Thursday, February 11, 2016
I have been sitting on this write up for a while. Now that I have been sick with the flu for 4 days(really rough time), I have a little bit of time to write this narrative. Climbing Denali has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I have been collecting gear for about 20 years. My response for any gear purchase "Is this gear good enough for Denali" We actually used a tent I purchased 20 years ago for this trip. It is a good old Sierra Design stretch dome. My brother Sammy and I started planning the trip after I ran RRR100 in the fall of 2014. We trained on Bear Peak with 50 lb packs. I tried to gain as much weight and strength as possible. I kept researching that runners have a hard time on Denali and the best Denali climbers know how to suffer in cold and can camp in the cold. My brother slept outside in his tent during the winter and we took a few winter camping trips to dial down our gear. My friend Jason Anderson who used to guide on Denali and the Himilayas gave me a ton of gear and told me some horror stories up on Denali. I also read the book Denali's howl that highlighted the deadliest North American expedition. We named our expedition DAMSON. We applied for the trip and sent in our climbing resume (365 per climber which is a bargain compared to Everest). I put on my climbing resume: the casual route on the diamond, east ridge of the Grand Teton, The Lowe route on Angels landing, petit gripon, Ellingwood arete on the needle. I was not too sure if I would be accepted due to the lack of glacial travel despite the solid climbing resume. The DAMSON Expedion was approved! We set up our plane trips and ground transportation. I was really nervous about the finance of the trip and did not buy any gear until I sold a house we were renovating in leadville. We made some decent change on the sale of the house which freed me up to buy some nice warm gear for the "high one" The climbing season starts in May. It was a rough May for ascents due to storms and conditions. I read about a Spaniard dying at 17,000 and realized about 1 out of 300 die on the peak. I tried to hide those facts from my wife. She knows that I am safe and my brother and I are a great team. There is a great blog that comes from the rangers and talks about the summit rates and issues like crevasse rescues and avalanches and approaching storms. The summit rates were dismal in May only one person summitted and that was in January....solo. That dude is hard core! We were leaving on June 7th and were just hoping to get some good weather. We had plenty of gear and food for a 21 day expedition. Our packs weighed 150 lbs each. We arrived in Anchorage and we met our bus driver that was taking us to Talkeetna. We nicknamed him scary Gary because it was very hard to communicate with him. It ended up well and he ended up being a nice guy and what I assume as a regular Alaskan. We got to our cabin in Talkeetna and walked to town. It was so weird for it to be light all day and night. We had some awesome beers at Denali Brewing and soaked in this really cool town that is home to many climbers during May-July. We met with the flight crew and set up the flight. It was really busy because it was the first time in 4 or 5 days that flights could get to base camp due to weather. We weighed our packs left our personal belongings and boarded the plain with a winter mountaineering group with wounded warriors. Most of the vets had prosthetic legs. We were dropping them off at a glacier name coffee house. It was breath taking flying around the mooses tooth and the 5000 vertical foot rock walls. We landed the plane and immediately burried the plane. We spent the next 2 hours unpacking the plane, stomping out a runway, and helping vets who could not get around in the hip deep snow. The plane took off and made it around for a couple of landings. We got back on the plane and said bye to the group. We thought we were going to finally make it to base camp, but we directed back to Talkeetna. I was really bummed but when we landed we got right back on another plane full of tourists. We got to take another flight and it was great being on a tourist flight because we learned a lot flying over the different features. The pilot announced. "It is your lucky day...we have some climbers on board and we are going to base camp" The tourists were happy about the additional stop. We landed at basecamp and waited around for about two hours waiting for a sat phone that K2 aviation forgot to set up. It was great watching expeditions gearing up for Denali or just finishing. Looking to the southeast, Mt Foraker sits at 17000 ft. Day 1 Basecamp sits at 7,000 ft. I have never seen vertical relief like this before and it was spectacular. We left right after a Russian team started. We were roped up and we left about 9:00 at night. We got to camp 1 at 1:00 (9,000 ft) and probed for a good spot. We camped right between crevasses. We got up a little later and single carried to camp 2 at 11,000. Day 2-4 Camp 2 was cold and we got stuck there in a blizzard for 3 days. We camped by a son and father team from Arizona. They went back down due to the weather and conditions. We read books, built snow walls and chatted with the climbing guides from other teams. We just tried to stay busy. Day 5 We finally decided to make a go of it while most climbers were still in there tents. We really had no idea what to expect on windy corner and single carried to camp 3 at 14 thousand. It was really strange that we did not have severe weather. The visibility was not great but we could move comfortably. It was a long haul to Camp 3 and when we arrived we were very grateful and set up an awesome site. Day 6 We took our first real rest day (too windy up high) and took pictures at the edge of the world. Day 7 We decided to go up the head wall and stash some food up on the ridge. This is the part where you really start climbing and using ice axes and crampons. It was a lot steeper than I thought it would be and it was a really nice ridge with amazing views. It was crazy windy so we stashed a couple of bags and headed back down to Camp 3. It was our first time being at 17 thousand feet and it was difficult to breath. Day 8 We decided to make a go for camp 5 at 17,200 ft without a rest day and full packs. We started climbing and got behind a very slow Chinese team. Some climbers Colorado climbers started yelling at them to move fast and we decided to go around them. As soon as we passed them, a rescue team was sending down a frostbite victim. from Colorado. That was a bit unnerving. We finally made it to camp 4 and we had to build a camp. We were pretty exhausted and it took us about 3 hours to build a camp by sawing snow blocks and digging away in a nasty windstorm. It was brutal and a few tents were already shredded. We got in our tent and crashed. Day 9 Sammy and I decided to go for the summit. The weather reports were saying anther storm was coming and we thought this was our window. We got up brewed up two quarts. We took water, some food, jackets, pants, snow shovel, snow saw and sat phone. We made great time. We passed several guided groups. The weather was cold but beautiful. We made it the final ridge and the wind died down and it was actually warm. We made the summit in 6 hours. We had the summit to ourselves and basked in the amazing views and time we had on the trip. We started to get cold and headed down. When we got down to camp 4 we brewed up some water and called our families. It was an awesome and emotional call. We packed up our camp that we spent hours building. Exhausted we headed down to warmer temps at 14 k. It was beautiful walking down at night time down the ridge. It was quiet, gorgeous and I tried to take it all in. It was by far the most beautiful day I ever have had in the mountains. Sammy and I were pretty tired as we went down the headwall and I struggled with my jumar as we descended the fixed lines. We got to camp and crashed! Day 10 We descended all the way to base camp and made it back to Talkeetna safe and sound. We lost a lot of weight and looked liked we were on steroids with veins sticking out everywhere. Sammy and I admired our new physique and ugly beards, showered up and drank and ate until that physique changed into the middle age beer drinking dads we are accustomed to represent. We made it down to check in at the Rangers station and let them know we summited and we had a great time. I would love to go on another expedition someday. It was beyond beautiful and I am so blessed to be able to climb and run with amazing friends and family.