Our Denali crew put a ton of work into prepping for our trip, as well as sharing our trip with the public. Lou Dawson did an especially good job of documenting our trip before and after, which is the main reason there has not been a ton of it here. I think it is worth a bit of my own angle on the trip though, especially as a look back on a great trip. Here is a link to most of our Denali trip while on the mountain on Lou’s site. The majority of the pictures on his site were captured by Caleb Wray or myself during the trip.
It all really started as a thought about 3 years earlier when I mentioned my goal to Tyler and Joe. That year, both Joe and Ty broke bones in their leg skiing, so I went to ski Mount Elbrus. The following year, 2009, I opted to concentrate on finishing the close to home, 14ers project. My friends threw a little party for me after finishing the journey around the state, and Lou and I got to talking; I mentioned that I was interested in Denali the following year as a ski trip, and that I knew some people who could probably be interested as well. Fall of 2009 I finally sent the invite out to everyone. In the end 7 out of the 8 people I sent the invite to answered yes. We had 8 people including myself. This was going to be a big crew. Towards the spring of 2010, one of our members dropped for personal reasons; we opted to continue with the 7 of us, rather than find a replacement.
The planning, prepping, training, and tweaking was stressful sometimes (all but the training that is). The hours spent in Lou’s garage, doing gear mods, cutting skins, sharpening edges, prepping sleds, packing food… the list goes on. I made this video that debuted on Wildsnow, but here it is again:
Caleb, Lou, Louie, and myself all choose to roadtrip our way from Carbondale, Colorado to Talkeetna, Alaska, all 4,091 miles of it. At 60 miles per hour that equates to just over 68 hours of driving…let’s just say that 60 mph is a rather generous average speed for the trip, towing the rig we’ve got with us. Fortunately, we plan to make some ski stops along the way, we’ll see if the weather cooperates.
We stop to camp in the Virginia Lakes area and manage to get in some skiing. The first day is extra sloppy, and the second day is extra icy. We head north; hoping, just hoping to find a window in the weather.
Next stop is the Mount Shasta Parking Lot. Caleb has skied this one numerous times; Louie and I have never been up it though, so we are hoping for a shot at it. The weather still looks unsettled, and a look at the summit makes us think that the wind is blowing at an unhealthy pace up high, so we opt for some turns down lower. Again we leave with more and more desire for a summit.
We hit the road again. This time headed for a new state: Oregon. Mount Hood has been on the younger members of our team’s list for quite a while now. I think Lou skied this one on his honeymoon, so it was just another repeat for him. We were all hoping that Hood would provide a nice break from getting skunked in the mountains as of late. Well, of course we weren’t quite right, as the Pacific North West weather continued to have its way with us.
Again with tails between our legs, we continue north. A stop in Bellingham for Louie to pick up some last minute stuff and we were off to our next destination; Whistler. The nice thing about this stop is that we are pretty much guaranteed to get some skiing in; what with lifts and everything. This time of year the Whistler side of the Whistler/Blackcomb conglomerate is devoted to mountain bikers while at least the upper half of blackcomb is devoted to spring skiing. Our goal is Mount Deckers outside of the gates, and, finally we manage to cure that summit fever.
It’s now time to put in a few driving days after having our fun in the Northwest, so we put our heads down and put some miles behind us for a while. I think this video is proof that we find ourselves with a bit of cabin fever part way through the Yukon:
Finally, after a couple days on the Alaskan highway we find ourselves in Anchorage. Nothing like a little bit of extra sloppy skiing on Mount Tin Can.
We wait for a couple days for Tyler, Colby, and Joe to show up at the airport. We sort gear, resort gear, weigh our loads, and reweigh them trying to cut out any little bit of extra unnecessary weight.
We pick the boys up at the airport around one o’clock in the morning and head straight on up to Talkeetna from there. We find an open campsite at the end of town and throw down our bags and pads for what remains of the evening. Most of our time is spent trying to fend off the Alaskan Mosquitoes that are constantly buzzing in and out of our sleeping bags. Relentless is the best word to describe them.
We get up early and head to the roadhouse for a big breakfast. There is a reason this place has a line out the door. The breakfasts are big and tasty. It was a welcome relief from the maneaters.
We spend the morning doing our errands in Talkeetna. We have to check in and have our little meeting with the park service that amounts to little more than telling us how to use the CMC’s and a bit of a safety talk. We check in with Talkeetna Air Taxi, our ride for the day. And we find out that they will likely be able to fly us in that day.
After sorting food, trying to get weight distributed in a fashion that met the air taxi requirements, and some last minute grease and beers at the West Rib Tavern, it’s time to load up in the Otter.
We came expecting to be on two separate flights in, but as it turns out we manage to all be on the same flight. Pretty cool.
As much as it’s true that we’ve come to Alaska to climb and ski a mountain, the truth of the matter is that the flights in and out of the glacier are still a highlight for me, as well as for many of the rest of our group.
Landing on a glacier miles and miles from any road is really a unique experience. We land in the evening and are greeted by the base camp manager who we buy our fuel from. We watch our plane as it takes off into the distance. Watching these pilots makes me want to get my pilots license.
We opt to set up our group tent for a few hours of sleep while we let the glacier freeze up to make for more efficient as well as safer travel.
We wake up in the morning to Lou getting a little restless and saying, “Well are we going to sit here all day…or go climb this mountain?” I’d like to sit here and tell you that we all feel the same way, but after just a couple days on the Alaskan light schedule (light all the time) and a weird sleep schedule, I think there is some temptation to crawl back down into our bags for a couple more hours of sleep. It seems like little more than 45 minutes later we have boiled water, eaten a meal and are slogging our way up the glacier enjoying a view of Foraker as it recieves the early morning light.
We make our way five and a half miles pulling the pigs (sleds) across the flat lower Kahiltna Glacier. In 5.5 miles we only gain about 600 feet traveling from 7,200 ft to 7,800 ft. We go to work, quickly setting up camp to sleep the day away and wait for nighttime to travel safely again on the glacier.
Night comes and we have a bit of a divide in strategy for getting to the 11,000 foot camp. Colby, Tyler, Caleb, Joe, and I opt to do one big load and move all at once, while Lou and Louie thought it best to do a double carry up to and back from 11 over the next couple days. As it turns out, both sides seem happy with the way in which they made the trip, though our crew stops at 9,600 feet for a few hours of sleep after I break a ski pole and others seem to be struggling with keeping extremities warm in the breezy night hours.
Lou and Louie continue on up and cache their loads at 11,000 and head back down to 7,800 feet. My crew wakes up early to continue on up to 11,000 foot camp humping all of our loads.
Our next day is spent as a rest day at 11 camp, doing what we all came for. some good old fashion powder skiing.
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