Sunday, July 20, 2008

Updated (Final) Photo Show

I've updated the photo show with pictures from George and made some other improvements.

The link and password below will take you there.

- Andy

Click the link, then enter the user name (Denali) and password (ORCA). These are case sensitive.

It may take a while to load. Then turn your sound on and click "watch photoshow" or click on any thumbnail to look at individual pictures.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two Deaths On Denali

About a month after we finished our climb, there were two tragedies on the mountain:

Naperville man dies atop Alaska's Mt. McKinley
Climber apparently suffered a heart attack

By James Kimberly, Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2008

James Nasti was an avid runner, cyclist and mountaineer who had been on an 11-year quest to climb the highest points in all 50 states. But upon reaching his 49th high point on the 4th of July, the Naperville father of three collapsed and died on the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska, apparently of a heart attack.

Because of treacherous conditions atop the 20,320-foot peak, Nasti's body could not be recovered. Instead, an expedition from the tour company he climbed with buried him there Sunday.

It was a fitting finish to a full life, family and friends said. "It's actually kind of comforting," Chris Nasti, 24, his eldest son, said Monday. "If he was going to die of a heart attack, there's probably no better place to have done it than that. If he was to be laid to rest anywhere, the top of North America is probably the best place for him."

Nasti, 51, was the first person to die on Mt. McKinley's summit, according to the National Park Service, although 101 have died on the mountain since 1932. One of those was a climber who died in 1988 while descending from the summit, said Maureen McLaughlin, a public information officer at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Altogether, 38 bodies, including Nasti's, have not been recovered from the mountain, she said.

Nasti's quest to reach the peak began June 20, when he and a friend joined three other climbers and two guides. After Nasti collapsed after reaching the peak Friday, the guides tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. Denali National Park rangers at a 14,200-foot camp were notified and told the team with Nasti to descend to a 17,200-foot camp.

The apex of the summit is an exposed flat area about the size of a single-car garage, McLaughlin said. Just below the summit is a 500-foot-long "knife-edge ridge." Park service officials determined that neither a technical rescue involving a rope-rigging system nor a helicopter rescue attempt was safe enough to try.

Because members of Alpine Ascents International were going back to the summit Sunday, they asked—and were granted—permission to bury him.


Another climber dies on McKinley
Mystery: As with a Friday death, there's no obvious cause.

By Lisa Demer, Anchorage Daily News, July 9, 2008

The second climber in a week died suddenly on a guided trip to Mount McKinley on Monday night, and mountaineers are looking for answers: Why did two seemingly healthy men collapse at or near the top of the big mountain.

Pungkas Tri Baruno, from Jakarta, Indonesia, was 20 years old and apparently fit, one of three young climbers on an expedition connected with the country's national scouting organization. Baruno made it to the 20,320 foot summit Monday and almost back to high camp at 17,200 feet.

He descended the West Buttress route slowly but steadily. The wind picked up, clouds moved in and it began to snow. His guide kept asking him whether he felt nauseous or dizzy. Baruno said he didn't feel sick, according to Todd Rutledge, co-owner of the guiding company, Mountain Trip.

Then, roped to his guide, maybe 15 minutes from camp, Baruno gave out. "I can't go on," he told his guide, then collapsed. The others had gone ahead. His guide radioed for help, then he and other guides spent more than an hour trying to revive Baruno, said the National Park Service. But they couldn't bring him back.

He was the fourth mountaineer to die on Denali this climbing season.

Three days earlier on July 4, 51-year-old James Nasti of the Chicago area collapsed and died just as he reached the summit of North America's tallest peak. He was in good shape, too, a man who had climbed Mount Rainier twice -- middle-aged but with no history of heart trouble, his family said.

"It really seems like a horrible coincidence. We don't know what happened to either of these two climbers, really, but they were both very sudden onsets," Rutledge said.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Updated photo show

I've updated the photo show with pictures from other team members, plus some maps, labels and new music. The link and password below will take you there.

- Andy

Click the link, then enter the user name (Denali) and password (ORCA). These are case sensitive.

It may take a while to load. Then turn your sound on and click "watch photoshow" or click on any thumbnail to look at individual pictures.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Denali Photoshow

Here is a photoshow made of Andy's and Steve's pictures. Click the link, then enter the user name (Denali) and password (ORCA). These are case sensitive.

It may take a while to load. Then turn your sound on and click "watch photoshow" or click on any thumbnail to look at individual pictures. I will probably revise it when I get pictures from the other team members.

- Andy

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fallen Solo Climber Rescued From Peters Glacier

This accident occurred just after our teams got off of the mountain:

Denali mountaineering rangers led a life-saving technical rope rescue of a fallen solo climber on Mt. McKinley the evening of June 3.

