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Tips for Denali

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Stiles · · the Mountains · Joined May 2003 · Points: 840

Aight then. Spring trip coming up--April 25-May 25. Lots of folks have been there and done that. I aint, yet. Please share tips, guidance, and ideas of stuff I should bring with me that I hadn't thought of.

I MUCH appreciate your assistance in helping us have a fantastic first experience.

No guide, small group. Focus on skiing.

Thanks, yall!!!

Steve Williams · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 235

Extra socks for summit day.
A sleeping bag liner. Lightweight and lots of extra warmth.
Do the West Rib instead of the W. Buttress. Much more fun,
far fewer people. And you can always escape back over to
the West Buttress if necessary.
Pick your partners well. If you don't it'll be a miserable

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

Western Mountaineering down booties or similar. AMH in Anchorage sells a bunch of them if you can't find them locally. Light is right of course. But a meal of hot dogs quesadilla and cheese really is rewarding down low on the mountain.

Are you on skis? ( Edit. sorry I see you are focused on Skiing)Skiing with sleds is terrible, but so much better than the alternative. 14,000 camp is loaded with great skiing while acclimatizing. Collapsable nalgene for pee bottle.

I always like having a soft fleece hat and gloves that always stays in my sleeping bag for sleeping only. Keeping things dry is always a task.

Having your layers dialed helps. Duct tape and some way to repair a broken ski pole is huge.

Denali is an awesome place. Hope you have a great trip!

Lou Dawson has some info from back in 2010 when they were up there. We crossed paths on our way out. One of them broke a pole. I sacrificed one of mine. He gave me set of whippets later which was super nice. But suffered on the last couple miles out, the lower glacier was a swampy mess. I am sure his blog posts are still available online,. He did a year of gear testing prior,

Marlin Thorman · · Spokane, WA · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 385

A couple of thoughts from my trip in 2015.

Overall lightweight is important, but taking a couple of extras is worth it. Here is a list of my extra items that I would definitely take again.
- large grain shovel (worth its weight in gold for digging out camp and moving large amounts of snow)
- Frying pan (frying up fajatas, quesadillas, bacon, etc.) Not for every meal but having something special other than dehydrated food every couple days goes a long ways to improving morale).
- stove board (more for a nice stable platform that doesn't melt out than anything else)
- Kitchen/cook tent (even for a small team)
- stadium chair (loved it for keeping my butt and back off the snow while hanging out in the cook tent)

A couple of other gear notes:
I loved my overboots and used them all over the mountain. Not because of extreme cold but combined with a good pair of down booties it works great for camp footwear. You don't need a headlamp. Also I found that an eyeshade was just an extra item to lose (I used a hat or hood pulled down over my eyes). Toe and hand warmers for summit day where very nice (only place I used them). Be super diligent about hand sanitizer. Test out your sled system before you get on the mountain, that way you know what supplies you need to rig and what works well for you. Oh and I found that TP, real bread, intact crackers, or alcohol is like gold for trading at 14k camp.

I would attribute a large part of our success to having an outside source for our weather forecast. The NPS weather report is nice but we found it pretty inaccurate for short weather windows or short storms. If there is a nice 4 day high pressure system or a large storm the NPS got it right, but we summited on a 36hr weather window that we would never have known about by listening to their forecast.

Enjoy your trip; the Alaska Range is spectacular!! I would be happy to answer any more specific questions, just ask here or PM me.

Stiles · · the Mountains · Joined May 2003 · Points: 840

Thanks for the input! Lots of good stuff already, I really appreciate the time spent sharing your wisdom. Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance...

Hot dogs were not something that had crossed my mind. A few thoughts I've been having, off the top of my head:

-Main diet staples?

-A metal spade has been recommended for digging in ice. Necessary? And what kind/size?

-Marlin: No headlamp?! How did yall acquire an outside weather forecast while on the hill? That does sound like a great benefit. The plan is to rent a FRS radio from TAT, which will be the only radio.

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

We tried to get creative with food, which ended up being more of hassle. Majority of the teams that moved well up there, ate mountain house meals almost exclusively. But the occasional good meal really does help. Buy a GSI fair share mug for bowl, insulate it somehow. By far the best bowl. .

We fortunately did not encounter loads of ice around camps, so i probably would not bring a spade, but different conditions yield different opinions. A good snow saw is critical for cutting blocks. I had a long bca one that i loved. I just bring a high quality back-country shovel and good saw per person, (+beacon and probe for your skiing focus). Most climbers do not carry beacons up there.

