Denali Pre-Trip Information: Soft Skills

This page is intended to help you prepare for some of the more important, but less sexy aspects of being a member of a climbing expedition.  Please read the section below about communication.  Clear, honest communication is critical for every member of a team. We hope that we have started the process by engaging you from your first contact with our admin staff.  Communication is part of our Risk Management Plan and we’re counting on you to help foster it among the team.

Hard skills like crampon and ice axe use are important, but personal maintenance is also crucial during an expedition.  Our tips on layering might run a bit counter intuitive to what you’ve heard over the years, but take them into consideration, as they have proven effective on Denali over the decades.

Having a good layering system won’t do you much good, if you haven’t put it all into practice.  Former Mountain Trip guide and 50+ time Denali summitter Dave Staeheli has lent us some of his sage advice in an entertaining fashion, with his article titled, “Change Yer Pants!”

If you think you might need some rental kit, please let us know ahead of time.  If you have everything on our equipment list, you don’t need to open the section about rental gear.



We can’t stress enough the importance of keeping open and effective lines of communication. Let your guides know how you are feeling each day. Always let them know if you are taking, or have started taking, any medication or herbal supplements. Often, minor situations become crises that otherwise could have been mediated early on, if we knew about them!

-Got a hot spot on your heel?  Tell us- don’t let it become a blister.

-Are those fingers so cold that you’ve lost sensation in them?  Tell someone! Pull on your hat – get those mittens on – pop in some handwarmers – swing your arms to increase blood flow to your hands – shrug your shoulders up to your ears and let your hands drop quickly down to your sides – add another layer to your torso or head – TELL SOMEONE!

-Sweating so much that it is running into your eyes?  STOP! Shed a layer and tell your guides so they can help ensure that you remain adequately hydrated. If you do a little prep work, the amount of time it will take you to shed a layer will be minimal, so before you ask that the rope team stop, unzip your jacket, take your gloves off, and try to be as efficient as possible after the team stops.

-Are your feeling poorly, but have not told anyone about that medication your started taking just before your trip?  Tell your guides. Maybe you forgot that Amoxicillin is really the same as that Penicillin you are allergic to! (A true, very scary story…)


Take care of yourself

Communication is an integral part of this, but you should take an active part in your own well being by keeping yourself hydrated and fed.  Some days you’ll not have much of an appetite, but it is still important to try to get some fuel in your system.  Take your guide aside and maybe he or she will have something else to offer you that might go down easier.

It is on the equipment list, but please be certain that you toss a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your toiletry kit and at minimum, use it before every meal and after “taking care of business.”

Try to anticipate how warm or cold it will be when you start hiking and dress accordingly.  Starting out on the trail feeling slightly chilled is a good rule of thumb for not overheating on the big hill up ahead.  If you’re uncertain, ask a guide what he or she is going to wear.   You’ll see plenty of folks hiking in the hot sun on the lower glacier, dressed head to toe in Gore-tex.  The theory seems to be that they are dressed for a potential crevasse fall.  If you have a puffy layer in the top of your pack, you can almost always pull it on, should you find yourself dangling in a gaping maw.  We don’t think it’s worth overheating and getting dehydrated by wearing layers unnecessary for the conditions at hand.

Eat and drink at every break while on the trail, and liberally apply sunscreen every hour.  Your guides will make a point of reminding everyone to perform these tasks at every break, but if you can be disciplined, you’ll perform a lot better and hopefully not look like one of the crispy, sunburnt “zombies” when you arrive back in Talkeetna.  This is especially true on the descent, when it is easy to just want to keep going, like horses headed back to the barn.  Stay vigilant and disciplined!

Todd's Layering Tips

Todd’s Layering Tips

We’ve all been schooled in the concept of layering clothing to keep us comfortable in the mountains. Add a layer for warmth, shed a layer to cool off, and cover everything with some form of Gore-Tex.

Improvements in textile manufacturing now enable us to wear a set of layers with a broad comfort range, layers that we can leave on for most of our time during an expedition. Stretch woven fabrics, otherwise known as “soft shells,” can be put on in Talkeetna and often not removed until you get back to town (sounds gross, I know). Except for alpine skiing at our local resort, I don’t think I’ve worn Gore-Tex pants in the past 10 years because soft shell fabrics have significantly improved.

On Denali, I’ll wear my soft shell pants (Patagonia Simul Alpine Pants) alone for much of the way to Camp 2 or 3. On cold days, I’ll layer lightweight synthetic base layer bottoms under them. I prefer synthetics for my legs over Merino wool, as it seems to wick moisture somewhat better. Light fleece tights can add more warmth for very frigid mornings, and I have my puffy pants to put on top for summit day or the cold morning move up to High Camp. On late May or June trips, I will carry a set of lightweight Gore-Tex jacket and pants to Camp 2 and cache it, as the lower glacier can experience wet snow or even rain as we get later into June and early July.

On top, I’ve become a fan of lightweight, hooded, sun shirts on the lower glacier.  We list “sun hoodies” as optional on our equipment list, but you’ll undoubtedly notice that virtually all our guides wear them.  As the temps drop, I wear a lightweight base layer and add a very breathable soft shell (Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket) when moving in windier conditions. If it is colder, I’ll add a light fleece hoody (Patagonia Thermal Weight Zip Neck Hoody – the hood is a built-in hat!) under the soft shell and I always keep a puffy layer or two in the top of my pack for rests or belays.  Instead of one thick puffy, which have become harder to find, I’m now a fan of two lighter puffy jackets, such as the Patagonia Nano Pullover.   The “Double Nano System” is a little heavier than one thick puffy, but I appreciate how it lets me fine tune my insulation to fit the conditions and workload of the day.  I wrote about this while I was transitioning from a single layer in a Mountain Trip blog post.

