Denali is not for Amateurs

Some say I have quite a hiking/climbing resume. I've climbed many 14ners and hiked up and down the Grand Canyon for 24 hours straight. I have been to 19,000'+ on Kilimanjaro and 23,000'+ on Aconcagua.  I'm in the shape of my life and spent a small fortune on clothing and gear. And all of that should have prepared me to climb Denali. Right?


Being prepared to climb Denali includes having been training and climbing in the snow at very cold temperatures. I trained mainly in Phoenix.  It means owning crampons and snowshoes that fit your boots and knowing through practice and training how to take them on and off efficiently and reliably.  I rented cheap snowshoes and got my money's worth.  It means, at the very least, having snow shoed before and trained dragging a sled with a duffel bag strapped to it.  It means understanding how the sled needs to be attached to your pack and what the rope intervals should be. 

Being prepared means not just being in the best shape of your life, but putting on a little extra weight so you have reserves to keep you warm and draw from when you're in a calorie deficit.  I was lean and mean before I left for Alaska.  I am about 8 pounds lighter now.

Being prepared means knowing your knots. How to tie them and when. Quickly, without thinking. Clove hitch, figure 8, girth hitch, overhand.  It means having practiced with your ropes and your slings for hours in advance of the trip.  It means knowing where and how to store your carabiners, cordalette and runners so you're not a tangled disorganized mess.  I had a one day crash course two weeks before Denali - not good enough.

Being prepared means owning and training in mountaineering boots ahead of the trip so you know if they fit well and how to lace them up properly for all conditions. My La Sportiva Baruntse boots kept untying and quickly rubbed my heels raw. A better choice probably would've been Spantiks or Evo Mons.

Being prepared means knowing how to fasten and wear your climbing harness properly and securely every time. One wrong time and you can lose your life. A few times I accidentally did not buckle up correctly and the guides caught it. The last day when I fell into a crevasse there was no guide to double check me but thankfully I had done it right that day.

Being prepared means knowing how to pack and unpack your backpack quickly and efficiently. It means having efficient systems for bathroom, eating, and personal care (brushing teeth, sunscreen, medication). It means having a first aid kit with the right parts and quantities to handle blisters and other maladies and knowing how to treat these maladies properly.  I was clueless about how to try and fix my heels.  As it turned out, I don't think they could have been repaired on the hill, but we'll never know.

It means knowing what snack foods to bring that are easy to eat in 1) frozen conditions, 2) when you have five minutes or less on the hill, or 3) in a tent with no space to prepare. Half of the food I brought with me was frozen and not readily edible.

Being prepared means having a well lofted new -30F sleeping bag and a deluxe inflatable mattress. It also means having the right size pee bag (not bottle).

Being prepared means having the correct clothing which includes a seventh layer, potentially a hoodie on your base layer and/or your R1 layer.  It definitely absolutely indefatigably means having the right pairs of gloves. Almost everyone on the hill wore leather climbing gloves. These need to be broken in and tested in the coldest of temperatures. You can overcome being chilly, but frostbitten fingers (which I can personally attest to) are a game-ender.

Being prepared may also mean not being in your 50s. While I was in better condition than most men my age, climbing Denali is an expedition generally better suited for younger folks. Most of the people attempting Denali are in their 20s and 30s. They are athletes and they have trained. Had I done everything else right, my age may not have mattered. But clearly that was not the case.

This entire Blog is based on my actual journaling much of which I captured on Denali.


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