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DPS

Denali Attempt

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Wazzumountaineer and I recently attempted Denali. We arrived on the glacier with about 100 pounds of gear, food, and fuel each. Our intended route, the Upper West Rib, was reportedly in poor condition so we eventually turned our attention to the West Buttress. 'Climbing' the West Buttress reminded me of pouring a concrete house foundation without the benefit of a pumper truck. Lots of load carrying.

 

The weather was overcast and intermittently snowing everyday until we reached 14,000 feet, however, we were still able to move up the glacier and lost no days due to weather. We single carried to the camp at 11,000 feet on

the second day, cached past Windy Corner to 13,500 feet on day three, and moved to the 14,000 foot camp on day 4.

 

The 14,000 foot camp is the largest of the camps and hosts climbers from all over the world. We spent four nights here acclimatizing before moving up to the next camp at 17,200 feet.

 

One of the most interesting aspects of Denali was observing the varying climbing styles of the different cultures. Asian parties tended to be large, with 10 or more climbers per rope (tied in ten to fifteen feet apart!) while Eastern Europeans carried no ropes or even ice axes!

 

On day 6 we cached to 17,200 feet. This involved climbing a 50 degree snow headwall using fixed ropes installed by the park service.

 

Going from the top of the fixed lines at 16,200 feet to the 17,200 foot camp involved climbing a rocky ridge, the most aesthetic section of the entire route. After caching our food and fuel we descended back to 14,000 feet and rested the following day.

 

On day 8 we moved to 17,200 feet with our tent, sleeping bags and cold weather clothing. We set up camp and spent the night. The following day, day 9, we attempted the summit but were turned back at Denali Pass (18,200) by

very strong winds and an approaching storm. It was in this section that a pair of twins from Ohio fell and died, a fact made even more tragic by the presence of fixed pickets every 40 meters. They did not use their rope

above high camp.

 

A series of storms were forecast to hit the mountain with winds up to 50 mph. Based on advice from Denali vets and the fact that we had limited food/fuel, we decided not to wait out the storms at 17,200 feet. We packed up our kits and headed down to 14,000.

 

We still had time left and were in a good position to try to summit, however, the thought of waiting out a week or so of bad weather in our cramped tent was not very enticing. Making the climb from 14,000 to 17,200 for a third time was not very appealing either. Furthermore, the batteries on the satellite phone were just about dead and I knew that my wife would worry if I could not communicate with her for that long. We decided to head down to the landing strip and fly out ahead of the storm and catch an early flight home.

 

 

GEAR NOTES:

I went with a light bag (-10, cut large to accomodate extra clothing) a single 15mm Evazote yellow pad, a 4,500 cubic inch pack and light weight synthetic filled clothing. The clothing, sleeping system, and assorted

gear I brought all worked well with a few exceptions. The weight savings of my -10 bag was significant, and kept me reasonably warm at high camp with my insulated clothing on.

 

The tent poles on my Mountain Hardwear Annapurna have

plastic tips that fit into grommets. On the second night I managed to break two of the tips but luckily we were able to repair them.

 

The satellite phone was not reliable and most calls were dropped. Additionally, due to the cold, batteries lasted less than 10 minutes each. Fortunately I found someone in camp with a solar charger who kindly recharged one of the batteries. In the end the sat phone was more trouble, not to mention money, than it was worth.

 

FOOD NOTES:

I planned for 5,000 calories per day. I ate perhaps 2000-3,000 calories per day as most days were short (< 4 hours). Food was an area where significant weight savings could have been realized.

 

PERSONAL NOTES:

I brought a depressing book. This was a big mistake. I should have brought something fun to read. It is very useful to have a partner that can fix everything you break. The West Buttress is for the most part a really, really boring route. Being fast is not as helpful as being patient. I am even less patient than I am fast. I was not as hungry as I thought I would be. My sled wanted to kill me.

