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.