HIGHLY SUPPORTED DENALI EXPEDITION
Mountain Trip has always tried to think “outside the box” and be as flexible as possible so that we can best take care of the needs and wants of our climbers. One request we have fielded from time to time is, “Can you organize a trip where the packs and sleds are not so heavy and the overall workload is a bit less?”
It has taken us some time to figure out the logistics involved in setting up such a trip, so that we are not simply adding burden and work to our guides, but we’ve come up with a strategy to decrease some of the physical hardships of a long Denali expedition. We have run eight such trips since their inception in 2009, and they have been very well received by our climbers.
For 2013, we will offer one such expedition. Due to upcoming changes in how we are able to guide on Denali, this will be the last such trip we foresee being able to offer.
We will limit the team to 6 climbers and will send along guides to create a 1:1 ratio (5-6 guides). Our aim is to reduce your load to just your personal kit and your part of your tent, instead of the typical 120+ lb loads of food, fuel and group kit that most climbers have when departing base camp. with a larger staff of guides on the team, we can reduce or eliminate the need for climbers to dig out kitchen pits and tent platforms, which is some of the more grueling work on a traditional Denali expedition. We will work with you in the months preceding your expedition to make certain that you have the very lightest kits possible to further reduce your loads. Although the quality and variety of our expedition menus is legendary, we ware happy to work with you to tailor the expedition food to your tastes.
We do not want to mislead you– this is still be a Denali expedition, which means it will still be physically challenging and you will earn the summit, if the weather permits an attempt. Our additional guides are not porters or Sherpas, but they are there to provide the additional support and infrastructure required to make this trip successful. We are just trying to provide a Denali experience with somewhat lighter loads and a greater depth of support overall.
“It has been a great expedition for me! I feel very successful for making the summit, but the people I met there is even more important for me. Thanks for all again. You have a house in Spain whenever you need it!”
-M. Madrid, Denali H.S. Trip, 2012
“The guides were great and helpful and very professional, and I learned a lot of new things from them. My gratitude to them. Definitely, I will be climbing with Mountain Trip in the future.”
-B. Kwok, Denali H.S. Trip, 2009
Aconcagua – This is a great entry into high altitude mountaineering and a good stepping stone before attempting Denali because the length of the trip is long enough to give you a taste of expedition living, but it is a lot easier than an ascent of the Denali, and therefore a good litmus test before spending three weeks on the north side of an arctic peak. We offer a very well supported Aconcagua climb which will enable climbers to ascend with lighter weight packs.
Elbrus – This is a good example of a glaciated climb at fairly high altitude. This is somewhat different from “expedition climbing,” because you spend a lot of time in hotels or huts, but it is a challenging climb on a peak that can have notoriously harsh weather.
Mountaineering Courses – There are a number of good courses available that will teach you the skills you need for an ascent of the West Buttress, but even these are not a substitute for getting out into the mountains on an expedition. They are great for avid mountaineers or backpackers who might have a number of the necessary experience components, but are lacking the glacier travel and winter camping skills for a successful ascent of Denali. We offer a 12 day Denali Prep course which gives climbers hands on experience on the Kahiltna Glacier. Private instruction is another option, and we can tailor a program to suit your schedule.
Follow Up Climbs
Vinson Massif – You could reasonably view this as a good training climb for Denali, as it is not as physically demanding and it is generally a shorter expedition. The new route to high camp is more challenging than the old route and this is a very expensive outing, so it might be better to see if you like big, cold mountains before flying to Antarctica.
Cho Oyu – The sixth highest mountain in the world is a very accessible 8000 meter peak and a good choice for climbers who had a great experience on Denali. It is considered by many to be a prerequisite for stepping up to an Everest expedition, and can be reasonably thought of as an insurance policy to see how your body will do above 8000 meters.
Shishapangma – This 8000 meter peak is the fourteenth highest in the world and is often climbed after an ascent of Cho Oyu, while you are still acclimatized, and enables you to climb two big peaks in a relatively shorter period of time. Everest – This is a big jump up, and a serious decision, but any prospective Everest climber should climb Denali first.
Denali is a big, serious mountain with big mountain weather, geography and acclimatization issues. The following itinerary represents a very basic outline of what could happen on a given day during the course of a Denali expedition. Many factors can, and probably will, contribute to cause the following schedule to change. Our guides know the mountain and may elect to stray from this itinerary in order to give you the best possible shot at getting to the summit.
