5:12am on May 24th finds Aaron and Andy working hard to get Aaron's bags below 50lbs each. It didn't work and the ol' "toe lifting on the bag a bit while it's sitting on the scale" trick had to be employed.
We arrived in Anchorage (ANC) with an afternoon to do some shopping. Our pre-arranged errands shuttle had fallen through so we ended up shopping a more expensive store akin to Whole Foods than the bargain Smith's or whatever. We also walked a few miles to the REI. Thankfully we're in pretty good shape.
Friday morning we took our pre-arranged ~3 hour shuttle to Talkeetna, AK and K2 Aviation, our glacier air taxi service into Denali. With heavy clouds and light rain, we didn't expect to get to fly in that evening.
First things first, we walked into Talkeetna to the Denali NP ranger station for our hour-long orientation and permits. Permits are pricey at $300 a climber. The price doubled just this year. Lucky us.
Cruising into the ranger station
We are the Truchas Truckers!
After a long-winded and extremely helpful orientation with Loomis, we went back to K2 aviation and packed up our bags. We walked into town for lunch fully expecting to spend the night in Talkeetna when we got the call. "We can fly you in now. Get over here as soon as possible. We're sending a shuttle to get you." Everyone but Andy got their lunch and crammed it down super fast en route to the hangar.
The sun it out and we're loading up for the ~30 minute flight into the Kahiltna glacier.
In no time flat the view went from lush green
to desolate white
A nice smooth landing on the glacier around 6:40pm and we're unloading. We took our skis (me on my splitboard) for better glacier travel and, of course, a ton more fun on the descent!
It's common for folks to spend the first night at the Kahiltna airport at ~7,200 but we wanted to get the show on the road. We had to figure out how best to load the sleds and then rig them with pull cords.
9:00PM and we're all rigged and loaded. Let the ascent begin!
Well, this is the next morning. We covered many miles encumbered by our heavy packs and sleds (about 110 lbs each) and got to near the "Ski Hill" camp at 7,800' around midnight. We were beat after that long day. Here, the summit of Denali can be seen easily--it's the big peak just right of center. Only 12,500' of ascent remaining from this point!
This is the view up "Ski Hill". A nice ~2,000' ascent up to the 9,600' camp
Nearing the top of Ski Hill with much of the Kahiltna glacier visible behind. We covered much of that ground the night before. The scale is massive!
We single-carried to our camp at 9,600' by around 4pm that day. Josh and Aaron then headed up with a cache to the 11,000' camp. Andy, Sarah and I would rest and single-carry again the next day to 11k.
Panorama of the 9,600' camp at sunrise Sunday morning
We moved up to the luxurious 11,000' camp that Sunday and setup camp. After setting up camp, all five of us packed up a cache and headed up this hill pictured, Motorcycle Hill, to near 13,000'.
Sarah and Andy heading up a tricky slope just below Squirrel Point with our cache
This panorama shows the beauty of the evening. It's nearly 9pm at 12,800' where we cached our gear just below Windy Corner. We're psyched for an awesome ski descent coming up on down to the 11,000' camp
Oh man it was some great turns in 8 to 12 inches of new powder
Back at camp at 11k enjoying a view of our fun ski turns down Motorcycle Hill. None of ventured far from the established boot track so as to not fall into a crevasse and die.
Monday morning, May 28th (Memorial Day!), we packed up camp and skinned up to the 14k camp. We had an aggressive schedule with no rests days until the 14k camp.
While it was cloudy and drab down at the 11k camp, we poked out of the clouds around Squirrel Point for this stellar view on a fine day.
Windy Corner is an off-camber, often icy traverse around the bottom of a ridge. And it's often Windy. On this day, however, it was neither windy nor challenging. We nailed it.
As we neared the 14k camp we caught sight of some big crevasses. This one was marked as a "poop bag" crevasse--a crevasse where climbers are directed to toss their biodegrable bags of poop for future generations to deal with.
We got in pretty late to camp on Monday night, setup camp, ate some food and hit the sack. But Tuesday was our first, and much deserved, rest day so we pimped out the camp with lounge chairs and a sweet cook/hangout tent. We also skied down to 12,800' to pickup our cache. Six minutes down!
The 14k camp is a happenin' place with a main "street" right down the middle. On far right is Mount Hunter barely visible in the clouds. Straight ahed in this photo is the line going up towards the West Rib.
"Sunset" was around 11:30pm and when I got out of the tent to take a leak I was treated to this fine view of neighboring Mount Foraker, 17,400'
Wednesday, May 30th, was a cloudy, snowy day but we planned to just chill out anyway so it worked out.
Intermittent sun kept things warm enough though. This is a view of our sheltered cook area. Benches on three sides with a table in the middle for cooking. Very nice.
It also happened to be Josh's birthday so we celebrated with chocolate cheesecake. Yum!
Thursday, May 31st we did an acclimatization hike up to ~16,200' on the West Rib. Oddly, I got to feeling light-headed around 16,000' and turned back short. I blamed the near white-out conditions but who knows what it was really. The ride descent down was very disorientating between my "punch drunk" head and the near white-out conditions. Still, it was nice powder riding.
Friday June 1st, we headed up the standard West Buttress route after learning our hoped-for ascent route, the Messner Couloir was very icy and possibly prone to avalanching.