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Just for the record, I'm pretty sure the fixed lines at Denali Pass were put in after the twins' accident. Still, they were unroped when the accident happened.

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I'm glad you were able to call your wife this time. I hate to think what a full on search for you on denali would cost.

 

grin.gif

 

What book?!

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Yet another reason why I won't do 'Da Butt' when I do Denali next year. Hopefully I'll have better conditions on the Rib in May 2006. Why'd you guys only want to do the upper Rib and not the entire West Rib from the Northeastern Fork of the Kahiltna?

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I brought "A People's History of the United States" to read.

 

I am sure the full Rib is a fine route, but was more than I wanted to take on.

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yeah i understand. I've heard that Genet basin is beautiful to come through. Is this where you guys entered?

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Yeah, we came through Genet basin. Good views of Hunter and Foraker from there.

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Just for the record, I'm pretty sure the fixed lines at Denali Pass were put in after the twins' accident. Still, they were unroped when the accident happened.

 

The NPS put in fixed lines on the Autobahn? I thought there were only pickets.

 

Yet another reason why I won't do 'Da Butt' when I do Denali next year. Hopefully I'll have better conditions on the Rib in May 2006. Why'd you guys only want to do the upper Rib and not the entire West Rib from the Northeastern Fork of the Kahiltna?

 

OK… rant coming on here. I disagree when people call the West Buttress boring. It’s a beautiful route in a beautiful setting. The climbing varies from stellar 20 degree ski slopes to a beautiful rock ridge complete with massive exposure and altitude. If Denali were not the tallest peak in NA then there wouldn’t be a conga line heading up the route and the climbing rags would worship the buttress calling it Alaska’s best route instead of continually ragging on it and commissioning people like Twight to write articles calling climbers on the route dweeds.

 

People whine about the fixed lines and say how it takes away from the character of the route etc. etc. – but guess what? – there are fixed lines on the Muldrow and West Rib and I imagine on the Cassin as well. The difference is on the Buttress the NPS actually works to ensure they are usable instead of 1000’ of trash cord twisting in and out of the snow (like on the upper rib). The crowds are a pain – but that’s what you get for wanting to summit NA’s highest point. Don’t like crowds – climb Francis and you’ll be by yourself.

 

As for the Rib… The Rib is considered AK 4 – which means steep continuous ice combined with a difficult retreat should something happen. Sure it can be straight forward – but if anything happens (HAPE, weather, a slip) the route quickly disintegrates into an epic as witnessed by the numerous accidents that have taken place on the route.

 

I think perhaps the reason we see so many accidents on the Rib is because of this continually desire to escape the “status quo” of the Buttress. This is feeling is enhanced by the continual rant against the Buttress in rags like R&I and Climbing. From your living room the entire West Rib looks easy… from 14 camp the Upper Rib looks easy. Thus people get pulled to the routes when in reality they probably shouldn’t even be trying the Buttress.

 

If you’re looking to climb Denali make sure you have adequate experience – if you’re looking to do the Rib make sure you’ve done similar climb. The consequences are high and long lasting should you screw up.

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wfinley, well said. Sure "dog routes" will attract a lot of people, but if you go earlier in the year , like we did, the crowds are no worse than Rainier on the EMmons for a weekend. Boring? Being in one of the most beautiful ranges in the world boring? Maybe I have a different perspective, but I've climbed in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, not to mention all over the western U.S. and find that the Alaska Range is by far the most beautiful I have had the pleasure to be in by FAR!!!!!! So, if you think this image is boring, then maybe you should stick to your local crags and leave the Alaska Range to me and my friends. Sounds more like sour grapes that you didn't summit so you have to make yourself feel better by putting it down as not that big a deal. I had an awesome experience with good friends, up and down in 15 days and stellar weather. Also, maybe if you slowed down a little and took some time to acclimate and enjoy your surroundings, you'd have a different perspective........Boring? Let cc.com be the judge!