DAY 1: MEETING DAY IN ANCHORAGE. Our Team Meeting will be at 10 A.M. for an expedition orientation and equipment check. This is a very important meeting, which you must attend! Be sure to arrive in Anchorage early enough to make the meeting; which may require arriving a day early. Your trip fees provide up to 2 nights lodging at the Earth B&B before the climb, which is conveniently located. Reservations are available at: 907-279-9907
DAY 2: TRAVEL TO TALKEETNA AND FLY TO THE GLACIER. Team members will travel by shuttle the several hours to Talkeetna. Everyone will need to register with the National Park Service prior to flying to the glacier. Weather permitting; we will fly into the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200 feet that afternoon. Once on the glacier, everyone will need to pitch in to get Base Camp established so we can proceed with our on-glacier expedition orientation that will cover the following topics: glacier travel, crevasse rescue, sled rigging, rope management and camp site procedures.
DAY 3: CARRY SUPPLIES TO CAMP 1. Departing base camp, we’ll drop down the infamous Heartbreak Hill and onto the broad Kahiltna glacier. Our goal will be to carry loads to the site of Camp 1 at 7,800feet, near the junction with the NE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. This is a moderate carry of about 9 miles round-trip and is a good shake-down for the upcoming days. Depending on the team and weather we may or may not return to Base Camp. Throughout the expedition we will follow the “climb high, sleep low” technique, for better acclimatization, however the altitude difference between Base Camp and Camp 1 is minimal enough to permit us to occasionally “single-carry” this stretch. On the late May and June expeditions, we may be doing our climbing early in the morning to avoid the excessive heat and soft snow conditions on the Lower Glacier.
DAY 4: MOVE REMAINING SUPPLIES AND ESTABLISH CAMP 1. (If the team double carries to Camp 1.)
DAY 5: HAUL LOADS UP TO KAHILTNA PASS. We’ll head out of Camp 1 and carry loads up Ski Hill. Several options exist for camp sites between 9,000 & 11,000 feet, depending upon weather, snow conditions and team strength. This is a moderately difficult carry of 7-9 miles round-trip, with 2- 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a return to Camp 1 for the night.
DAY 6: MOVE EVERYTHING TO CAMP 2. Camp is often in the 11,200’ basin at the base of Motorcycle Hill. This is an incredibly beautiful camp that basks in alpenglow when the sun travels around the north side of the mountain.
DAY 7: BACK-CARRY DAY. This is an “active rest day” during which we drop back down and pick up the cache we left down near Kahiltna Pass. It also helps give us another day to acclimatize before moving higher.
DAY 8: HAUL LOADS AROUND WINDY CORNER (13,300 FEET). Steep snow climbing up Itinerary p. 2 of 2 Motorcycle Hill rewards you with spectacular views. The total distance is about 4 miles round trip with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Fun climbing with crampons and ice axe gets you around Windy Corner where the upper Mountain comes into view-have your camera ready! ***Note that we have not planned on a “real” rest day before this point. 30+ years of guiding Denali has taught us that climbers fit enough to safely climb the upper mountain do not need rest days below Camp 3.
DAY 9: MOVE CAMP TO 14,200 FEET. This is usually a long, hard day. Camp 3 is located at the well equipped 14,200’ camp. Loads are getting lighter and the air is getting thinner. Hopefully everyone will have enough energy left to help get camp in as we need to fortify this camp due to the possibility for fairly severe weather.
DAY 10: BACK-CARRY DAY. This is another “active rest day,” during which the team will descend from Camp 3 to the Windy Corner cache and bring everything up to 14,200 feet. We’ll spend the afternoon going over climbing techniques that we will use in the upcoming days.
DAY 11: CLIMB UP THE HEADWALL TO THE RIDGE. Our goal is to cache supplies on the ridge and return to 14,200 feet. Climbing up the Headwall (fixed lines run from 15,500 to 16,100 feet) with a heavy pack is one of the more strenuous days of the trip, because of the steep terrain, heavy pack and thinning air. The views from the ridge can be as breath taking as the rarefied air!
DAY 12: REST DAY. It is often prudent to take a rest/acclimatization day prior to moving up to High Camp.
DAY 13: MOVE TO HIGH CAMP. Weather and team strength will again determine this decision. While there is a camp site at 16,100′, it is very exposed, so we usually push for the 17,200 ‘ site which is more secure and the better choice for camp. This is a really tough day, as our loads are big and the terrain is steep in sections. Rewards for our work are in the great climbing along the ridge. Weaving in and out of the rocks and occasionally walking a knife edged stretch, combine with big exposure to create one of the most memorable parts of the route.
