali

Lots of crevasses on the lower Kahiltna opened up while we were high on the mountain. These particular crevasses/lakes were down the glacier from our route.

The High One

The High One yet again. Thanks for an amazing climb!

About to land in Talkeetna. From left to right- Foraker, Hunter, Denali.

One last look at Hunter and Denali from the air.

Landing in Talkeetna. Now I can breathe. We’ve made it back safely.

Denali from Talkeetna

Dave caught the next flight out. We spent the next several days…well…eating. We had each lost about 15 lbs and the food in Talkeetna is actually pretty damn good.

A few days later, we ran into Paul and John. They had made it down to basecamp but had to wait on weather for a day. It was great to see them and catch up over a beer before going our separate ways.

At the brewery in Talkeetna. From left to right- Me (Kevin), Paul, Dave, John.

We had made it, and had finished well ahead of schedule. We still had a week and a half left in Alaska after getting back to Talkeetna, so we headed down to the Kenai Peninsula and check out Homer (got to go aboard a commercial salmon boat), Seward (Sea Life Center, Kenai Fjords National Park Tour, Marathon Peak), and Whittier (sea kayaking Prince William Sound). We finished with a hike of Flattop Mountain in Anchorage before heading back to Colorodo on a red eye. We had one hell of a trip and made the most of our time on Denali and in Alaska.

So far this year, Climb for Colon Cancer climbers like Dave and I have raised more than $12,000 to help eradicate colon cancer. This is just the beginning for us.

Some Numbers/Gear Info

Coldest temp that we know of for sure was -29F at 14k one night.
Summit Wind Chill was -40F
On summit day I wore– La Sportiva Spantiks with intuition liners AND overboots, merino liners and socks, merino bottoms with noninsulated pants, Terramar merino top, midweight merino hoody, OR Fraction Hoody (primaloft), Arc’Teryx Alpha SV, Rab Summit Batura down parka, OR Alti mits. I carried some synthetic insulated pants that I did not use except in camp.
Our Tent Was awesome! We used a Nemo Moki The combination of side access doors/windows and the ability to chose between one, two or no vestibule were excellent features to have. We used on vestibule for gear storage and the other for cooking. When we moved to high camp, we cached a vestibule to save weight. The tent was the envy of every climber who saw it, and we gave many tours of our “crib” to interested climbers.
Our Stoves We used two identical Primus Multifuel EX stoves, which we were able to do field maintenance on (only had to clean one jet nipple and tighten a loose part with the primus multitool). Even with two stoves, we were spending as much as 6+ hours a day melting water and cooking. When we moved to high camp, we cached a stove to save weight. We left basecamp with 2.5 gallons of white gas, picked up an extra 1/2 gallon from a Russian team at 14k before summiting and gave away a gallon at 14k after summiting. Melt enough snow and ice for water and you’ll learn the “zen” of snow melting- leave a little bit of water in the pot instead of pouring it all into a nalgene everytime it boils.
Avalanche Shovels Aren’t Enough We used a steel Gerber E (Entrenching) Tool from 11k up in addition to a shovel. It was very worthwhile to have (even though it weighs 2.5 lbs) since snow shovels are useless in very hard snow/ice.
My Skis I used a pair of 172 cm Dynafit Se7en Summits. I intentionally sized these skis down significantly- I’d never ski a pair of 172s in a resort setting, but having smaller, lightweight skis makes for easier skinning. I used a pair of ski crampons on one particularly icy section.

Special Thanks to Our Climb for Colon Cancer Sponsors!

In no particular order-
Deuter Packs
La Sportiva
Dynafit USA
Terramar Sports
Native Eyewear
Nemo Equipment
Zeal Optics
Aloe Up Sunscreen
Big Agnes
SMC Gear

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Also, a big THANK YOU to Sheldon Air Service, a family operated air service that is by far THE BEST air service in Talkeetna and one of the best companies either Dave or I have ever done business with. Flying with you guys was one of the best decisions we made on our Denali expedition.

Finally, please check out Climb for Colon Cancer’s website to see how you can get involved or to donate to fund colon cancer research through the University of Colorado Cancer Center and help eradicate colon cancer.

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