Denali West Buttress (expedition dates 20 June- 11 July)
Denali, 6,190m, America’s tallest mountain, is unsurpassed in technical challenge and scenic beauty. Located 300km north of the port city of Anchorage, Alaska, it rises out of an ocean of grand glaciers and other peaks that cover the Alaska Range. A Denali expedition is a wild dream for many mountain climbers, myself included.
I cannot wait to experience the vastness and stillness characterized by the Alaskan back country; I have no doubt I will be rendered speechless upon meeting the mystical Queen Denali herself. Don’t let Her beauty fool you, she is fierce and known to be one of the toughest of all 7 summits. Be prepared to carry 25-30kg on your back, pull a sled with additional group gear, climbing on some slopes up to 30–35 degrees, wearing crampons, all whilst embracing up to -30 ° temperatures.
The expedition will take anywhere between two to three weeks and the optimal summit season ranges from May to July.
Ensuring you have the right gear is absolutely paramount in safeguarding a successful summit, whether the Weather Gods decide on gifting you with rays of sunshine and wind- free days is up to them. It is often said that the greatest challenge of Denali is the weather. While most of the world’s highest mountains are near the equator, Denali is close to the Arctic Circle. Its location in the southern Alaskan mainland is 300km south of the Arctic Circle at 63° latitude, making it 30° further north than Everest.
The mountain’s summit climate makes Denali one of the most extreme places on the planet.
This is a high-level list of essential gear to take with on a Denali expedition, depending on whether you climb with a company or decide to venture on a solo climb, this list will vary significantly:
• Warm down booties
• 1 thin long john pants, and 1 pair of medium weight long john pants
• 1 pair medium weight climbing pants
• 1 pair of goretex shell pants, full zip
• 1 pair of down pants, full zip
• 3 pairs climbing socks (1 thin, 2 thick)
• 2 pairs underwear
• Triple climbing boots (like La Sportiva Olympus Mons or Millet Everest)
• 1 beani
• 1 peak cap for sun protection
• 1 balaclava/face mask (must cover your whole face (all exposed skin) with goggles
• 2- 3 buffs
• 1 pair liner gloves
• 1 pair of lighter work gloves
• 1 pair heavy climbing gloves
• 1 pair heavy mitts
• 1 pair dark ski goggles
• 1 goretex shell jacket
• 2 long john tops (1 light, 1 medium)
• Synthetic Sun hoodie or trekking shirt, long sleeve
• 2nd upper body layer
• Synthetic/ down jacket with hood
• Ultra-heavy weight down parka with hood (8000m recommended)
• Power battery/recharger/solar charger with cords
• Camera or phone camera
• 1 sleeping bag, rated to -40C/F
• 1 thermarest
• 1 ridge rest
• Lip- ice and sunscreen
• Baby wipes, for staying clean
• Meds/ small personal first aid kit
• Toilet paper (2 rolls)
• Pee bottle (1 litre)
• 5 large heavy duty trash bags (for caching gear)
• 2 X 1 litre Nalgene-type water bottles with full covers
• Large internal frame pack, must be 100+ litre
• Light harness
• 1 pair steel crampons
• 5 locking carabiners
• 9 non-locking carabiners
• 12m of cordelette (7mm)
• 1 Ascender
• 1 single length sling
• 1 double length sling
• 2 pairs glacier glasses (one spare)
• Collapsible ski poles
• 1 long alpine length ice axe
• 3-5 stuff sacks
• 1 compression sack
• 1.5kg of personal snack food
• Cup, bowl, spoon
• Tooth paste and toothbrush and other toiletries
• 2 large duffels, waterproof PVC rugged construction. One must be light weight and will be used to haul in the sled. The second will stay at the hotel with your street clothes and other items not needed for the climb.
My recommendation for anyone who has their heart set on climbing this exquisite mountain is to get ample experience beforehand. As an advanced climb, Denali requires a substantial amount of prior climbing, winter camping, and intense training. Simply dealing with the severe cold on Denali is a daily challenge and this is something that will be my biggest challenge up there.
Humility speaks louder than words and knowing that you are part of a team is both an honour and a comfort. Most of all, my main goal when climbing, is to stay present, one day at a time, and to simply have fun. There is no greater dance floor than that of the bellies’ of the highest peaks around the world, so let go and break out all those crazy moves- not only will you keep warm in doing so but you will be reminded to not take life too seriously.
Onwards and upwards,