DAY 14: REST DAY. Moving to 17,200’ and getting High Camp established can be a huge day, so we usually take a Rest Day before attempting the summit.
DAY 15: SUMMIT DAY: If the weather is favorable, we’ll push for the summit. However if the weather is not good we will not go. It is important to be patient! We will only try for the summit when the weather is good, meaning mostly clear and calm. Our guides are the most experienced on the mountain and will make this sometimes difficult decision. The round trip climb will take eight to twelve hours or more. Usually you will depart camp early (7-9 a.m.), climb up to Denali Pass (18,000’) and follow the route past Arch Deacon’s Tower and the Football Field to the slopes leading to the Summit Ridge. On this spectacular ridge you can often see down into the Ruth Glacier with views of beautiful peaks such as Mooses Tooth, Mt Huntington and Mt Hunter.
***Summit Day is serious…
The weather needs to be good and everyone attempting the summit needs to have demonstrated that they have the wherewithal to give it a shot. This is often the most grueling day of the expedition (some climbers say of their lives!). The guides have the ultimate decision as to when the team will make a summit bid. The guides also have the discretion to decide that a team member has not shown that he or she is capable to reasonably make a summit bid. Such occurrences are rare; but remember– getting you home healthy is our primary concern.
DESCENT: The descent from High Camp takes from one to two days, depending on the team’s strength and motivation to get home. The descent can beat you up more than the ascent, as we often have the heaviest loads of the trip as we go down from High Camp to Camp 2. We’ll keep yours as light as possible, but we’ll be moving slowly. Weather dictates when we can fly out to Talkeetna for food and showers. Not much beats a steak and salad at the West Rib Tavern after working hard on Denali!
We will provide assistance finding lodging in Talkeetna or Anchorage after the climb, but you are responsible for these nights.
We cannot stress enough, that, although we are providing additional support, this is still a very difficult and challenging ascent of the biggest, coldest mountain in North America. Put in the months of training that will enable you to more fully enjoy your climb. We work with a former big mountain guide who is a personal trainer and we encourage you to contact him. Andy Lapkass is a great resource for helping you create and follow a training regimen that will provide you with the best possible benefits from your time spent working out. He understands the unique physical stresses that climbing big mountains places upon climbers and will work with you via telephone and internet to prepare you for the rigors of Denali.
You can contact Andy here: email@example.com
Please do not view this expedition as any sort of “short-cut” for enabling someone without requisite mountaineering experience to climb Denali. Participants still need to take care of themselves in an extreme environment and must have a grasp of how to employ basic crampon and ice axe techniques.
The genesis for this climb were two older gentlemen who had climbed around the world and wanted the very best shot at reaching the summit of Denali. One had been on the mountain three times with another guide service, but had been run into the ground by the pace of the expeditions. Both are fit, experienced mountaineers, who benefited from a customized expedition that followed a slower pace. Both stood on the summit of Denali with us in July of 2009.
The following is a list of required gear for climbing the West Buttress with Mountain Trip. Many of the items on the list need to fit you well in order for you to fully enjoy your experience on the mountain. Please plan ahead with equipment purchased for your trip so you can be certain that your gear fits you well. The Kahiltna Glacier is not the place to discover that your pack is too small for your torso, or that your boots give you blisters. Recommended items reflect the opinions of our guides, but they may not necessarily fit you. They are also weighted toward a couple companies that are industry leaders in exhibiting environmental and social consciousness. We frequently update our equipment list to keep it as current as possible. Please click HERE for our most up-to-date list.
Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.
Items with ** are optional, but recommended.
- MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS: Acceptable boots for Denali fall into two categories, traditional double boots and triple boot systems with integrated gaiters. Either variety works well, however the latter versions are lighter and arguably simpler. The goal is to have warm, comfortable feet! Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits well. Consider your future mountaineering objectives when purchasing boots as well.
- Recommended System Boots: La Sportiva OLYMPUS MONS EVO, Lowa EXPEDITION 8000, Boreal G1 EXPEDITION, Scarpa PHANTOM 8000
- Recommended Double Boots: La Sportiva BARUNTSE or SPANTIK, Scarpa INVERNO with High Altitude Liners, Lowa EXPEDITION 6000 or Boreal G1 LITE. A great upgrade to any plastic boot are the Denali Liners by Intuition. These are lighter and warmer than almost any stock liners. They are heat molded to fit your feet and are worth every penny. *** All double boots need Overboots and Gaiters, including the Spantiks
- OVERBOOTS: Neoprene overboots such as 40 Below Purple Haze are best. O.R. and Wild Country insulated Overboots work well if they fit with your crampons. Supergaiters alone are not warm enough for Denali.
