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McKinley - Travel Day

Travel day. Today everyone arrived in Anchorage from their respective homes. John Lucia (the lead guide for the trip) and I have already been in Alaska for 10 days skiing in the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains. Walter Hailes, the third guide on the trip, met all of our climbers at the Anchorage airport, while John and I picked up the RMI gear for the entire Denali climbing season from airfreight.

By the time John and I got back to Talkeetna, we only had a few hours to unload all of the gear before Walter and the rest of the folks showed up. After a quick rundown of the next days’ schedule, we put our luggage into the RMI storage container and headed off to the hotels for the night.

On The Map


McKinley: Day One - Packing in Talkeetna

Today was packing day. We met for breakfast at the ‘Roadhouse’ in downtown Talkeetna at 8:00 am. If there’s one thing to remember about eating at the Roadhouse it’s to order the half size portions. The full size breakfasts are unbelievably huge.

After breakfast we met up at Hudson Air. This is where the RMI storage unit is located. Hudson Air has been in the glacier flying business for 54 years and Jay Hudson, the owner, is very accommodating to our groups. He pretty much lets us have our run of the place.

We spend the morning going through all of our personal gear. One of the things that makes Denali tough is carrying all of the gear and food you’ll need for the whole three weeks, so it pays to go through each and every item to make sure that you don’t have too much, but also that you don’t forget anything.

After a break for lunch we meet at the NPS Ranger station in Talkeetna for our orientation meeting. This is a ritual that every Denali climber must go through. The Rangers meet with us and show a slideshow of the West Buttress route. This is also where we receive our Clean Mountain Cans and bio-degradable bags for disposing of human waste.
After finishing up at the hangar in the afternoon we all adjourned to Talkeetna for our last night in town for 18 to 22 days!

On The Map


McKinley: Day Two - Flying to the Mountain

First day on the Mountain! This morning we all met at the Roadhouse again for our “half- standard” breakfasts. The weather was looking good as we walked to Hudson Air to check in with Jay and the other pilots. We had separated and weighed our gear the day before, so when the pilots decided that it was time to fly, we loaded up the planes quickly. Before I knew it we were off and flying. Hudson Air has three full time pilots including Jay and we needed three flights for our group to get in; perfect.

The flight in and out of the Alaska Range is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Once you clear the green taiga and forested foothills there is nothing but rock, ice and snow. I often describe the Alaska Range as a “mountain range with cake frosting”, because of the way the snow and ice blankets the entire range. Seeing the mountains from inside a Cessna is to be truly in awe of their grandeur.

Landing a Cessna on a glacier is always an adventure. There is something about an airplane with skis that is on one hand very cool, but also a little strange. After unloading the planes and waving good-bye to the pilots, we began to prep our packs and the sleds for the first leg of our journey.

One of the nicest things about climbing in Alaska is the amount of daylight that you get. So even after having a nice breakfast in town and flying into the range, we are able to start on our climb. It was great to get started as everyone in our group is very motivated and anxious to get going.

After a five and a half hour trek up the lower Kahiltna Glacier, we stopped in a camp site just below ‘Ski Hill’. We then made dinner and jumped into our tents before the cold Alaskan night took over.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Three - Up Ski Hill

Today we climbed to the top of ski hill. We got a good dose of reality as we each hauled over 100 lbs. of gear 2000 vertical feet up hill. The only relief comes from looking around at the huge mountains all around us. Everyone did great on the climb of Ski Hill today, but we were all a bit tired as we pulled into our camp. The routine of living on Denali is starting to settle in for everyone and we’re all in good spirits for the rest of the climb.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Four - Carry to 11,200’ Camp

Today we woke up to two feet of fresh snow on Denali! Our plan was to move all of our gear up glacier, then cache most of it and continue on to the camp at 11,200 feet. But since we now had to break trail we decided to carry some of our gear up to the camp and come back for the night. The trail breaking was tough, but half way up we met a group coming down. Thank goodness they were there because we were able to follow their broken trail all of the way to the 11,200 ft. camp. After caching our gear we made the return trip to our camp at the top of ski hill for dinner and a well deserved nights rest.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Five - Move to 11 Camp

We awoke this morning to find our trail from yesterday totally filled in. We waited at camp for an hour trying to decide on what to do for the day. We didn’t want to sit in camp all day, but breaking trail again didn’t exactly sound like fun either, especially as the weather was a bit worse than the day before. In the end we decided to move up. We quickly broke camp down and roped up. The trail breaking was just as tough as the day before, but luckily for us, we ran into another group coming down and were able to follow their trail into the 11, 200 foot camp.

It was a great feeling setting up camp and knowing that we would be staying for at least two nights. The camp was bustling with activity as the recent snowfall had prevented teams from
moving to the 14,000 ft. camp. Even the Rangers on the first patrol of the year were in camp.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Six - Rest Day

Our first rest day on McKinley. The sun was out all day today but there was a chilly breeze that kept us from over heating. The folks that have been stuck here for a few days are anxious to get moving and the Rangers broke trail to the top of Motorcycle Hill (a steep hill just above the 11,200 ft. camp). They turned back at the top, but a team of three from the Czech Republic pushed on ahead. That is s good sign for us to be able to carry loads to 14,000 tomorrow.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Seven - Weather Day

Day 7 on Denali. The weather today was not very good so we decided to take another rest day. Taking another day here doesn’t really cost us much as we are still acclimatizing and recovering from our toils on the lower part of the mountain. We spent the day in camp sorting gear for our carry to 14,000, eating and telling jokes.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Eight - Carry to Windy Corner

Today we carried half of our gear to the top of Windy Corner. True to it’s name, it was definitely windy. It was great to see the upper part of the mountain though and everyone did great on the carry. It’s definitely a different feeling as one moves up from the camp at 11,200 feet. Below there you feel as if you’re walking amongst mountains; above you feel like you’re really on Denali.

Conditions are really working out in our favor. The snow is great for walking and other than some wind up high the weather is very good.

On The Map


McKinley: Day Nine - Rest Day

Today we rested from our effort of the day before. We’re still acclimatizing, so a solid day’s effort will really take it out of you. We’re sitting pretty now with our gear just below the 14,000’ Camp.

On The Map

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