On Denali image

On Denali

December 8, 2015

Hi Andy,

Let me first say that your blogs are great and very informative, hopefully that doesn’t sound like I’m trying to kiss your arse!

My friend and i are planning a 6 week trip to Denali in May 2016, with the intention of summiting Denali by west buttress and taking in a few other lower peak routes also.

We have over 10 years of experience of winter climbing in Scotland and the Alps but have never been on expedition before, as we are used to finishing our days climbing Poco locos in Cham or a nice mountain hut! Do you have any advice/tips for a successful trip?



Hi Drew

First off one big thing I always stress on such trips is to focus on your survivability (lots of blog posts about that), as you’re pretty much on your own if things go south, with no rescue in storms etc.  This means being totally solid in terms of mountain camping, mountain travel and basically being able to look after yourself and each other (kit and bodies, as well as your psyche/moral).

On such a trip you need to be able to hit the ground running and not make small mistakes that will have big consequences long or short term.  Here’s a few thoughts on that.

How good are your crevasse rescue techniques?  I don’t mean messing around at the crag, but in a real life scenario? Not in your climbing kit, but all your mountain clothing, big pack, mountain clothing, boots, with a pulk attached to the rope?  BTW do you have a solid system for running a pulk on your glacier system?  How quick can you get out of a hole with your set up?  Now try doing it in the dark?  Imagine this scenario, down a very cold hole with just your base layer on.  Where’s your down jacket?

2. Make sure you have a solid system for climbing out of a hole, as well as a system for pulling someone out, as well as securing someone.  Invest in a Petzl Tibloc (add a big leash so you don’t drop it!) and a micro traction (can be used to climb a rope or pull someone out.  Use then all in as many ways as you can, and have them where you can get them easily (think about pre attaching them to the rope).

3. How are you going to get around?  Ski’s or snowshoes or both?  Ski’s are the only way to go on the flat, especially on glaciers and you can get skis with binding that will take mountain boots that work with skins and crampons on low to medium terrain quite well with little skill (Like the Hagan X-Race and X-Race binding).  For proper skiing you need dedicated boots and skis, meaning you’ll need to pack in your climbing boots.  Skiing downhill with a pulk, pack and mountain boots can be a nightmare (even with ski boots it can be very hard), so it’s often worth making them into big snowshoes by tying slings around the skis to slow them (you kind of push down the hill), as well as rope/cord wrapped around the pulk to stop it catching you up all the time.  The bonus of using skis is you massively decrease your chance of falling into a crevasse, you can use them to secure the tent, or as an anchor in a rescue.  Remember if you use skis to secure a tent have the edges facing in so they don’t slice your guy lines!

How solid is your tent?  In a big storm you’ll feel like if it goes so will you!  How easy is it to use in a storm?  Make sure you have big pull tabs on all zips, and take double poles if your tent can take them.  Replace all factory guys with Clamceat heavy duty reflective guys (they don’t get tangled) and cleats, and get Terra Nova SOS Snow pegs, adding (tie a long length of 4mm cord to the centre so you can bury them as T-achors and add a Alpkit Clippers to them, so you can quickly clip them in and out of your guys (on a mountain tent, in a storm, it’s more about the guys than the fly guys).

How good are you at building snow walls, igloos, snow holes?  These can be life savers so take the time to take the time to learn how to do them well.  Take one good shovel and a good quality snow saw, not some pathetic thing you’re meant to carry but not use! (I use a Yangfang saw).

Really think about food, and having a diet that is going to fuel you on the climb (don’t skimp on fuel, there tends to be a lot of brew downtime).  Having a good mix of real food and mountain food, mixing in sweet and savoury.  We really like eating bacon when I went to Alaska, and had bagels that we’d fry up in the bacon fat to clean the frying pan (it was winter, with temps down to minus 50, so that may explain the desire to eat fat!).

Try and keep the loads down and don’t get bogged down in too much hardware as most routes don’t require too much in terms of rack, maybe half a set of nuts (get Wild Country Superlight Offets) and two or three cams.  Remember that all you take on the mountain needs to be carried up the mountain, so main weight needs to be food and fuel.

Check out my blog on Antarctic expeditions as there is a ton of crossover, but make sure you go slow to start and don’t push your body, and also focus as much on keeping cool as keeping warm (the sun can be a killer).

Lastly take a good book, a pack of cards, and enjoy both the good days and the bad : )