End of April you might have some darker nights, but i dont think I would bring a headlamp or maybe one team one. You will know when you get to talkeentna. You will be up there proir to the masses, which is nice: cleaner snow and more wilderness feel. But you will probably be digging more camps than moving into empty ones. I think the NPS sets up med camp around 4/20 to the 25th or so.

Denali was my first time in the Alaska range. I learned alot from it. It was just two of us and we had heavy loads. My subsequent trips have been much lighter. Do your best to be accountable for weight. It sucks how much it adds up.

Good duffels are nice: Patagonia, mammut and First Ascent has some real nice and light ones. Cut ounces where you can. Overboots is 50/50 in my book, I had them, I have partners that dont use them. But toes are nice to have.

How many is in your group? Definitely try to single carry the lower glacier to ski hill at least. We did double loads for there on out. Which is actually pretty fun on skis, no weight skiing down to the lower camp.

Denali has the curse of weather anxiety, Lisa does a good job and she is pretty awesome, Cool thing about Denali is the people you meet. Everybody chats about the weather and plenty of people will have outside sources.

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

And a month of drinking snowmelt is tough on the pallet, Bring Gatorade powder flavor to hep with the taste.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 14,444
Stiles wrote:A few thoughts I've been having, off the top of my head: -Main diet staples? -A metal spade has been recommended for digging in ice. Necessary? And what kind/size? -Marlin: No headlamp?! How did yall acquire an outside weather forecast while on the hill? That does sound like a great benefit. The plan is to rent a FRS radio from TAT, which will be the only radio.
Main diet staple? Variety. Up high, since my tummy can get sour, I prefer bland ramen noodles with a bit of cheese plopped in it. Maybe potato flakes with a pack of brown gravy and a crumbled up freeze dried sausage patty.

For main foods, if you're living out of a sled, take good food and a light frying pan (i.e. outback oven) to cook it in. Bake some stuff (pizza, tube of cinnamon rolls, etc). Water base food will get mundane up high anyhow, but, while you have the sled and the ability to have heavier foods (and means to prepare it), eat fun stuff. Quesadillas, pigs-in-a-blanket, etc.

If your ice axe has an adze you don't need a heavy metal spade.

Yeah, no headlamp if you go in late May/early June. Never gets dark.

I like a bit of antiperspirant food powder.
Stiles · · the Mountains · Joined May 2003 · Points: 840

I dig it. Bringing an MSR XGK stove. Am going to either purchase another XGK or the Reactor Stove that takes canisters. Thoughts? I use a canister Superfly stove most all the time and know the drags of cold and canisters. But they're so damn convenient.

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,145

Bring yer own TP, two or three rolls. Under no circumstances do you share. Trade for shots of whiskey.

Ryan Maitland · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 65


There's a good chance we'll be on our way up as you're on your way down - targeting May 19ish launch.

For that reason I think you should bring far more bacon and cheese than you could possibly need, and we will bring more whiskey than we need. Should make for a mutually satisfying interaction when we cross paths!



PS - feel free to PM me and we can swap contact info if interested. Would be great to compare notes.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 14,444
Stiles wrote:I dig it. Bringing an MSR XGK stove. Am going to either purchase another XGK or the Reactor Stove that takes canisters. Thoughts? I use a canister Superfly stove most all the time and know the drags of cold and canisters. But they're so damn convenient.
Won't be convenient when your gas runs out as a liquid...

Never been a fan of the noise of an XGK...not sure if they're still that loud. Bomber stove, though.

I'd take two of the same stoves so you'd have the same parts to swap in case one goes down.

I personally wouldn't consider a canister stoves especially given the time of year you're going to be there (much colder). Plus, having to deal with all those empties...
Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 656

Great info so far, I'm planning to head there in 2018. Thanks guys!

Martin le Roux · · Superior, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 237
Stiles wrote:I dig it. Bringing an MSR XGK stove. Am going to either purchase another XGK or the Reactor Stove that takes canisters. Thoughts? I use a canister Superfly stove most all the time and know the drags of cold and canisters. But they're so damn convenient.
We took a canister stove on Mt Logan (MSR Reactor with a 2.5l pot). It worked fine. We brought a white gas stove as a backup but never used it. You have to use a few tricks to keep the canister warm, like standing it in a shallow bowl of warm water when in use. But I found that to be much less hassle than priming a white gas stove. And there are quite a few other advantages:

- Melts snow and boils water in 2/3 the time. That's on based side-by-side tests versus an XGK with a heat exchanger.
- Stove is lighter, and if you use 16oz canisters than fuel weight on long trips is lighter than white gas, even counting the canister weight. That's because the Reactor's so much more efficient in its fuel use. (With 8oz canisters fuel weight is a breakeven).
- Built-in windshield is highly effective.
- Easy to use it as a hanging stove if you ever need to do that.