- GAITERS: Full height, such as Black Diamond GTX Frontpoint Gaiter or Outdoor Research “Crocodiles.” Full coverage “Supergaiters” work great as well.
- BOOTIES**: Synthetic or down fill booties. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots.
- SNOWSHOES: Atlas Summit Series or the basic MSR Denali both work well, although a nice “upgrade” feature is a heel riser, which really helps make the steeper hills a bit more manageable. 22-25 inch snowshoes will generally work fine.
- SKI POLES: Select a proper length for hiking. Almost any ski pole will do, although adjustable poles work best! Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing.
CLOTHING You will need a total of five (5) layers for your torso and four (4) for your legs:
- BASE LAYER: (1 or 2 sets) Synthetic top and bottoms such as Capilene 2 or 3 from Patagonia. There are some really nice Merino wool options on the market as well. Patagonia has a nice entry called Wool 2.
- LIGHT FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is important for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or the R1 Flash Hoody.
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: We used to consider this layer optional, but this “Soft Shell” layer is becoming indispensable, due to the broad comfort range it provides. Often pants made of Schoeller Dynamic or similar fabrics can be worn all the way to High Camp in lieu of less breathable “hard-shell” pants. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Alpine Guide Pants
- FLEECE OR INSULATED PANTS: This layer must have side zippers! The best options for this layer are thick, “puffy” synthetic or down pants like the Patagonia Micro Puff Pants or Feathered Friends Volant Pants. These can be layered over your shell pants for easier and quicker layer changes.
- PRIMALOFT “PUFFY” JACKET: Size this to fit over your shell. We are fans of the puffy, Primaloft jackets because they are lighter and warmer than fleece and compress down much smaller. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Micro Puff Hooded Jacket or the Outdoor Research Chaos Jacket
- SHELL JACKET & PANTS: They should be large enough to go over your pile clothing layers and the pants must have full-length side zippers. These do not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Many people are climbing Denali using lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells.
- EXPEDITION PARKA (WITH HOOD): Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka. There are some synthetic options such as the Patagonia D.A.S. Parka and the Wild Things Belay Jacket, however; down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky.
- VEST**: Fleece, puffy or down vest adds warmth to a light Expedition Parka. (OPTIONAL)
- T-SHIRT**: Synthetic long sleeve shirt for the lower glacier. Synthetics dry faster than cotton!
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: One or two changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene.
- SOCKS: 3 – 5 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your socks fit with your boots!
- GLOVES: Light or medium weight Windstopper or even better: Schoeller fabric (one or two pairs.) Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Vert Gloves
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are the workhorse on Denali. Black Diamond Guide Gloves have removable liners for ease of drying. It’s hard to stress how much you’ll be wearing these, so do not skimp on this item.
- SUMMIT MITTENS: Thick, warm, non-constricting mittens made of pile, Primaloft or down. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. They aren’t cheap, but are extremely warm. Divide the cost by 10 digits and they’re a bargain!
- WARM HAT: One warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection.
- FACE MASK: Neoprene or Windstopper work equally well.
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the lower mountain. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 6+ sets of these disposable insurance policies.
- GLACIER GLASSES: They must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays.
- SKI GOGGLES: For use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells.These must have double lenses and provide 100%UV protection.
- EXPEDITION PACK: Climbers on this expedition can down-size packs from the traditional dreadnought backpacks seen on Denali. This expedition requires a 5500+ cu in. (80+ liters) pack to carry your gear. The Osprey Aether 85 and the Mountain Hardwear BMG both fit the bill. BE CERTAIN THAT YOUR PACK FITS YOU! Get used to your pack; train with it!
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFEL: (36-48″) for use as a sled bag. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although the Patagonia Black Hole 120L duffel is lightweight and darn near water proof, making it the ideal sled bag!
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: Rated to 30 below. Marmot Cwm, Col and Mt Hardwear Ghost are all great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? We prefer down bags because they are lighter, more compact, and have a longer lifespan than synthetics, but the new synthetics are getting a lot better. Guides’ Pick: Weighing in at just 4 pounds, the Valandre Odin is a -40 degree bag which is also suitable for Antarctica. It’s lighter companion, the Freja, is a -22 degree bag that only weighs 3 lbs 6 oz!
