May 10th West Buttress Denali Expedition – Back Carried and Settled in to Camp 2!

The May 10th West Buttress Denali Expedition is now fully settled in to life at Camp 2 (11,000′), having walked down to 10,200′ to retrieve their cache and bring it back up to Camp 2.

Assistant Guide Stephen called in to report on their day. Give it a listen!

Audio Recording

Heading down with empty packs and sleds to retrieve a cache, aka the “Back Carry”.

We call this a “Back Carry Day”, when the expedition goes back down the trail they just came up the previous day to retrieve their cached equipment and bring it all up to the higher camp. Not many folks realize this, but when you climb Denali, you really walk some of same sections of the mountain FOUR TIMES!  The pattern of ascent goes something like this:

  1. Carry a load of equipment and food roughly halfway to the next camp, dig a hole in the snow, bury your stuff in the hole, and mark it with a bamboo wand and “cache tag” issued by the National Park Service.
  2. Break down camp and walk past your cache to the next camp.
  3. Leave the new camp and “back carry” by heading back down the trail to your cache, dig it up, package the cache contents into your backpacks or sleds, and then bring it up to the new camp.
  4. And finally, when descending the mountain at the end of expedition, pass all of your previous caches and camps as you make your way back to the Airstrip and Basecamp.

Moving from one camp to the next is really a 3-day affair, and that’s assuming that the weather doesn’t turn foul and make it too impractical to travel. As mentioned in a previous post, this method of ascent is crucial for minimizing the weight of the loads carried by the expedition team and also in helping team members better acclimatize as they ascend the mountain.

The recipe for successfully climbing Denali includes one part “marathon athletic feat”, one part “Chess-like strategic maneuvers”, and two parts of “sheer luck with the weather”.

The May 10th West Buttress Denali Expedition is setting themselves up for success with a short back carry day, a restful afternoon, and some crampon and ice axe skills work to round out the day!

Way to go, team! 


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