On summit day, all of that will be wrapped under my big down parka. For early season climbs, I’ll often add a synthetic vest to give me the extra warmth at minimal weight to ward off the colder temps.  This is also a great layer if you “run cold.”


This system is a bit different from a traditional system, in that my shell jacket is often buried under my puffy layer. While this might sound counter intuitive, my puffy has a windproof nylon shell, so why would I layer another nylon shell over it?

I have talked to a couple of people who have used lightweight shells such as the Alpine Start shell and felt that they lost enough warmth that they did not appreciate the tip, which only drives home Dave Staeheli’s lesson below- TRY EVERYTHING OUT BEFORE YOU REACH ALASKA!  Personally, I will trade the slight additional warmth of a thicker shell jacket for the significant weight savings of the lighter shell, but you might not…

Highly breathable soft shell layers allow me to keep them on even when I’m working moderately hard. The lightweight wind shirt will keep convective heat loss at a minimum while I’m moving without overheating me. I can carry it in my pocket for quick changes without taking my pack off or even breaking stride. The end result is fewer layer changes, which keeps me moving more efficiently.

With my system, there is a chance that I could find myself in windy conditions where I might need to pull my puffy pants on over my soft shell pants. I accept that by foregoing Gore-Tex, I might not have the perfect layers for that event. My personal risk/benefit analysis tells me that I’ll still leave my Gore at home for much of the season.

Don’t necessarily take this as an ad for Patagonia and Black Diamond, although I do love their clothes and social/environmental corporate initiatives. They just happen to make the kit I’m currently using these days.

Change Yer Pants!

Change Yer Pants

By Dave Staeheli (based on his 50+ Denali climbs)

First scene:  

Oh boy! You have to buy puffy pants for Denali. You are stepping up with the big boys now. You try them on in the store, buy them, take them home and maybe model them for your significant other, then pack them away in their stuff sac.


Second scene:  

It’s snowing, it’s blowing, this definitely isn’t Kansas anymore, and in fact, you aren’t even sure you are on planet Earth! Where are those puffy pants and how the heck are you going to get them on?  Let’s see… you are at 20,000 feet, wearing big boots with crampons, harness on your waist, bundled under a big Michelin Man jacket and you absolutely dread the thought of taking your hands out of your mittens. It suddenly hits you, you are not in your living room and that you really, really, REALLY should have practiced with this more!

So… this is the Guide Tip from a guide who has been guiding Denali for over 30 years. You really need to practice with this stuff in the comfort of home ’cause when it gets to be the “Big Nasty,” it is not the time to be figuring it out.

Well before you travel to Alaska, get yourself all rigged up. Now take off your pants. Make sure you have fogged up goggles. Wearing crampons indoors is optional and you may consider doing this outdoors. Remember; when you’ve got the big panda jacket on, you can’t even see your waist. So how are you going to deal with your harness? With mittens on? Maybe, you think to yourself, you better learn to do this fast, with light gloves on preferably. Now put your pants back on.

If it took you ten minutes for either operation, it will take you 20 minutes up on the Football Field at 19,500 feet. Let’s not even think about it on the steep flanks of the Autobahn!   Now change out your mittens or gloves. Is there a way to hang them on your waist without taking off your pack? Is your warm hat handy? Can you switch from goggles to sunglasses and do you even know where the blasted things are? Phew, this is hard work!

There is a truism every experienced mountaineer knows, “Plan in comfort, practice in comfort.”  Then, when that summit lenticular cloud comes slamming down on our heads, you won’t have a total epic just changing your pants!

WARNING! One of my clients from a year back really did practice putting on his pants.  He reports it is okay to wear crampons on shag carpet.  Also, he did it in front of his wife, which caused her to break down into uncontrollable laughter.

 ***Mountain Trip is not responsible for any injuries caused by you putting this advice into practice at home!!!

Alaskapedia: skookum, adj : an action or state of being that is working well or is all right. As in, “my gear is skookum.”

Rental Options

Rental Options

If you missed the holiday gear sales or if you didn’t find what you were looking for, Mountain Trip has a limited supply of rental gear available on a first come – first served basis.

Here is our rental selection and pricing:

  1. Snowshoes (MSR)  $70
  2. Adjustable ski poles (Black Diamond)  $25
  3. Ice Axe  $45
  4. Parka (Patagonia Down Parka, M.H. Subzero, Feathered Friends)  $90
  5. Pants (Patagonia Micro Puff, MH Compressor, Feathered Friends Volant) $70
  6. Ascender (Petzl) $35
  7. Backpack (M.H. BMG, Osprey Aether) $95
  8. Crampons (BD Sabretooth) $45
  9. Helmet $35
  10. Overboots $50

Please let us know if you would like to us to set aside rental equipment for you. We can sort out payment ahead of time or you can just bring the rental fee in cash (USD) to the Team Meeting/Equipment Check. Your guides will bring the rental equipment to the Team Meeting/Equipment Check.

***Please note that we need sizes for the following:
parka, pants, backpack, helmet, and overboots (we need your boot size).

denali snowshoes

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