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Major Major

Ski/climb Denali WB - experience/advice/partners?

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I'm looking to use skis as much as possible to climb/descent the west buttress. I'm curious to know if anyone on here has skied parts of this mountain. What was your experience? Any recommendations on itinerary, schedule, best parts of mountain to ski? Or is this just a pie in the sky dream? I'm also looking for a skimo partner if anyone is interested. I frequent the PNW/Cascade mountains and want to move onto something a little more 'committal.'

 

-the major

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Skis are emphatically the way to go up to 14. You'll have to bootpacking from 11 to 14, but going down takes 10 minutes and is actually fun. Additionally, when the weather sucks in 14 you can go ski from the base of the fixed lines.

 

Depending on your comfort level skis will also allow you to not rope up on the entire mountain. The pack is put in by people with snowshoes, so as long as you're on it there isn't much of a chance of punching through bridges. I skied around a buddy who had postholed to his waist with snowshoes while he cursed me. Having 2 pairs of boots is great as well for keeping your feet warm and comfortable.

 

I honestly think the safest way to go up and down the fixed lines is unroped. They're barely 45 degrees and there are steps kicked in for the way up. On the way down bring a pair of leather gloves and do an arm wrap. You'll be able to minimize your time there and have less of a chance of getting hit by the guy who put his ascender on upside down (actually saw this) because it "didn't slide well" in the correct orientation.

 

Denali is a total gong show, but it's a really cool mountain. Have fun up there!

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We also skied the orient from the top of the rib. It's big, but very manageable. Highly recommended. The rib is a great way to the summit as well, terrain similar to the ridge from 16 to 17 on the butt, but without the people and for a longer distance.

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You're actually recommending that this guy not rope up at all to 14k camp? That's pretty shoddy advice, from my perspective. People fall in crevasses all the time (especially between heartbreak hill and 11k camp. The lower glacier is an especially dangerous place. With a 70lb pack and a 30lb sled, going unroped is a fairly risky option.

 

Sure people do it. Yes, I've done it. But Major...plan to use that rope on the way up...it's common sense. Shit happens.

 

Also...the fixed lines...yes, while only 45 degrees, vary greatly in condition. Sometimes they're deep snow, sometimes they are bullet hard blue ice. The average climber will stay at 17k camp, therefore will have a 50lb pack and probably only one basic ice axe. Soloing next to the fixed lines without being clipped in is perilous not only to the climbers themselves, but to the others below (should they fall).

 

If you want to ski the whole mountain, plan to be there in june when there is more snow. Know the condition of the upper mountain (and your fitness and stamina on summit day). Many people have died on the Autobahn (named for the many people who have rapidly fallen to their deaths on that exposed and icy slope) and many have died on the Orient Express (also named for the many people who have rapidly fallen to their deaths and landed directly on the outskirts of 14k camp).

 

Bring skis to 14k for sure...at the very least you can get good runs below the fixed lines. Talk to the rangers at 14k. They will have a good idea of overall conditions.

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June does have more snow but it's also the warmest part of the climbing season and depending on the snow pack in a given year, the lower Kahiltna glacier can be very broken up, particularly during a return to basecamp at the latter end of the month. I would be wary about skiing un-roped on the lower glacier late in the month, particularly during the middle of the day.

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What I'm suggesting is not recommended, but we found it not unreasonable once we saw the trail and amount of traffic it received. You very well might want a rope if traveling during the warmest part of the day in June, and that is fine. Do what you want, we just found the rigorous steps that everyone seemed to follow on the mountain to not be the most ideal. For example, we single carried from bc to 11 in one go. It kind of sucked, but then it was over with and we weren't stuck in the wet slop down at 9600 camp. Someone told us we were going to die going from 14 to the summit. They got edema and had to be brought down on oxygen. Basically, don't listen to what others tell you (myself included) and figure out what will work for you. I do highly recommend dragging around a sled with skis before you get in there. If you haven't pre stressed your hip flexors you'll be in a world of hurt. Oh, and anchor your sled to your backpack, not to your harness, your backpack doesn't mind being squeezed in half, you might.

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I second Keenwesh's latest opinions on single carrying to 11k and trying to summit from 14k.

 

Personal experience:

On my second denali trip, my partner and I single carried to 11k. We overnighted at 9k camp and then spent 18 hours at 11k camp before moving to 14k. We were also previously acclimatized from a climb of Mount Hunter, so you may need more time.

 

We were able to go reasonably light (still felt heavy since we had a technical climbing kit), but we only brought 4 days worth of food. We knew that a bunch of people would be giving away food at 11k and 14k so we just brought some gas. This isn't something I would plan on unless you've been in basecamp for a while and know what's going on up there. We were able to communicate with teams up there and get the skinny on food.

 

Once we arrived up there, the first free food we got was a full bottle of whiskey and moose steaks. We had ample food to choose from and i'm pretty sure I'll never get the rank smell of refried beans - quinuoa farts out of my sleeping bag.

 

I personally think that the West Buttress is harder on my body than routes like the Moonflower. Dragging that fucking sled is a pain no matter how light you go. Single carrying was hard, but it did get us up there quicker. Again...if you aren't acclimatized, stay true to the conventional acclimatization method. Strong people have to get rescued and put on oxygen every single year because they think they are impervious to AMS and HAPE/HACE.

 

I will never stay at 17k again. I spent six nights there on my first trip and it cured me for a lifetime. If you're fit enough to ski denali, I think you're probably fit enough to do it from 14k. We did it round trip for an acclimatization run in just under 12 hours without trying to bust up there all quick like. Again...you'll want to do a few acclimatization runs FOR SURE. I would advise probably two...one to the ridge at 16k and another perhaps up to Denali Pass at 18k. This will give you a good idea of conditions and will prep your body for 6k of elevation gain on the big summit push. Consider climbing your desired ski line.

Edited by Kraken

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Hey Major,

 

Did you get a trip planned to Denail? I'm looking to do the same this year, but late in the game... two months advance climbing permit puts me late June, early July. Let me know if you are still piecing things together for this year or next.

 

Also (all),

First time posting on CC.com, is there an option to respond directly to author of original post?

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Old thread but i'll throw in a strategy i saw some people using that looked nice,,,

 

on the steep skiable sections-

 

(ski hill, up to 11 camp, motorcycle hill,)

 

take only a pack full of gear up, 30-40lbs, and drop it off at the top of the hill. ski back down and repeat until all your gear is at the top of the hill.

 

once all gear is at top of hill, load up the sled to haul it across flatter sections.

 

Takes longer, but you add in quality ski fun and you dont have to drag 100lbs up a 30 degree slope.

 

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Thanks for the feedback. I'll use that strategy... Still looking for a partner to go with! Had a nice window this year. Hopefully next year...

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The pack is put in by people with snowshoes, so as long as you're on it there isn't much of a chance of punching through bridges.

 

I punched through the bootpack three times. We skied to 11K, then booted to 14k, so I suspect that was where I punched through, when on foot.

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