October 19, 2010

Denali V1.0 - Traveling to the Mountain

I have no more excuses.  This daunting task is now at hand.  To give myself the illusion that this is a manageable task, I've decided to break the trip into three sections:

1) V1.0 Traveling to the Mountain
2) V2.0 Getting to High Camp (14,200')
3) V3.0 12 Days at 14K

I make no promises, but I hope I get these all done before leaving for the Grand Canyon!

After making some final preparations in Boulder on May 19, we began our journey to the mountain by taking the bus to the Denver airport.  We arrived at the Anchorage airport at 1:30 am on May 20 and slept for a few hours next to a giant stuffed brown bear, presumably designed to deter tourists from wandering too far into the bush before they ever get a chance to leave the confines of the airport.  At 6:00 am we took a taxi to the Railroad Station in downtown Anchorage in order to meet up with a NOLS shuttle that was transporting a group of students from there to the NOLS branch in Palmer, AK, about two hours away.

It's always fun to visit new branch offices, and since neither Dane nor I had never been to Palmer, we took a branch tour before getting down to business.  The business we had planned was to procure the last of our needed supplies (free rental for instructors) and collect our rations for 23 days on the mountain.  We took some cooking gear and wands before bagging the food that we had predetermined, separated into three ration periods.  This all went pretty smoothly, and we managed to acquire all the food we would need for the trip for about $120 per person.

We had prearranged to meet a van from Denali Overland for a ride from Wasilla to Talkeetna, and we managed to finish up in Palmer in plenty of time to have the wonderful people at the branch drive us 20 miles in to Wasilla to meet up with this next leg of transportation.  In Wasilla we joined a group of four climbers from Seattle (Boeing employees) who were heading up on a private trip to climb the West Buttress route.  After about three hours in the van, we arrived in Talkeetna, the jumping off point for nearly all climbs in the Alaska Range.

Once in Talkeetna, we checked in with Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT), which is a multi-functional company that caters to climbers while also running sight seeing flights for tourists.  TAT would eventually help us with in town logistics, supply us with a bunkhouse for the nights immediately before and after our stay on the mountain, as well as fly us to and from the Kahiltna International Airport on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier at the base of Denali.

Gearing up in Talkeetna
The flight to the glacier is notorious for stranding people in Talkeetna for several days before the weather is good enough to fly.  However, we had beautiful weather on our journey to Talkeetna and a terrific forecast for the next few days.  So, we spent that evening exploding and organizing gear for the glacier flight and bumped our mandatory meeting with the Park Rangers up to first thing in the morning.

When we felt sufficiently organized, we ate dinner at the Denali Brewery (average and overpriced), then bought a couple beers which we drank at the park while talking with a bad ass Polish guy who had just come off the mountain.  Once in Talkeetna, everything is within walking distance which made our brief stay there very convenient.

The next morning we met at 8:00 with a ranger for the national park service.  While we chatted with Ranger Kevin and watched a slideshow, a woman from the local radio station sat in on our conversation.  She was apparently working on a series of short radio programs to inform non-climbers of what goes on during the climbing season on Denali.  The report from our briefing is about 4 minutes long and can be heard here.  Immediately after the briefing, we went to the TAT office and got ready to fly out.

Our plane in Talkeetna, ready to fly to the glacier
Although you get on the plane in Talkeetna, you get off on a glacier at 7,000', so we flew wearing our climbing gear and ski boots.  Our official gear weight (which is taken seriously with these small planes) was 275 pounds, or just over 135 pounds per person.  We ended up flying in with the Boeing group and left Talkeetna around 10:30 am.  With beautiful, cloudless weather, views of the Alaska Range during the flight in were most spectacular.

The amazing Alaska Range
Vertical granite of the Ruth Gorge
Mt. Huntington
We landed on the glacier at 11:00 on May 21 in perfect weather, about 40 hours after leaving Colorado.  This rapid transportation time helped us make the most of our pre-trip acclimation by spending less than two days below 7,000'.

The plane and all our gear, landed on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier

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