Climbed the West Rib of Denali on the Crazy Canuck Expedition from May 10-25. An amazing experience and the trip of a lifetime for me (wife says I won't be allowed on any more trips like this for the rest of my life, hahaha).
Day 1 - Flew into base camp on May 10th with Talkeetna Air Taxi. TAT was the more expensive flight service to go with but they cater more to climbers than the other firms. Two poor climbers we met from California waited an extra day to fly in because one of the other services flew tourists around instead.
Day 2 - We were up and on our way to Camp 1 by 6:00 AM over 5 miles away. I sported a 45 pound pack and 75 pound sled while we moved to Camp 1 in a single push in beautiful weather. In my opinion a single carry is the only way to go here given the distance. Leave early, take your time and enjoy the view if weather permits. Took One Sport boots on this climb and they were way too hot lower on the mountain but a joy higher up.
Day 3 - Up late (8:00 AM) because we didn't hear our alarms. Started moving to Camp 2 in a single push up Ski Hill but got caught in a snow storm. Huge day effort wise moving that much weight up that hill in fresh snow. Only made it to 10,150 and set up camp.
Day 4 - Snowed a lot so we loaded up only our sleds and moved some heavy loads through deep powder to Camp 2 at 11,200. Left the sleds there and returned to camp at 10,150.
Day 5 - Up at 5:00 AM and moved to Camp 2 in about 2 hours with a 50 pound pack but thankfully there was no sled to pull. We have gained a reputation for being the first to leave camp each day and are now referred to as the Early Canadians. Watched other poor climbers hauling sleds up the high-angled route and decided it's crazy. Next time I'd put most of the weight in my pack and maybe only 20 pounds on my sled.
Day 6 - Again up at 5:00 AM (that's what I get for going with an alpine climber). Big day carrying a load past Windy Corner at 13,500. Weather started out good and Windy Corner failed to live up to its namesake, however, as we returned it dumped a foot of snow on us in 5 hours. Windy Corner was slow going as it was mostly blue ice and there were huge crevasses all around the cache area.
Day 7 - Up late for us and left camp at 8:00 AM heading to Camp 3 at 14,000. Everyone else were waiting for the Early Canadians to break trail as over 2 feet of fresh snow had fallen through the night. Broke trail (and our asses) to the top of Motorcycle Hill hauling sleds. At the top we waited for one of the guided groups to take over as they were moving light going up to cache at Windy Corner. Passed Windy Corner again in good weather, arrived at Camp 3 exhausted and asleep by 9:00 PM. Received news of the brothers who died in a fall on Denali Pass. Called our loved ones to let them know we were all right. One long f'in day.
Day 8 - Rest day but went back to Windy Corner and picked up our cache. Only 15 minutes to go down but over 90 minutes to get back for nap time. The weather at 17,000 has been bad and a lot of people are stuck at the 14,000 camp waiting for the weather to turn. Radio on my MP3 player had good reception of a modern rock station in Anchorage on 103.10 MHz.
Day 9 - Up early again and left to ascend the fixed rope section to 16,000. Two climbers beat us to the start of the fixed lines but they turned back due to the cold wind. I didn't think it was that cold as I've climbed in much colder weather on Mount Washington, NH. As we were better prepared for the weather we put on our down jackets (Primaloft in my case) and continued to the top of the fixed ropes. After climbing through crappy unconsolidated snow and the ice headwall we were rewarded with sunny skies and no wind. Sat at 16,200 for over an hour taking in the scenery and enjoying the warm sun before returning to camp after caching our gear.
Day 10 - Rest day. Sat around camp listening to the MP3 under a blue sky and light winds. Walked to the "Edge of the World" to enjoy the view and then thinned-out my gear for the move to high camp.
Day 11 - Up late (damn alarms) and got stuck behind a large guided group on the fixed ropes. Oh well, took our time and enjoyed the huge track being laid down by the stampede. It really made for easy going on the fixed ropes. Set up camp at 17,000 in light winds and cool temps.
Day 12 - Up late to a windy morning and a summit attempt did not look promising. Winds let up at 3:00 PM so impatiently headed out on an evening ascent after sleeping all day. Ascended Denali Pass and reached the Japanese weather station at 18,000+ feet. One of the guys couldn't get his hands to warm up and was too tired to continue so we turned around. Unfortunately we took too long descending and got caught in a blizzard half way down Denali Pass. High winds and spindrift reduced our visibility to about 10 feet. My buddy slipped but we arrested the fall easliy and down-climbed to the base of the Pass. Lucking we had coded the location of our camp into a GPS and walked right through the blizzard to our tent. Three of the large guided groups had moved to high camp that day and were surprised to see us walking down from Denali Pass in that weather. From then on we were know as the Crazy Canadians.
Day 13 - Weather report called for unsettled weather so decided to wait another day before abandoning our summit bid. We watched 34 climbers ascend in windy conditions but all make it to the top returning just before midnight. Apparently we were too impatient.
Day 14 - Good weather so we were off on our second summit attempt. Ascended Denali Pass on such a sunny day I had to tie-off my TNF down suit around my waist and take off my toque to stay cool. Put the suit back on above 19,000 and arrived at Archdeacon's Tower which I had mistaken for the summit ridge in wind-driven snow. Then the wind died down and we caught a glimpse of the Football Field and Pig Hill!!! My heart sank when, after 5 or 6 hours of climbing, I saw how far we still had to go. Off we went across the field and sloooowly up Pig Hill to the summit ridge. After the long traverse of the ridge we finally arrived at the summit! Stayed on te summit for about 15 minutes (cold and windy) before heading down. Our descent was uneventful and after 13 hours of climbing we arrived back at camp.
Day 15 - Packed up and headed down to camp at 14,000. Sat for a few hours and felt so good we continued on to 11,000.
Day 16 - Today was one horrendous push back to base camp after ascending the appropriately named Heartbreak Hill. Flew out of base camp in the late afternoon, hung out our gear and off to the West Rib for beer and burgers. Please note: I had huge blisters on the balls and heels of my feet and did not want to walk on them (except to the bar) for two days.
All in all we had terrific weather and enjoyed a great climb. I'm putting lots of pictures in the gallery.
1) One Sport boots were much hotter on the lower mountain than the other climbers Scarpa's with Intuition liners.
2) My Western Mounaineering Bison bag was too warm.
3) I had a Dana Design Terraplane that was just the right size to hold my gear.
4) MSR XGK stove really melted a lot of snow and the Dragonfly was the best for simmering.
5) TNF down suit was great and so was the MHW Union Suit.
6) OR safari hat was a god-send as were the Julbo Serpa glasses