"You don't climb up Denali, you camp up it" - 2-Sleep Mike.

What does that mean? This mountain is not climbed quickly. We had to take our time, working up from camp to camp. Shuttling gear, food and fuel to higher camps while giving our bodies time to acclimatize. Furthermore, camping on a glacier, especially in Alaska is no easy task. Snow camping has some great advantages. There are no bugs to swat. Everywhere is a fridge, so you can bring better food. You also have to stay warm, learn to sleep on snow and get comfortable using the bathroom in windy blizzard conditions. Learning to not just survive, but thrive in the Alaskan backcountry was the most important lesson we learned. 

This is not a post on "How to climb Denali." While I was climbing, I journaled each day. I wrote about the experience, what we did each day, what we ate each day and how it felt to be isolated and focused solely on one goal. Many hours were spent in our tents, waiting for the weather to clear or resting from a big move. I also took a lot of photos. A lot. 

Our group had 6 climbers and 3 guides. We chose Alaska Mountaineering School as our guide service and I have to say I was super impressed. "2-Sleep Mike" Mike Gardner was our lead guide, along with Clark Henarie and Peggy Fluvin. All three of them are legit bad-asses. The other folks on my trip included Dave "Rhude Dog" Rhude (my tentmate,) Canada Mike, Brad "Doctor Strange" Cobb, Brian "California" Giangardella, and Sam Sidiqi. 

Here's the tale of us climbing "The Great One."

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We flew onto the glacier to start our trip. Talkeetna Air Taxi took us, our group took two planes. My pilot was Leanne, a former AMS guide. She became a glacier pilot as a second career. It's easier on the knees and you get to sleep in your own bed at night. 

Brad, Brian and I grabbed a last cup of legit coffee before we flew out, then met the rest of our team at AMS at 8am. Park Rangers came to AMS headquarters to give us a briefing. The main thing they covered was the importance of the CMCs, Clean Mountain Cans. These would be our toilets for the next three weeks. 

We loaded our personal and group gear into the vans, and then ate lunch. Matt, another guide at AMS, prepared the last great meal we'd eat for a long time. Lasagna, quiche, salad, fruit and hummus. We ate together as the excitement of starting our trip continued to build. 

At Talkeetna Air Service, we piled our gear to be loaded onto two planes. Single engine Otters, planes older than any of us, would take us to the glacier. LeAnn was our pilot. She is a former guide with AMS who took on a second career as a glacier pilot. It's a career that still gives her great mountain views, but is easier on the knees. 

A beautiful 45 minute flight landed smoothly on the Kahiltna Glacier. We de-planed, gathered our gear and set up our first camp on pre-existing platforms. Someone else did the hard work of bootpacking and flattening the snow for our tent floors. 

We practiced roping up for travel. Traveling with sleds is a complicated setup. AMS developed a good system. It's clear, redundant and obviously refined over many years of experience. After learning how to check each other's rope setup, we packed away everything for the night and got ready for dinner. 

The weather was mostly comfortable during the day. After the sun dipped behind the mountains it chilled down. Very light snow dusted our tents and sleds overnight. 

Dinner that night was cold pizza, baked back at AMS headquarters. Last time we'd see anything that nice for a while. 



In the cockpit with Leanne, getting ready to take off from Talkeetna. 

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Views flying into Denali national park.


Viewing a highly cravassed glacier on our way into the park.

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Landed on the glacier. Here's the de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, built in the mid 1960's and equipped with skis. 

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Saying goodbye to our plane. We're stuck on the glacier now.

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Brad examines our Mountain Hardware Trango 3's set up near the air strip.

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Beautiful view of the North Buttress of Mount Hunter.