Make sure to use an isobutane/propane fuel mix, like MSR or JetBoil brands (not regular butane, like Primus).

Here's a system that I rigged up to hold the canister in a bowl of water.

Water bowl for canister stove
Tobin Story · · Woodinville, WA · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 35

Martin, I'm curious about that canister system. Looks like a plastic bowl with foam coozie and elastic straps - couple of questions for you.

Does this same system work for 8oz and 16oz canisters? Is there enough stretch in the straps?

Assuming the straps are there for using it in hanging mode - does this work ok with the hanging kit, or does the weight start to get overwhelming?

That bowl you're using looks like a good size, care to share what model it is.

Feel free to PM as to not clutter up the Denali thread.


diepj · · PDX · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 0

I learned a lot from threads like this so I will weigh in with a few thoughts, mainly in response to items posted above. Ask specific questions if you like and I'm also happy to respond to PMs too.

In no particular order, IMO, YMMV, Yer gonna die, etc.

Also, assuming West Buttress.

1. IMO a steel spade is mandatory. Not a full size shovel, but one like this:…. From a day-day perspective this was awesome for digging out the tent deadmen and other frozen in junk. More importantly this is a tool your life may depend on. SHTF above 17 and need a cave/hole/trench in a hurry? Good luck with your adze and nice knowing you.

2. Your second shovel must be metal, the bigger the better. We use a Black Diamond D9. Big scoop, Loong telescoping handle. After that bring what you want. In a big party you might add a grain scoop or, on the other end of the spectrum, an ultralight plastic. Each for different applications. If you bring a steel spade you are way less likely to break your other shovels.

2a. You need a saw.

3. Overboots are mandatory. Overboots seem like extra weight/bulk that you might not "need" they are actually multi-purpose. Wear them with socks for a quick trip out to the CMC. Wear them with your boot liners around camp. Sit pad. Don't bring booties.

4. Think really hard about the stove decision. There are pros and cons and I can't tell you what is the right answer. We used an XGK and it really wasn't bad. A little loud. Priming was a lot easier than the whisperlite I was used to from a WG perspective.

Your stove is your life.

It has to be redundant, if you go WG have multiple pumps, plenty of parts, possibly multiple stoves. If your redundancy is a different kind of stove think about how that may impact your planning. Will you really want to cache multiple types of gas at 17?

5. Stove board: yes. Ours was small, DIY. 1/4" plywood hexagon shape with a bunch of holes drilled in it with tin foil glued to one side and a piece of blue foam pad glued to the other. Twist ties to hold the stove on. Sized for the stove only. Could do a bigger one to hold the bottle too.

6. Buff was really nice to have. Serves as neck warmer, balaclava base layer, ear warmer, eye shade, etc.

7. Travel with good quality duffels to the mountain but travel on the mountain with something larger and lighter. Like this except thin nylon and not cordura.…
You want your sled load to be long and low. You don't need to be waterproof and if you're not constantly dumping your sled because you packed a small duffel tall it doesn't need to be very tough. The ones we used were twice as big and half the weight of the NF ones we used as checked luggage.

8. We did all of our food DIY and it sucked so I can't help you there.

9. Weather is critical. IMO our success was helped by having outside WX. We were able to avoid some mistakes that others made relying on the NPS forecast. We got our WX with a Delorme inReach. We had a meteorologist who gave us updates 1x per day until we were in position at 14 and then 2x leadinjg into and through potential windows. He wasn't foolproof but was in general more accurate and far more nuanced than the NPS report. Was good to synthesize both and have better confidence. Keep it close to the vest. PM for more details if you think you want to go that way. Very highly recommended.

10. Bring a sponge for your tent. Like a big one, 4"x6"x1.5" thick. Put a loop of cord through it.

11. Highly recommend the Hilleberg Nammatj 2GT. 2 person tent that works for 2 poeple. Had a 2 man team, no cook tent, no complaints. There is room in the vesti to dig it down to where you can stand up, have a stair out, partial depth foot rest by the door, ground level counter and storage in the front, etc. Very livable.

12. That said a cook tent would be nice if you could swing it (bigger team).

13. You will bring too much stuff. The hard part is you won't know or believe what is extra until you go for yourself. So try to leave some of the extras behind.

14. Don't bring tent stakes. Use parachutes for deadmen. You can buy them or you can sew your own easy.

15. Bring an UNSCENTED trash compactor bag. (Heavy duty plastic bag, somewhat hard to find). Collect clean snow in it far from camp. Carry it back or put it in a sled (don't drag). If you treat it nice it will last the whole trip. Bring a back up just in case.