Claude Ratté, age 44, of Montreal, Quebec was descending the West Buttress route from the 17,200-foot high camp to the 14,200-foot camp when he fell almost 2,000 feet down to the Peters Glacier. The climber fell from an elevation of approximately 16,400 feet down a 35 to 40 degree snow and ice slope, suffering facial trauma and a leg and ankle injury in the fall. Ratté was able to use his satellite phone to dial 9-1-1 shortly before noon on Tuesday. Alaska State Troopers connected the distressed climber with Denali National Park rangers who initiated a ground rescue. The high altitude Lama helicopter was unable to fly due to heavy cloud cover.

Denali's West Buttress route. Claude Ratté fell 2,000 feet down the steep snow slopes to the left of the ridge crest, below the 17,200-foot camp. Rescuers hauled him back to the ridge and then lowered him to the 14,200-foot camp to await evacuation. Image courtesy of


Denali's West Buttress route. Claude Ratté fell 2,000 feet down the steep snow slopes to the left of the ridge crest, below the 17,200-foot camp. Rescuers hauled him back to the ridge and then lowered him to the 14,200-foot camp to await evacuation. Image courtesy of _______________________________________________________

A hasty team led by NPS mountaineering ranger Brandon Latham mobilized immediately from the 17,200-foot high camp, reaching the injured climber within three to four hours. A second rescue team led by mountaineering ranger Mik Shain climbed up the fixed lines from the 14,200-foot camp to assist in the elaborate technical rope rescue.

After an initial medical assessment was performed by the first responders, Ratté was secured in a rescue litter and the labor-intensive technical rope rescue commenced. Using multiple anchored rope systems, the patient was first raised 2,000 feet back up to the 16,200-foot elevation on West Buttress ridge, before being lowered 2,000 feet down the Headwall to the NPS ranger camp at 14,200 feet. From the time of the initial distress call, the entire ground rescue operation took 10.5 hours and involved 14 ground rescuers including mountaineering rangers, NPS volunteers, mountain guides, and independent climbers.

Denali mountaineering staff estimates there have been at least 10 significant climbing falls onto the Peters Glacier, including three separate fatalities in 1998. The technical rope rescue of Ratté involves the longest raising operation in Denali mountaineering history.

As of the morning of June 4, Ratté remains in serious but stable medical condition at the 14,200-foot camp awaiting helicopter evacuation. With improving weather conditions on the mountain, the patient is expected to be flown off this afternoon and transferred to an Anchorage-based air ambulance for further medical care.

By Maureen McLaughlin, Climbing Magazine

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Back to Talkeetna

Team GORCA are off the mountain and back in talkeetna after waiting for the weather to clear. The plane ahead of theirs could not get adequate altitude to take off and had to re-land lower down on the glacier. We are glad they have made it back to the land of showers and beer!


Base camp

The team is at the 7000 foot base camp waiting for weather to allow flights.
Weather is supposed to get worse overnight, so if it doesn' t clear today who knows when they will get out. Again the phone was cutting in and out, so no more details of the climb.


The phone is out.

Call last night from Steve for about 25 seconds until the phone died apparently for good. They were hiking down.; Bobbi, (Ben's wife) may call me with update as Ben had texted her with more details. No additional information was forthcoming last night but we slept well.

This am I got a phone call from Bobbi that they were down at 7000 feet , expected to fly out today to Anchorage today and hoped to be home by Thursday.

Bobbi and I planned our trip to Tahiti for next year. Danielle, are you available?


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Update on the teams

Here are updates from George's and Paul's blogs:

George's blog (6/1) - The GORCA team (Steve, Ben + George) made it today!!! Congratulations. They reached the summit at 7:30 PM after a 9 hour climb, stayed for a few minutes and decided that the below zero temps and +20 winds was enough and headed back to 17K. Good to be in the land of midnight sun for a long day of light and climbing. Paul decided to hold back given the near whiteout conditions. It was a 4 hour return trip and the team is tired and resting up.

Paul's blog (6/1) - We only had two possible summit days left, today and tomorrow (Monday). We really wanted to attempt the summit, especially after being at 17,200 foot camp for a week. After that much time, you think you are going out of your mind from boredom. Try to imagine what life would be like being stuck at high camp. You lay in your bed, eat only dehydrated food, without a shower and have little to do except stare at the ceiling for 16 hours per day for a week. It is a test of your sanity. It is the sacrifice mountain climbers have to make at times for that ever elusive summit. Of course, when you have been in a situation like this for a week, it adds significantly to your desire to reach the summit and go home.

In order to have enough food to summit and get to the bottom of the mountain, today and tomorrow were our only options for a summit. This obviously made us very determined to head to the summit today. However, we woke up to poor weather conditions. It was nothing but a cold, windy and a white out because of the snow. Regardless, we proceeded to get ready to summit while hoping for the weather to change. It did not change. We even got to the point of roping up. Meanwhile, I had a bad feeling in my gut. It kept getting stronger with each passing moment because of the the weather conditions. Finally, I told my teammates that I was not going to join them for the summit attempt. If they wanted to try for the summit that was ok with me. I was not comfortable with making the attempt in the white out conditions we were faced with. It was very tough to take a stand against the majority but I knew I was being true to my climbing phyolosophy. In addition, I was being true to the promises I made to my family and my wife. Hopfully, the weather is ideal tomorrow so I can reach the summit. For now, I know I made the right choice regardless of whether my partners make it to the top or not.

