Denali offers challenges in all aspects of a real mountain expedition - cold, winds, high altitudes and intricate logistics. This makes it a true feat in mountaineering, and is why it is widely considered to be a prerequisite for any climber wanting to take on the challenges of the 8000-meter peaks of the Himalayas and the Karakoram.
June 1st 2016 we depart Oslo Airport, making a short stop in Reykjavik, before heading for Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. Having arrived in Alaska, we will take care of the last preparations of our expedition. Due to strict US Customs, we are not allowed to bring certain kinds of food into the country, so the acquiring of food for the next three weeks on the mountain will take place overseas. The same applies for gas and fuel, which for obvious reasons are not allowed on-board the plane. We will also have to sort all our gear, and make sure that nothing has been damaged during transportation. If anything is missing or need reparation, this is the time to fix it. Arriving in Base Camp with a broken tent pole or without a stove would really suck...
From Anchorage there's about three hours by car to Talkeetna. This small town is a hub for remote Alaskan air travel, and several Denali guiding agencies are located here. Here you have to do a mandatory pre-climb orientation with the National Park Rangers. They raise awareness around risk elements, and we go through our gear together, before they give us their final approval for entering the park. All set and done, it is time to catch our ride to Base Camp. Our so called “ride” is a propeller driven plane modified to land on snow, and the flight to Base Camp has been said to justify the trip in itself! The small plane will take us from Talkeetna to Kahiltna International Airport by the Denali Base Camp. Don’t let the name fool you! This “airport” is a piece of the Kahiltna Glacier, and is extremely remote.
We plan to ascend the mountain by the West Buttress Route. This is the normal route chosen by the vast majority of Denali climbers. From Base Camp, there’s about 30km of snow and glacier travel and 4000 meters of vertical ascent to the top, which means the vertical gain on Denali is among the greatest you’ll find for any mountain anywhere in the world! It has the greatest vertical gain of all the seven summits, even beating Mount Everest, though at a lower altitude.
We are planning on doing the mountain in traditional expedition style, meaning that we relay loads and establish camps along the route. We will establish four to five different camps above Base Camp and take our time acclimatising. Every novice high altitude mountaineer have heard the mantra "slowly, slowly" dozens of times from guides and senior climbers, and for good reasons. The acclimatisation process is very individual, and walking slow and staying hydrated are two of the most important actions to maximize the chances of acclimatising properly. Slowing down also reduces your chances of making mistakes. A lot of accidents happen because people are simply tripping or skipping safety measures. Denali offers several exposed areas where a potential fall will send you thousands of
meters down the mountain to a certain death. Making sure the whole team is always roped up when passing these exposed sections is therefore of great importance - it’s relatively easy, but demands awareness.
An expedition to Denali is considered an incredibly beautiful ordeal. The Alaska Range with it’s wild, snow covered mountains create a surrounding that bring people back for more. Flying to Base Camp you get to see the mountain range from a bird’s eye view, and then later experience it’s diversity in everything from glacier travel, to the narrow ridges and 55° slopes.
Denali is the northernmost 6000-meter peak in the world, and this fact alone makes it harder than its 6190m might suggest. Due to a lower atmospheric pressure towards the two poles than at the equator, the air at 6000m on Denali contains fewer oxygen molecules than the air at 6000m further south, thus making the experienced altitude higher. A Denali expedition is far from a walk in the park, and a successful ascent cannot be taken for granted. The historical summit rate is at about 50%, but has some seasons been as low as 31%. There will always be risk attributed to such an expedition, but by historical records most accidents on Denali are products of subjective hazards, and can thereby to a great extent be avoided through right preparation, training and risk assessment.
There is a limit of 1,500 climber per season set by the authorities, although there are rarely more than 1,100-1,300 climbers that attempt the mountain every year. This might sound like a lot, but a mountain like Kilimanjaro has been said to see between 25,000 and 35,000 attempts every year! A remote location, challenging conditions and a relatively high cost keep the number of climbers down.
Many people know Denali by it’s former official name, Mount McKinley. Although being known by many different names among different indigenous tribes in Alaska, Denali (translated as “the high one”) is the most commonly used among locals and climbers. In the fall of 2015 president Barack Obama announced that Denali would replace Mount McKinley as the mountains official name.
Our team consists of Torkjel, Andreas and Chris. Plane tickets are booked, the climbing permit is approved, and we are all super psyched about the project, and cannot wait for the winter to arrive so we can start testing gear and train together here in Norway. If you want to know more about how we prepare, what kind of gear we are using and you want to follow our progress in Alaska next summer, make sure to follow me on Facebook, subscribe to my newsletter or visit this website for more news!