Skinning up the new snow on the West Buttress route with Mount Foraker looming in the background
I was still feeling a bit light-headed this day so this was my high-point--the bottom of the fixed lines up the headwall. I'd hang out for a bit, watch the rest of the crew go up the fixed lines, and then ride the ca. 1,300' down to the 14k camp. And then do that again. Great turns!
Andy and Sarah crossing the bergschrund on the lower part of the fixed lines
Josh ripping some sweet powder turns down into the 14k camp later that evening. He and Aaron had gone up to Denali Pass, ca. 18,000', for some serious acclimatization.
The next day was a bit of a rest day where we hiked up to the fixed lines and then rode back down to camp. This is starting up from camp with Mount Foraker in the background.
After Andy and I rode down to camp from the fixed lines, I heard rumors of two feet of fresh below Windy Corner. I had to check it out and the found the rumors to be spot-on. The turns were amazing! This is looking back up at Windy Corner from about 12,200' after I lapped this section twice.
Making great use of Andy's "snow lounger pit." June 3rd was our official rest day...we didn't leave camp and just lounged to rest up for our planned summit day the following day.
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Much of the day was spent watching climbers slowly ascend and skiers ripping it up.
Summit day! I think we headed out from camp around 5 or 5:30am. Sarah would stay back in camp due to a severely bruised toe. Aaron, Josh, Andy and I skinned up to the base of the fixed lines where we'd stash our skis/boards.
The weather was extremely unsettled and geting worse. However, the clouds and early day light made for some dramatic lighting. This is Josh topping out on the ridge above Washburn's Thumb at about 16,500' elevation
Ascending the ridge between the top of the fixed lines at ca. 16,000' up to the 17,200' camp is the most aesthetic climbing on the entire route.
As we got higher, however, the wind got gnarlier
Nonetheless, we enjoyed some spectacular scenery with engaging ridge climbing
As soon as we turned the corner from the ridge to the plateau of the 17,200' camp we knew our summit day was ending. The winds were horrendous and the temperatures downright dangerous. We spent about 15 minutes trying, optimistically, to delay the inevitable before turning our backs on the summit.
Retreating back down to the 14k camp
While the summit was shrouded in a gigantic lenticular clouds creating crazy winds from 17,200' on up, the lower mountain was a bit more serene. We caught this fine view of the 14k camp as we descended the ridge.
Summit or no summit, we'd still enjoy more great skiing back down to the 14k camp. Andy gettin' it done above a bergschrund below the fixed lines
After our summit attempt we had a pow-pow back the kitchen tent. We looked at the weather forecast and saw it was forecasted to keep on snowing and get nastier as the week progressed. With a planned flight home in a few days we decided to pack up the next morning and head out. While we used sleds and double-carried to 14k, we didn't want to make multiple trips down the mountain. Thus we all left 14k with gigantic, heavy packs.
It was challenging skiing down from 14k to 11k, especially some particularly sketchy crust on Motorcycle Hill, but we managed. Back down here at 11k we dug up our caches, retrieved our sleds and got even heavier. From here we'd ski all the way back down to the Kahiltna airport pulling sleds.
This is my favorite photo from the trip. Super cool lighting, nice contrast and a bunch of suckers heading up the mountain while we are headed back to civilization for food and beer.
We rolled into the Kahiltna airport in a heavy snowstorm, 6.5 hours after leaving 14k camp, and expected to stay the night at the airport until the next weather window opened up for planes to come in. However, we got super lucky and a just-long-enough weather window opened up allowing a few planes to fly in and pick us up.
Loading up for our return to civilization. We'd later hear that no flights after ours went in or out for the next three or four days. Our decision to head out when we did was vindicated!
All smiles despite not reaching the summit. While making the summit is a goal of expeditions, it's clearly not the end-all-be-all. We had a grand time together while skiing some great terrain in a beautiful, wild location.
Back at Talkeetna Andy had a bunch of pent-up desires that had to be fullfilled
Josh also found a little lovin'
With a few days to spare in Anchorage before our flight home we saw many sights in and around Anchorage. This fine topo in the Anchorage Museum shows our route. I'm pointing to our high point.
We also got to check out a local trail called the "Bird Ridge Trail" overlooking the Turnagain Arm
Fine views of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. The Bird Ridge Trail ascends ~3,400' in 3 miles. Steep!
The following day we headed down to Seward for a Kenai Fjords boat tour
A Humpback Whale or some other sea creature of some sort
For a moment we thought we saw the the Lochness Monster on summer vacation
Good 'ol X502 chilling on some rock
The highllight of the boat tour for me was motoring up to the toe of the Northwestern Glacier
Lots and lots of Harbor Seals on the ice chunks near the Northwestern Glacier
Once we got in close to the glacier the boat captain killed the engines and we sat watching and listening to the glacier calving into the sea
Mega cute them Harbor Seals
On the hunt for the elusive Fin Whale. I never saw the damn thing but we went all over the frickin' bay looking for it.
Andy was the most dedicated Fin Whale spotter on the boat
After another night back in Anchorage we met up with Aaron's friend Stephanie for some backcountry skiing on Turnagain Pass. I think the name of the area we rode is "Ken's Bowl"
Super deep snowback, super wet spring conditions
At the top of our route looking down into some chutes. We chose a safer descent line to the left because the wet snow sloughs were pretty significant
Josh enjoying the Alaska summer corn