George's blog (6/2) - The GORCA team is planning to start the trek home today. They are looking forward to warmth, pizza and beer. It has been three weeks of zero-temps and tent-bound days and nights, time now to return to the comfort world.

No update from Paul yet to see if he was able to summit on 6/2.

Andy flew home on 6/2 and was in his own bed by 2 a.m. on 6/3. My knee is still swollen - may see an orthopedist. Peter was scheduled to fly home on a redeye, leaving Anchorage at 1 a.m. and getting to Salt Lake on 6/3.

- Andy

Monday, June 2, 2008

several phone calls

We got no messages last night. This morning we received 2 phone calls which immediately went dead. Then when we got home from school and work the phone had a message. " We summited yesterday!" They report they are on the way down. We expect a phone call later with details.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Back in Talkeetna

Peter and Andy made it out to Talkeetna today. Peter came down from high camp at 11:30 on Saturday, picked up Andy and we hiked down to the 7,800 ft camp (a 9,000 foot descent for Peter and 6,000 for Andy). Andy's knee was a little wobbly and Peter had some ankle pain he has been fighting the whole trip, but we did OK. We got up early on Sunday and made it to base camp by noon today (after one last push up heartbreak hill). Unfortunately, it was total white out and snowing, so we thought we'd have to wait overnight at basecamp. But all of a sudden it cleared and multiple planes took nearly everyone down to Talkeetna. Now we've had a shower, a pizza and two beers and we're pretty happy. We weren't able to reach the other four on the radio, so we're hoping they are safe and get to the summit.

Andy and Peter

Saturday, May 31, 2008

17,000 foot camp

Call from Steve this morning. Steve , Ben, and George made it up to 17,000 yesterday after a very hard carry. They picked up the cache at 16,300 on the way, so packs were verry heavy.
Last night they choked down an awful freeze-dried dinner of chicken and dumplings. They brought 6 days of food with them, but hope it will be extra. They slept reasonably well.

Peter summited yesterday and headed down today to 14,000 where he will meet up with Andy and they will hike out together.

Paul started out with Peter, but got cold hands and for safety turned back. He plans to go up with the other 3 tommorrow, weather permitting. Today is a beautiful day so they considered going for the summit today, but they were all tired due to the trip yesterday and we hope for another day of good weather tommorrow. Packs will be as light as possible on the way to the top.


Friday, May 30, 2008

The team splits

When Andy called this morning, Peter and Paul were heading up to the summit. GORCA (Steve, Ben and George) were heading to high camp (17,000). Andy is feeling really good, but they all decided that it was safer if he did not go for high camp. Even though his knee is a lot better, the headwall is very steep and strenuous, and there is no margin for error. Also, since he was unable to take a cache up to 16,300 when the others did, his load would be unrealistically heavy. He is a little disappointed but safety comes first. GORCA may be able to summit by Sunday or Monday. Andy hopes to join Peter and Paul as they descend and come home earlier.


May 29th update delayed blog entry

Steve called last night with news of plans and little else. Ben, George and Steve are planning to go to 17,000 foot camp today. Paul and Peter are hoping to go to the summit. Weather is looking better for today. The weekend may remain windy, but predictions are better on Monday.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Steve Vortex

Quiz #2. The essential piece of gear for the day is:
a. tent?
b. tape?
c. balaclava?

#3. In twenty words, or less, explain the phenomenon of the Steve Vortex.__________________________________________

It's very windy again. Peter & Paul are hunkered down at 17,000, they couldn't attempt the summit today. The other 4 are getting blasted by 50mph winds with horizontal snow. Steve & George reinforced the snow wall, while Andy and Ben made dinner. It was fair(?)as Steve and George needed exercise, since they didn't join Andy and Ben on their foray up to 15,000. Andy was very happy to make the trip; viewing camp from above was really cool; plus he enjoyed having "Shelley" tape up his knee. Thursday will be another "rest" day; they hope to go to 17,000 on Friday. The weather looks better through Monday.

There is an Italian group who is hoping to set the speed record for climbing Denali. They have people and tents set up at each camp (although their tent at 17,000 blew away) and one guy with minimal gear hopes to climb form the start to the top in 10 hours with their support. Sounds really insane to me.

Happy 70th Birthday to Mrs. Naxera, from your son and everyone else at 14,000 feet!!!

Ben sends his love to Bobbi for their anniversary this Saturday!!!

Answers: The balaclava. The Steve Vortex: the phenomenon where all lost items seem to make their way to Steve's corner of the tent.