16. Mark your wands with something distinctive. Your caches will look nothing like they did when you left them and you don't want to have to wander around and read every single label. We added sports team duct tape to all of our wands.

17. Have a plan for your arrival. Apply as soon as you can to NPS and you can schedule your orientation appointment with priority. Things to think about:
a. Transport ANC to Talkeetna. When do you arrive to ANC? Do you need to shop? Can you get to Talkeetna the same day?
b. Once you're in Talkeetna there's a lot of work to do! Check in with your air service (TAT) right away. Do you need gear from AMS? (Canister fuel, they rent some equipment(snowshoes, maybe spades/shovels call and ask. Super organization/shop, wnt out of their way for us))
c. Pack your gear for the flight. Do this with an eye toward how you will want to be packed on the glacier so there is less reorganization once you get there. Sharps in a separate bag (not on packs, duh)
d. If possible get your bags weighed in and ready to go early. Ideally you will walk out of your orientation, change your clothes, stash your leave-behinds and get on your plane. If the weather is good that is. Vacation in Talkeetna AFTER you get back! Imagine if the weather shut down for 4 days while you were trying to get your shit straight.

18. Bring something nice for the base camp manager.

19. Read some of the books the NPS recommends. Good for stoke but I thinks it also helps you start to build a mind set for what it is like up there and the situations you may face. This will help you think better about what is important, IMO.

At the end of the day YMMV. Listen to this stuff, listen to lots of other stuff. Different people climb differently and on an expedition suffer differently. Part of sifting all the info is recognizing what kind of climber you are and filtering out what doesn't apply to you. Then go out there, do it, and learn your own lessons about what worked/didn't work. That's the best thing about a trip like this. You are 100% responsible for yourself. It is an awesome responsibility and ultimately very rewarding as a result.

Stiles · · the Mountains · Joined May 2003 · Points: 840

Thanks for the link to the same sorta thread, SinRopa.

Damn diepj!! Thank you for the time spent sharing your wisdom. Stove-wise it'll likely be two XGKs instead of one Reactor. Seems better than a (main) Reactor and a (backup) Superfly.

-I need a new sleeping bag for this mission. Thoughts on sleeping bags?

-Ski crampons necessary?

This is great. Really great.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 14,444
Stiles wrote:I need a new sleeping bag for this mission. Thoughts on sleeping bags? -Ski crampons necessary?
You're going to be there when its a fair bit colder. Get a nice 800+ fill -20 bag.

I wouldn't take ski crampons. You're not really traversing icy run out slopes. Plus, most folks park their skis at 11k. Unless you plan on skiing from the summit, then, I'm not sure most of the ski guys use them anyhow. And...skis are awesome up there!

I'd disagree with some of the stuff on the shovel selection...but...having a heavy spade won't slow you down too much, just a pain to haul all the way to 17k. Don't go up there if the forecast doesn't support the move (I wouldn't want to plan on relying on a snow cave, unless that was part of the plan). We buried all our soft stakes in hard snow/ice by digging a hole with an adze. But, some guides carry a steel spade mostly for prying up poop and vomit at the 17k camp (ha ha...ugh).

We took a light aluminum blades shovel and my tried and true plastic Lifelink (12+ expeditions with no issues). Shovelling around a tent with a metal blade can be a disaster if you have a sharp burr. Plastic is good piece of mind.

Lightweight snow saw is sweet, but, not necessary. Great for snow blocks.
diepj · · PDX · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 0

No problem Stiles! This stuff is so much fun to think about. Having also planned an independent expedition without previous experience we relied a lot on some very experienced mentors that we were lucky enough to have access to. I'm just trying to pay some of that debt forward to others in the same situation.

RE sleeping bags you will need a new one and unfortunately it won't be useful to you in pretty much any other situation. -20 would be a minimum. You might consider -40 because of your time frame and also depending on how hot/cold you run. This is one item we didn't skimp on. Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends are often mentioned in the same sentence. We went with FF and I really recommend it. Probably the only item we paid full price for and it was worth every penny. Really quality construction, really comfortable and warm. Guy I talked to on the phone and ordered from was super helpful, knew his stuff and had great questions/suggestions making sure I was getting what I needed. When we got back they washed and returned it for pretty cheap.

I didn't ski there but observed a lot of it. Some leave skis at 11 and some bring them up to 14. I saw a lot of skis/skiers at 14. You probably want ski crampons if you go past 11, not so much lower down.

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

A posh is great on Denali, if you don't have one, you will most likely be spending some time in some one else's. I am in the front range and have a one that has been on Denali a couple times and would be happy to let you barrow it. It is in great condition.

Stiles · · the Mountains · Joined May 2003 · Points: 840

Kickass, trailridge! Whats a posh?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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