2016 has been a year of many first. Most recently I had the opportunity to guide Denali, the highest point in North America. Though I had climbed and worked in Alaska before this was my first foray into the northern Alaska Range. My co-guides for the trip were Ben Jones and Tom Chambers, both of which have much more experience than I in the greater ranges.
Our trip started in Talkeetna with two days of food packing and gear prep. Strangely this prep work went very smooth, and it would be a good omen for the trip to come.
Looking at the client list it was evident that we had a strong team. We all met up at the Fireweed, an old train station on the Alaskan Railroad that had been converted into a B&B for dinner the night before. Everyone seemed to have that right amount of nervousness and excitement.
After flying in with Talkeetna Air Taxi it got real, quick. Huge mountains coupled with some of the largest glaciers in the world struck everyone dumb. Oddly enough, I ran into my old friend Brad Ward after stepping foot from the plane. Brad and his partner had just gotten off the West Buttress and had planned to do the Cassin Ridge, unfortunately conditions were not to their liking and they were headed back to town. I always forget how small the world is, especially in the climbing community!
Without incident or weather we cruised up the Kahiltna. A few double and single carries later we were at the base of the real climbing at 14,000 camp. The weather was so good in fact that we ended up shirtless a few times to soak up some vitamin D.
Moving up to 17,000 camp proved to be one of the more challenging days for everyone. With heavy packs, warm weather, and technical climbing we arrived and set up shop tired and sore.
Summit day started with a walk along the Autobahn, and infamous exposed slope which many people have died on. Other than the thin air we experienced no issues all the way to the summit. I hadn't really thought much about the summit until I was standing there, it was an emotional experience for me. Seeing the laughs and excitement of the clients made me realize why I started doing this in the first place.
After a few days of rest we started our descent. Perhaps more difficult than summit day we wrangled unruly sleds and our tired bodies back to basecamp. Some teams spend days at the end of the trip waiting for weather windows to fly, but lady luck brought us an empty plane at 8:00 am sharp, barely enough time to derig and board.
In total we spent 17 days up and down. One of the quickest and smoothest trips Ben or Tom had ever done!
Looking forward to a few more climbs in the PNW now and already dreaming about another Denali trip.