In summary, all are fine but going a bit stir crazy. Danielle

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hanging out in camp

Trivia quiz question of the day.

What items belong in a sleeping bag?
a. 2 water bottles
b. 1 thermos
c. 2 boot liners
d. nasal spray
e. pee bottle
f. Ipod and head phones
g. batteries
h. camera
i. booties
j. wet socks
k. all of the above

Andy, Steve, Ben and George are all resting in camp today. Peter and Paul stayed up at 17,000 last night and tried today to go for the summit today but were turned back due to high winds.

Most important gear of the day is a zipper. Apparently this was a big focus of Ben's day. No further details of the issue, save to say all is working well.

The team got a bunch of food from the climbing for Christ group so it has been like Halloween( Isn't that a heathen holiday) ; they have eaten well.
Andy has been tremendous moral support. All are feeling well. They are waiting on better weather and feel they are well positioned if they get a break in the weather.

After speaking with Danielle, I got information from the satellite phone company- they had used 115 minutes as of 5 days ago. They had initally purchased 250 minutes. Anticipating that they may still have had about 70 to 100 minutes left, I purchased an additional 150 minutes, to leave them plenty so as not to worry about each call.


P.S. Trivia Quiz answer: k

Monday, May 26, 2008

There is something to be said for youth!

Team GAP is now PP and ORCA has become GORCA. Today Paul and Peter, both in their 20's, decided to go from 14,200 to 17,000 in one carry. PP will then go for the summit tomorrow and then spend a few days at 17,000 waiting out the next storm. George, who is closer to 50, has joined Steve and Ben. Today they did a carry to 16,300 and returned to 14,200. The snow was frozen and it was hard work just getting their crampons to grip. They did well but are exhausted. They'll wait until Wed. or Thurs. to pick up their cache on their way to 17,000, then rest one day, do the summit, rest at 17,000 again, and then rejoin Andy at 14,200. By then Andy will know everyone at camp and he'll have taught them all the nifty ways one could rewire their house or the wonders of the CatGenie!!!! His knee is still swollen, but he can walk ok. The medics will tape it before they come down.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Except for the cold, the weather is unpredictable.

Steve called at 7pm. He and Ben as well as the other team of 3 started up to take a carry to 16,000 feet. The weather looked as if it was getting worse, so they turned around. Now it is beautiful! It is very cold, 20 below last night.

Andy is planning to stay in camp. Steve and Ben are feeling strong and they are all acclimating.
They are working with the other team of 3 and also have become aquainted with some other teams up on the mountain. Some bartering is going on.

Tomorrow they hope to take up a carry to the next level.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Playing Cards at 14,200 ft.

There is a significant storm; at 14,200 the winds are 40mph, but at 17,000 and above they are 90-110mph, therefore they are staying put for a few days. Also, they expect 6 inches of snow and a chilly 5 below tonight. They have enough food to wait out this storm, but it may last until Thursday. If there is a break in the weather they'll take a cache up to 16,300. This next part is very steep, a 50 degree slope with fixed lines. Andy's back is fine and his knee is improving but considering he'll still have to hike out he's pretty sure that he won't make it to the summit. He hopes to be able to go to 16,300. They are happy and relatively warm in their tent. Dinner was a scrumptous fried bagel with turkey salami and cheese! Steve is losing the card game of hearts, but he says that Andy's cheating and Ben's changing the rules.

For those who asked- the nurse's name is Shelley and she is a "sweetie" per Andy.

Friday, May 23, 2008

May 23, 2008

Steve called at 9:30. They are hunkered down at 14,00 feet in the high winds. Weather has warmed today form 20 bleow yesterday to about zero. Tomorrow's high expected to be 15 degrees. The prediction is for several more days of high winds. High winds at 14,000 mean even higher winds at 17,000 feet. So they are likely at this camp for a few more days, which is appropriate given the schedule and need to acclimate.

Steve and Ben went to 13,200 feet to retreive the cache they had left there. Andy stayed in camp today. He did go to the medical tent and flirted with the nurse as well as being checked out. He is safe. The back is better and apparently fine; the knee is swollen and may not be fine. At this point, there are several days to determine plans for Andy and the rest of the team. One day at a time. R&R day tomorow.


Thursday- up to 14,000 feet

They have made it to 14,000 ft. It was a hard day for them, especially because Andy is having a hard time with a swollen knee. He decided it was better to go up to 14,000 feet and recuperate there than to hike all the way down to base camp and possibly prevent the rest of the team from summitting. Steve, Ben and the GAP team had to take some of his weight. Andy said "they are animals" and is very appreciative of their help. He used the ice axe and a ski pole to take some weight off of his knee during the climb from 11,000 ft. back up to the cache. At the cache, he picked up his sled which GAP had hauled up for him, and pulled it most of the way to 14,000 ft. When they got to 14,000 ft there were no available snow walls left, so they had to build their own, which took many hours. Andy melted snow and cooked dinner while Steve and Ben built the wall. They got to bed at about midnight. It is about -10 outside and a storm is coming in, so they probably will be at that spot for a number of days. Guess they'll get some reading in and I suspect they'll sleep in tomorrow.