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Granite Gear and Outdoor Research are both making nice, lightweight compression sacks. These are essential for sleeping bags and recommended for your summit clothes, such as your parka, mitts and warmest pants, so you might consider bringing two.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, with one being a closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat just in case you poke a crampon through your air mattress. Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads have been among the warmest and most comfortable, but the new Exped pads from Outdoor Research are really nice. Guides’ Pick: Exped 7 paired with a Deluxe, Full-length Ridge Rest
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE AXE: (with leash) 70-80 cm length works well for the West Buttress and go 10-20 cm shorter for technical climbs. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Raven Pro
- CRAMPONS: 10 or 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! Step in or “New-matic” work equally well, just make sure they fit with your mountain boots and overboots. Fit is especially important with overboots! Black Diamond Guides’ Pick: Sabretooth Clip with ABS
- HARNESS: Your harness needs to have adjustable leg loops. Black Diamond Blizzard or Alpine Bod harnesses are both lightweight and functional.
- ASCENDERS: You need at least one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension. This can be paired with a prussik cord for your feet. Though not totally necessary, consider bringing a left-handed ascender for ease of use on the fixed lines.
- CARABINERS: Bring two large locking carabiners and eight regular carabiners. Please do not bring “bent-gate” carabiners. These have certain limitations that do not make them appropriate for how we will use them. Mark them with colored tape for identification. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Neutrinos are very lightweight.
- PERLON CORD: 50 feet of 5 or 6 mm for sled and pack tie offs.
- CLIMBING HELMET: Unfortunately, even Alaska is not beyond the reach of Global Warming and there is now a stretch of the West Buttress route that necessitates the wearing of a climbing helmet. Get the lightest one you can find and make certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Tracer
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- NOSE GUARDS: Beko makes nice nose protectors that keep the wind and sun from wreaking havoc on your skin.
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items plus one large one for a cache bag)
- CAMELBACK HYDRATION SYSTEM (optional, but if you bring one, also bring an insulated tube and mouthpiece) This DOES NOT replace your Water Bottles!
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES: Please do not bring metal bottles or small mouth bottles.
- INSULATED COVER (1or 2 for your water bottles).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP OR BOWL for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl work fine)
- INSULATED CUP 12 or 16 ounce plastic cup for hot drinks
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- 2 SMALL LIP BALMS (WITH 30+SPF): Two small tubes are easier to keep from freezing than one big tube.
- SUN SCREEN 3-4 OUNCES- two to four small tubes work better than one large tube
- TOILET PAPER: 1 or 2 rolls, depending on your technique
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes hand sanitizer,… keep it small)
- P-BOTTLE Wide-mouth, collapsible Nalgene Cantenes work great- they make a 96 ounce version! Ladies- look for an appropriate adapter available at your local outdoors store. These items are both tough to find in Anchorage so plan ahead!
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen). PLEASE CONTACT YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN FOR A LIST OF APPROPRIATE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. THERE ARE SOME VERY USEFUL PRESCRIPTION DRUGS THAT CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE AT ALTITUDE. CONTACT US FOR RECOMENDATIONS. OPTIONAL ITEMS
- CAMERA, with lots of film or digital and no film
- BOOK(s) for storm day reading
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- HAND LOTION
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITOR (check out the light weight versions from Buff)
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE
- EXTRA ACCESSORY STRAPS** (generally only needed for smaller sized packs)
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER iPod with charging system
- SATELLITE PHONE If you are certain that you need to check in with the office or home regularly, you should bring your own satellite phone. Iridium is the only reliable network up in Alaska.
RENTAL ITEMS AVAILABLE
- SNOWSHOES ($50)
- CRAMPONS ($30)
- ICE AXE ($25)
- ASCENDER ($25)
- EXPEDITION PACK ($50-$100)
ALL EQUIPMENT ON THIS LIST IS AVAILABLE AT AMH IN ANCHORAGE -
And you get a 10% discount. Check out their Web site: www.alaskamountaineering.com or call 907 272-1811.
Feathered Friends in Seattle will also give you a 10% discount if you tell them you are joining one of our expeditions.
MAKE SURE YOU TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BRING IT ON DENALI!!
CALL OR EMAIL US WITH YOUR EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS.