Sunday 19 June 2011

Denali adventure part 1 – Preparing for fun times

Coming back home to the north of Sweden after our Alaska adventure it’s hard to know where to start my story. I guess it began a year or two back when I got to hear about the south face of Denali for the first time. I got to see photos of the face and the first thing that came to my mind were that; “I can do that, I want to ski that” and I immediately started dreaming about going there.

It felt like a good challenge and a great adventure and I put it on my invisible wish list. But as time went on and easier fetch able adventures came and went, this dream kind of fell asleep. However this winter, over a couple of beers, it got brought up one evening at good friend Max Turgeon’s house.  He had been to Denali several times before and even climbed the huge south face by a new route. He was also looking for a good adventure and almost immediately agreed to go for the south face.

Said and done. It didn’t take long before we had everything booked and ready to go. But about 3-4 weeks before we where leaving I got a phone call from his girlfriend giving me the bad news. Max was sick, really sick. He had some growth in his stomach, he had just had a surgery and they where waiting for the lab results if he had cancer or not. In a moment I lost all my motivation for the mountains and just put all my hope and well wishes towards Max and his recovery.

During this time I went out skiing and ice climbing solo, knowing that’s usually what Max does when he’s in the same situation. But then, a week later, we got the results: Max did not have cancer and his prognosis for recovery was really good. The first thing that came to my mind was that I had to try to realise this dream, the big thing I had had in mind most of the winter. So I started calling my best friends to see if anyone was interested in joying me. One of the first I called was Magnus Kastengren. He is one of these rare persons that I know that are almost always free to take on any kind of adventure, and when you are out there, he does have neither negativity nor limits making him a wonderful friend and traveling partner. He is of course also really strong in the mountains. My objective was still skiing the south face, but our mutual goal now also became climbing one of the most famous alpine route - the Cassin Ridge. 

So, less than three weeks before leaving Magnus joins the expedition and we start replanning the trip. There were just a few obstacles to overcome. First of all, someone going to Denali for the first time need to apply for a permit 60 days before the trip. We only had like 17 days before we where leaving. In the end we where able to ad him as a third member of our expedition, but it still meant we could not start climbing earlier than 30 days after registration. But starting the climbing a week later than planned was better than not going, right? That also meant I had to change my flights so we could stay longer in Alaska.  After this was figured out it felt like we where on our way. Now we just had to sort out the equipment. Max and me had most of it planned, but Max, as he had been there a few times more than me he had most of the stuff we needed as a team. Now, we had to spend lots of our time just prior to the trip to get that sorted between myself and Magnus, and hours everyday where spent on skype.

But in the end we got everything sorted and after two intense layover days in Chamonix (see link) I flew to Anchorage, Alaska, to meet up with my friend at the airport. The one and only day we had in town before we took of to the wilderness was really intense. We had so much equipment to buy and then of course food for one month on the glacier. And it’s pretty important that one get everything one need while in civilisation because once out on the mountain there is nothing one can do if one is lacking something.

Shopping food for a month was the most difficult task, as we had no clue of what we where buying. Everything looked so different, it was different bags and measuring, new brands, etc and lots of the food is just so different. If we would have been in Europe it would probably have taken us 1,5 hour to get everything we searched for, but now it took us 7h. We walked around the whole store first without selecting a thing before a salesman came and helped us out.

After a full day of shopping we went back to the bed and breakfast and packed and repacked for most of the night. The next day we where off for Talkeetna, the last outpost before going to Denali. We stayed there for one night and then, the 9th of May, we flew in to the Kahiltna glacier and the Denali Base Camp.

The Base Camp consists of a tent village and an airstrip and it’s where everyone aiming to climb Denali by its normal route, west rip or south face will fly in. It’s a place most people are coming to or going from and very few are actually staying there for more than a few days, even though great skiing and climbing is really easy accessible from here.

We left as soon as we could with the aim of reaching advanced base camp (ABC) as soon as possible. It took us five days to reach it and it was only on the third day when we had a rest day in 11 000 feet camp that Magnus said; “this is the first time I’m having fun on this trip”.  Then again we had almost 80-90 kg of load divided on our sledges and back packs; Food for a month, full skiing and climbing equipment, clothes and all the camping gear. On the way we also made a detour past the east fork of the Kahiltna glacier to get a view of the south face. The weather was mostly really cold, especially at night and really windy making us pretty prepared for the storms higher up, but we also had a taste off how warm the sun can be when it just chooses to shine! Looking back at our first days out they where a good warm up, easy going acclimatisation as well as a preparation for the fun times to come. 

Arriving late at night we slept the first night at the airport

And then had a huge american breakfast. 

and then some shopping

Magnus and the plane

The south face of Denali from the plane

Magnus and his sled

First camp, Denali in the far background

First view of the Cassin Ridge

This stuff is heavy

Magnus above Squirrel hill

Our 11000 camp 

First view of the upper slopes of Denali and the 14000 (ABC) camp plateau. Messner couloir in the middle, the Orient on the right. 

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