They are all tired, but in a good mood; Andy said "you couldn't ask for better team mates!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hill climbing with sleds

It has been very cold, well below zero each night. It was -5 this morning as they were packing. They hiked up Motorcycle Hill which was quiet long, took a short break then went up Squirrel Hill, which was even steeper. Fortunately it was not windy as they went through Windy Corner. They buried their cache at 13,500 and went back to the camp at 11,000. The 2 teams travelled together today. On the way down, Andy started feeling back and knee pain, and when they got to camp he had a muscle spasm in his lower back with pain radiating down his leg and a swollen knee. They decided to assess the situation in the morning. -Danielle

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Election Day- May 20, 2008

Steve called at 9:30pm. The team is camped at 11,000 feet. They are all in the cook tent sipping tea, almost ready for bed. They all feel good today. It was sunny much of the day and is a little snowy now.

They have reorganized and have left a bunch of extra food to decrease the weight for tomorrow's trip up to leave a cache at 13,200 around windy corner. They are on schedule as planned.

They had a good burrito dinner and a large greasy breakfast of bacon and eggs. Even Andy ate the bacon!

" One day at a time" per Steve.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Hiking to Camp 2

Sunday night they slept at 7,800. Monday they carried the second half of their gear to Camp 2, passing their cache at 10,500. Today was very hard, especially for Andy. Steve and Ben helped out by carrying some of his weight, later in the day, however after resting for an hour at Camp 2 he regained some energy. He believes the problem was slight dehydration on Sunday. Tuesday they get to sleep in since they only have to hike down 500ft. to get their cache. Wednesday will be difficult as they will haul half their gear up to 13,700 ft. then return to sleep at 11,000. Danielle

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday May 18, 2008, 9 pm

Steve called at 9pm tonight. Weather is good. It got down to zero degrees last night and 2 inches of snow fell last night as well. They are sleeping at the 7800 foot camp tonight, after carrying a large load to 10,500 feet. It was a long but productive day. They are all feeling strong. They are happily ahead of schedule due to arriving ahead onto the mountain. Team ORCA is getting along well and the food is 'mostly' OK. Supplies and equipment are good.
No major problems encountered.



Paul, on the GAP team, will be posting pictures to his website: It is listed below in the second Blog in case this one doesn't work. -Danielle

Saturday, May 17, 2008

They are on the glacier!

On Friday they flew out of Talkeetna towards the glacier and made it through "one shot pass" only to be told to turn around because the runway was fogged in.  They flew back and waited a few hours and at the last minute got the clearance to try again and made it.  They spent Friday night at Base Camp, and Saturday hiked to Camp 1.  They struggled, carrying about 150 pounds each.  Sunday they will carry about half their gear up to 9800 ft.  and then return to Camp 1.  It is about 6 miles round trip with a 3000 foot elevation gain.  The GAP team plans to take all their gear to 9800 ft.  The ORCA team will join them the next night.  Ben has a cold and is improving.  Andy tweaked his back on Friday, but did well today.    Danielle

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Steve and Andy left our house at 5:15 this morning and had great weather to fly to Anchorage. Ben joined them; they rented a car, did their last minute shopping, verified their plans for the land shuttle and decided not to wait up for the GAP team as their flight was not slated to land until 11pm and they were tired. They hope to enjoy their next to last night sleeping in a bed until june 10th!!!!! -Danielle

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The trip starts tomorrow!

After all of this planning and training, its hard to believe that we leave for Alaska tomorrow. Steve and Andy have a 7 a.m. flight out of Portland on Thursday, stopping in Seattle and arriving in Anchorage at 11:30 a.m. Ben arrives at about 11:30 a.m. We'll rent a car, do some last minute shopping and meet the GAP team at a hotel in Anchorage.

On Friday at 8 a.m., we take a land shuttle to Talkeetna, arriving at around 11 a.m. We'll register with the National Park Service and go to the required orientation. Then we'll head to the Talkeetna Air Taxi and stay in their overnight facility (where we can leave our non-climbing gear).

Assuming the weather is good, on Saturday, we will fly on the Talkeetna Air Taxi to the base camp, landing at 7,200 feet on the glacier. If we land early enough, we will travel that same day with all of our gear to camp 1 at 7,800 ft (about 5 miles).

The latest date we need to be back at base camp is June 10 to catch our flight home from Anchorage on June 12. Hopefully, we will have good weather and beat that date by up to a week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Current conditions on the mountain

We're leaving for Alaska next Thursday. Conditions on the mountain look good at this point. The following report was called in yesterday morning from a guide (Paul Ivaska) who is leading a group up the West Buttress route:

"We are at Camp 2 today, taking a rest day. At some point today, we will go down to cache at 10,000, but return to Camp 2 for the evening. And tomorrow, we will head for Windy Corner and make another carry.