467224-ROLL2057.JPG.8d5598394a4cde2224fb257e8b47e52d.JPG

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To be fair to the original poster... I can see how some might see it as boring. I have trudged up to 10,500' 3 times and find the trail from base camp to 10,500 to be a monotonous haul. However - once you turn around and take the skins off the flight back down with Hunter, Francis and Foraker in front of you is amazing! Here are pix from a trip last year: http://www.couloirgraphics.com/images/misc/akr-kah/

Edited by wfinley

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when I was up there with Ryland, I read The Rum Diaries by Hunter S Thompson...reading a book about being constantly drunk in warm, sunny Puerto Rico was particurly entertaining while freezing ones arse off.

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Last time I was on Denali I took "Gravity's Ranbow" by Thomas Pynchon. It's a tripped out novel about a guy who, every time he gets an erection, causes a german V-1 rocket to fall. This was NOT a book for Denali.

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Last time I was on Denali I took "Gravity's Ranbow" by Thomas Pynchon. It's a tripped out novel about a guy who, every time he gets an erection, causes a german V-1 rocket to fall. This was NOT a book for Denali.
yellaf.gifyellaf.gifyellaf.gif

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DPS: With only 1 pad did you get any ground chill?

 

Pynchon: Except for "Crying of Lot 49" I've never been able to finish a Pynchon. "Crying" is much shorter than his other books, so you spend less time being confused.

 

I'll make a pitch for the Sultana on Foraker as an alternative to the Butt. Since it's a mountaineering route and not an alpine climb it gets bagged on like the Buttress as a "slog", but it, like the Butt (which I haven't climbed), has fantastic views and miles of interesting glaciated ridge. We shared the route with no other climbers, but passed a couple parties on our descent. Technically, climbers skilled enough for the Butt should be skilled enough for Sultana, but you get to be alone, build your own camps (although I hate that part), crampon from 6800 ft, and so on. Plus, it's lower, so you can get some altitude experience before committing to Denali. I thought it was a very good introduction to the Alaska range for me and probably would be for many West Butt aspirants.

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I would suggest that the Sultana is more committing than the Butt because there are far fewer people around, and there is no easy bail off anywhere. Its friggin miles and miles and miles from summit of Crosson to the base of that final ridge proper!

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Last time I was on Denali I took "Gravity's Ranbow" by Thomas Pynchon. It's a tripped out novel about a guy who, every time he gets an erection, causes a german V-1 rocket to fall. This was NOT a book for Denali.

 

Good book. wink.gif

 

It's good to hear that you did pretty well with a lightweight setup, DPS. You ate less than you expected because you did less work per day than you expected?

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I thought the slog from KIA to 10,500 to be incredibly boring. Sure the scenery is spectacular but that doesn't make up for the monotony of pulling a sled for miles. From that point on I was in a continual state of awe though.

 

I could not imagine doing it without skis. Ugh.

 

I took Don Delilo's Underworld when I went. I finished it at the 14K camp and had one hell of a time unloading that massive tome. That shaved a good 20 pounds off my load.

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Oh my! A character from the novel commenting on the novel. Don't get him excited.

 

Ha Ha! I loved the book... it was a great read once I had time & energy to devote to it. It was a little heavy (literally - it's like 500 page) for Denali though. So far I've also read Lot 49 and V. - Vineland is on my list for late summer (after Harry Potter).

Edited by wfinley

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I will also say that the Sultana is far more committing. Weather and ave danger are major factors on this route -- if a bad storm comes along you're a sitting duck. At least on the Buttress you can always hunker down to a sheltered camp.

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Just for the record, I'm pretty sure the fixed lines at Denali Pass were put in after the twins' accident. Still, they were unroped when the accident happened.

Mughjie, read Dan's post again. He never claimed that there was a fixed line to Denali Pass, and your incorrect statement started a great tangent. Dan mentioned the presence of PICKETS, which the NPS places every year (and resets every patrol) to facilitate the lowering traverse required to rescue anyone from Denali Pass and above.

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