May 10th West Buttress Denali Expedition – Arrives at Camp 1!

The May 10th Team is officially on their way up the mountain! After spending one day and one night in Talkeetna waiting for good flying weather, the team flew into the Alaska Range early on the morning of May 12th, arriving at the Kahiltna Base Camp to begin their grand adventure.

At this early stage of the Denali climbing season, the May 10th Team represents 10% of the climbers currently reported on the mountain, according to the National Park Service! To put that into perspective, the Park Service expects 959 total registered climbers to make an attempt on Denali before the season is over.

Lead Guide Logan and five members of the May 10th team, about to board their flight into the range! 

Stephen, Ian, and Marcus of the May 10 team. 

In what feels like an instant, the “Otters” flown by the Talkeetna Air Taxi transport climbers from the green vegetated lowlands of Talkeetna straight to the inorganic world of snow and ice that is Kahiltna Base Camp. When you step off the plane and land your feet on the snow covered glacier of the Kahiltna Air Strip, you realize that you have just entered a whole new world. For many climbers, this is the moment where the whole journey begins to finally feel real, because from this moment forward, their feet will only be treading on snow, ice and rock until they take that first step back onto the plane, several weeks from now!

Stepping into a whole new world at the Kahiltna Air Strip.


But, there’s no time to get sentimental, because as soon as you land on the Kahiltna, the journey to the top of North America has begun, and it’s time to get to work! All the gear must be offloaded from the plane, dragged off the airstrip, and sorted into piles. Some teams opt to spent a night here at Basecamp, but if you arrive in the morning and the weather looks good, it’s sometimes best to pack up and hit the trail, which is exactly what the May 10th Team did!

After landing on the morning of May 12th, the team packed up their sleds and began the long plod across the lower Kahiltna Glacier to Camp 1 (7800′, 2377m). The challenge comes quickly on Denali as the first thing the climbers encounter along their route is the long sloping downhill of Heartbreak Hill, which takes you down the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, where Basecamp is located, to the main arm of the Kahiltna Glacier.

Why is it called Heartbreak Hill, you ask? Well, since the West Buttress Route is an “out and back” route, everything you go down, you must later go back up. And at the very end of the expedition, after the long descent from the upper mountain, the never-ending gradual uphill climb of Heartbreak Hill is the last obstacle standing between your tired expedition team and the hot showers and cold beer of Talkeetna!

Heartbreak Hill’s gentle downslope can also convince climbers that “Hey, this sled isn’t that heavy!”, which eventually leads to heartbreak when they hit the flat stretches of the main Kahiltna and finally feel the full pull of 100lbs of food and gear on their backpack straps.

Crossing the lower Kahiltna Glacier towards Camp 1. That’s the summit, just 13,000 ft up from here!

Day 1 of Denali is often the hardest, and definitely the heaviest, move of the entire expedition. Since the elevation gain is minimal between Basecamp and Camp 1, most expedition teams will carry their entire 22 days worth of food and equipment the 5ish miles across the flat Kahiltna Glacier to establish themselves at Camp 1. Also, Day 1 of the expedition is when you sort out all the little kinks in your systems and begin to feel what it is like to travel in snowshoes, on a rope team, hauling a sled, on a glacier. When you finally arrive to Camp 1, it feels truly amazing to have the lower Kahiltna behind you!

Stoked to be done with a long day!

The May 10th successfully made it to Camp 1 on Sunday afternoon and setup camp. They will get comfortable here at the base of “Ski Hill” and begin to prepare for the move up towards Kahiltna Pass and then onto Camp 2 at 11,000′ / 3352m.

Don’t forget that you can always check in with to get a better understanding of what part of the West Buttress route the team is currently climbing! 

In the next dispatch, we’ll describe just how our team of intrepid climbers is able to carry 22 days worth of food and equipment up the mountain utilizing the strategic “Cache and Carry” system of expedition climbing. Stay tuned! 

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