Everybody is doing excellent, and the team's spirits are high. The bad weather never came, and although it was overcast today, the skies have been blue and sunny. Yesterday we ate a hearty breakfast of cereal and bars, and had some pasta for dinner. The team worked like clockwork to put together camp last night, and we are completely on schedule. This morning, we really relaxed by cooking a big dish of eggs and hasbrowns, and we all slept in late.

Overall, the conditions are great here - the lower Kahiltna is in incredible shape, compared to last year when there were four serious crevasse falls. This year, the snow has really set up well on the glacier."

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Packing food for up to 26 days on the mountain was a challenge. Considering the exertion and cold, we will need about 6,000 calories per person per day. That is hard to do, considering that you don't have much of an appetite at elevation. Everthing has to be high calorie, appetizing, easy to prepare, and light.

For the first two weeks in April, Andy dried industrial quantities of veggies in a food dehydrator that his mother-in-law, Laurette, bought for his birthday. Altogether, Andy dried 12 lbs of onions; 6 lbs each of mushrooms, peas, bell peppers, carrots, zuccini, potatoes, and eggplant; and 3 lbs each of celery and corn. After drying, a full produce bag of mushrooms, for example, fit in 1/4 of a quart zip lock bag.

In mid-April, Ben flew up to Portland for a long weekend to pack food and climb Mt. Hood with Steve (Andy had to work). We made 6 different dinners (3 of each) for 18 days to be eaten at 14,000 ft. or below, and we bought 7 days of freeze dried dinners for high camp. Breakfasts alternate between hot and cold cereal, breakfast bars and "greasy breakfast" for rest days (powdered eggs, dried potatoes and onions, and bacon - all fried in Crisco). Lunches alternate between peanut butter & honey, turkey salami, and lunch bars/GORP. In addition, we have soup, various drinks and treats. When we checked out of the grocery store, the cashier told us we were his "career high" order - about $1,000.

Here are the dinner main courses:

We took everything to Steve's basement, layed it out on tables, and started assembling. We removed all packaging and combined all ingredients for a meal into one or two zip lock bags. We then grouped three meals for each day into a larger bag and labeled everything. That way, when we take a carry to a higher camp, we'll know for sure we have the right number and type of meals. Our goal was 2 lbs/person/day, and we came in right on budget.

Here is what the meals look like assembled. We will mail the food, stoves and empty fuel containers to Talkeetna so we don't have to deal with security restrictions on the airlines.


Climbing Denali involves a lot of gear. We will each have about 80 lbs of gear plus about 50 lbs of food to carry. About 40% of the weight will be in our packs, and the rest will be in duffle bags tied to sleds that we will pull to 14,000 ft. We will then leave the sleds and as much gear and food as possible, and carry only what we need to high camp.

Since we are going without a guide service, we had to provide all of the group gear and personal gear. Steve and Ben already had a lot of the personal gear from their previous trips to Denali, but Andy had to start from scratch. Luckily, he was able to borrow some of the most expensive gear (extreme temperature sleeping bag, down parka) from Mark Morford, who climbed the mountain in 2004.

Here is the list of group gear and personal gear for the climb. A few things will change, but this is pretty close. The price tag was several thousand dollars each.

Group Gear:

Personal Gear:

Our Team - ORCA

Our team consists of Steve Evans, Andy Ginsburg and Ben Barlin. We named our team ORCA, for Oregon (Andy and Steve) and California (Ben).

Steve and Andy have been climbing together since they met in 1989. They met though their wives, Sally Niles and Danielle Erb, who have known each other since they began medical school in 1982. Both couples live in Portland, Oregon. The picture above is Steve and Andy winter camping on Mt. Hood, Oregon (2007).

Steve has a (loose) goal of going to the high points of all 50 States - some are easy (Kansas) and some are hard (Alaska). He attempted Denali in 2005 with a guide company, and got as high as 16,000 ft. Unfortunately, the other clients dropped out one-by-one due to fatigue, illness, blisters and loss of will. Although Steve was in top shape and ready to go on, the guides decided to take the group down. Needless to say, he was disappointed and swore off climbing with guides.

Some of Steve's other notable climbs include Pico de Orizaba and Popocapatepetl (Mexico, 1982, third and fifth highest peaks in North America), Mt. Baker (Washington, Coleman Deming Glacier, 1983 & 1984), Mt. Hood (Oregon, 16 times by various routes from 1991-2008), Mt. Rainier (Washingon, Disapointment Cleaver 1994 & Emmons Glacier 1997) Glacier Peak (Washington, Sitkum Glacier, 2003), Mt. Stuart (Washington, West Ridge, 2007), North Sister (Oregon, NW Ridge, 2007), and all of the other Cascade volcanoes (Washington, Oregon & California, 1981-2003). The picture is looking at Middle Sister on the way up North Sister (June, 2007).

Andy has had Denali on his list for a long time, but Steve's attempt in 2005 really focused his attention on the mountain. He set a goal of climbing Denali in 2008 to celebrate his 50th birthday. Some of Andy's other notable climbs include Mt. Shasta (California, Avalanche Gulch, 1993 & 1995), Mt. Hood (Oregon, South Side, 5 times from 1994-2007), Mt. Jefferson (Oregon 1993), Mt. Rainier (Washington, Disapointment Cleaver, 1994 with Steve), Everest foothills to 18,000 ft. (Nepal, 1997), Mt. Kenya (Kenya, 2000), Mt. Kilamanjaro (Tanzania, Machame route, 2000), Glacier Peak (Washington, Sitkum Glacier, 2003 with Steve), North Sister (Oregon, NW Ridge, 2007 with Steve), Mt. Stuart (Washington, West Ridge, 2007 with Steve), and the Zanskar range to 16,000 ft. (India, 2007). Andy's wife, Danielle Erb, was also on many of these climbs. The picture was taken on the way up Mt. Stuart (August, 2007).

Ben is from San Diego, California. Ben has attempted Denali twice before - with a guide company in 2005 and on a non-guided trip in 2006. In both cases, a combination of weather and team mate problems prevented him from reaching the summit, although he did spend an incredible 10 days in a storm at high camp (17,000 ft.)! Some of Ben's other climbs include the Sierra Nevada range (California, multiple routes including winter climbs from 2000 to 2006), Mt. Rainier (Washingon, Disapointment Cleaver, 2004), and Pico de Orizaba (Mexico, 2005).

In addition to our team, we'll be climbing with a second team called GAP, which consists of George Naxera, Paul Elwell and Peter Gram. We hope to climb within site of each other for safety and flexibility.

Though he is from the Midwest, George is very passionate about climbing. He has climbed 23 state high points and plans to climb all 50. He has also climbed 2 of the 7 summits to date, and hopes to do all 7. George has climbed numerous snow covered or glaciated peaks in the US, including Whitney, Elbert, Rainier, Gannett, and Hood. He climbed Aconcagua in December 2005 (South America’s highest point) and Kilimanjaro in February 2007 (Africa’s highest point). He is also on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Mountaineering Club.

This is George on the summit of Aconcagua. Here's a link to his Denali trip report:

This is Paul. Here's a link to Paul's web site:

Peter Gram enjoys mountaineering, and has climbed internationally on Aconcagua, Peru, Ecuador's volcanoes, the Mexican volcanoes, and in the Alps. In the states, Peter has climbed over 100 peaks above 13,000 feet. Other outdoor interests include rock climbing and ice climbing. On rock, Peter has climbed big wall routes such as the Salathe Wall and Lurking Fear on El Capitan, and several walls in Zion National Park.

This is Peter on the summit of Mt. Shasta in February 2008.

Our teams met on Mt. Shasta in February 2008 to get to know each other and to practice rope travel and crevasse rescue. We benefited from Ben's previous experiences on the mountain - he showed us more efficient ways to set up our gear and travel when roped up. Here we are hauling sleds on Mt. Shasta. Front row, left to right: Ben, Peter and George. Back row: Steve, Andy and two additional climbers who are not going to Denali. Paul had not yet joined the group.

Everyone has been training hard since January, and we all feel like we are ready. In addition to working out at the gym, Steve and Andy have been going on steep hikes (4-5,000 ft.) in the snow, with progressively heavier packs. For extra weight, we each add 5+ gallons (40+ lbs) of water to our packs, bringing them to a total of 60-70 lbs. To save our knees, we dump the water at the top before hiking down. Danielle captured the water dumping ritual on video.

Friday, April 25, 2008

About Climbing Denali

Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley), at 20,320 ft., is the high point in North America. That makes it one of the seven summits - the high points on each continent. The others are: Kilimanjaro (Africa, 19,340 ft.), Elbrus (Europe, 18,510 ft.), Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania, 16,023 ft.), Everest (Asia, 29,035 ft.), Aconcagua (South America, 22,841 ft.), and Vinson Massif (Antarctica, 16,067 ft.).

Denali is the mountain's Native (Athabascan) American name, meaning the "high one." It was renamed Mt. McKinley in 1896 (after President William McKinley) by a gold prospector as a protest against the silver dollar standard. In 1980, the State of Alaska officially changed the name of the mountain to Denali, but the federal government has not followed suite and still retains the name McKinley. Here is a link to more information about the mountain:

Mt. Denali is part of the Alaska range, which runs about 600 miles east-west across south central Alaska. It is located in Denali National Park. At 6 million acres, Denali National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United States. The Park has more than 650 species of flowering plants as well as many species of mosses, lichens, fungi, algae. There are 39 species of mammals, 167 species of birds, 10 species of fish, and one species of amphibian known in the Park.

Denali's northern location and height gives it the coldest average summit temperature of any mountain on earth with the exception of Antarctic peaks. Its northern lattitude (63°, as compared to Everest at 27°) also makes the air thinner at any given elevation. Because the troposphere is thinner at the poles, the barometric pressure is lower in the northern lattitudes so that the air on the summit of Denali (20,320 ft.) in May is equivalent to the air at 22,000 feet in the Himalayas.

Snow and weather conditions for climbing are usually best from May through July, with the highest success rate for summitting in June. Colder minimum temperatures (-50F at the 17,200 ft. camp) and strong northwest winds commonly occur in May. Late June and July are warmer but more unsettled. By late July, travel on the lower glaciers is made difficult by melting snow bridges over crevasses and by stormy weather with heavier snowfall and increased avalanche danger. The coldest weather on Denali occurs from November through April with average temperatures ranging from -30F to -70F at the 19,000 ft. level.

There are more than 30 routes up Denali - some extremely technical. Denali's most used route - and the one that our team will follow - is the West Buttress (80% of all climbs). More than 20,000 climbers have attempted the West Buttress, of which about half reached the summit. In 1997, there were 257 teams on the West Buttress, with 1,099 climbers. Of these, 150 teams and 513 climbers reached the summit.

While the West Buttress is not as technical as some of the other routes, it is dangerous due to crevasses, falls, avalanche risk, extreme cold and wind, and altitude. Through 1997, about 400 accidents have been reported on the West Buttress route, including 34 fatalities, most while descending. Many of the accidents resulted from poor preparation, poor judgement and poor teamwork. A tight team is one of the most important things on the mountain.

We will be leaving for Alaska on May 15th, 2008, and we've planned about a month for the trip. The following is our approximate climbing schedule, which will vary depending on weather and how we feel.

Day -1: Meet in Anchorage. Final shopping and packing.

Day 0: Travel to Talkeetna and fly to the glacier. We'll travel overland to Talkeetna and register with the National Park service.

Day 1: Fly to the glacier and move to camp 1 (7,770 ft.). If the weather permits, we will fly into the Kahiltna Glacier (base camp) with the Air Taxi and travel to camp 1 near the junction with the NE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, about 5 miles. We plan to move all of our gear in one carry, with heavy packs and pulling sleds.

Day 2: Carry loads up to Kahiltna Pass. We’ll carry half of our gear up and cache it between 9,500 ft. and 11,000 ft., and then return to camp 1 for the night. This is carry is 7-9 miles round-trip, with 2-3,000 feet of elevation gain.

Day 3: Move to camp 2 near Kahiltna Pass (about 11,200 ft.). Break camp 1 and haul the remaining gear to camp 2.

Day 4: Back-carry day. This is mostly a rest day, although we will need to go back down and pick up the cache.

Day 5: Carry loads around Windy Corner (13,300 Ft), which can be impassable in high winds. This day involves steep snow climbing up Motorcycle Hill. This distance is about 4 miles round trip. Return to camp 2 for the night.

Day 6: Move to camp 3 at 14,300 feet. This is a long, hard day, involving climbing with crampons and ice axe around Windy Corner where the upper Mountain comes into view.

Day 7: Back-carry day. Descend from 14,300 ft. to the Windy Corner cache and bring everything up to 14,300 feet. Up to this point, we have 6 extra days of food in case weather or acclimatization causes delays (so this could be as late as day 13).

Day 8: Climb up the headwall to the ridge. We leave the sleds at 14, 300 ft., and climb up the Headwall with heavy packs. There is a fixed line from 15,500 to 16,100 feet because of the steep, icy terrain. Cache the gear and return to 14,300 ft. for the night.

Day 9: Rest day.

Day 10: Move to high camp. While there is a campsite at 16,100 ft., it is very exposed, so the goal is to get to the 17,200 ft. site, which is more secure. We will leave a lot of gear at 14,300 ft., including the cook tent and one of the two sleeping tents, meaning that we will sleep like sardines for the next several days. We plan to take enough food and fuel to stay at high camp for a week, hoping for good weather for a summit attempt. If the weather is really bad, we can retreat to camp 3 and wait out the storm.

Day 11: Rest day. Well, mostly rest as we’ll have to back-carry our cache.

Day 12-16: Summit day: When the weather is favorable, we'll push for the summit. The round trip climb will take eight to twelve hours or more. We'll leave camp early, climb up to Denali Pass (18,000') and follow the route past Arch Deacon's Tower and the Football Field to the slopes leading to the Summit Ridge. The good news is that we'll have nearly 24 hours of sunlight since we will be so far north.

Descent: The descent from High Camp will probably take two days, although we could make it in one day if we are out of time. Weather will determine when we will fly out to Talkeetna, so we will have a few days of food stashed at base camp. After that, it is overland to Anchorage and flying home.