Friday, June 29, 2007

The Denali Report: Episode 1

First, I'd like to thank everyone who visited our expedition website and sent their best wishes. We really had a great time on our adventure and seriously lucked out with perfect weather. Everyone on the team got along fine and we only had a few minor mishaps with equipment. Our summit day was perfect – windless, cloudless and views that were unparalleled. Anyway, without further ado here is our story...

After 14 months of planning, training and stressing out, the 5 of us rendezvoused in Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday, June 2nd. We chartered a shuttle to take us overland to Talkeetna, near the eastern edge of Denali National Park. We arrived late in the afternoon, checked in with Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) and then went for pizza and beer at Mountain High Pizza. The weather that evening was scattered showers and we went to sleep hoping for a break in the rain the next day so we could fly to base camp.

Sunday morning we woke up and had a HUGE breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse then returned to TAT to begin sorting and repacking our gear for the flight onto the glacier. Even though we tried to packed efficiently before we left home, we were shocked to find that we had a total of 692 lbs of gear among the 5 of us, almost 140 lbs per person. After eliminating everything we could do without we checked in with TAT again but they were still not making glacier landings due to bad visibility at base camp. With nothing else to do but wait we headed off to the West Rib Pub for some burgers and beer. After spending most of Sunday afternoon wandering around Talkeetna we finally got the call to return to TAT and flew to base camp around 6pm.

The flight itself was a real ride. Our group was split between two planes. Keith and Jim in the first plane with a couple of guys from Finland. The rest of us in a second plane with a soloist from the United States. The planes were 1940's era de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers. After taking out the back seat to make room for our gear the planes barely fit 5 people including the pilot. After a brief intro from the pilot we climbed aboard and took off. About 30 minutes later we were skimming over rugged mountain tops and snow corniced ridges, making sharp turns in front of thousand foot rock walls, then circled over base camp and eventually landed on the Kalhiltna Glacier.

Base camp was a good introduction to the scale of what we were about to embark on. It's located on the southeast fork of the Kalhlitna Glacier. You can catch a glimpse of Denali far to the north and Mount Hunter is just looming to the south. The were crevasses everywhere. Constant rock and snow avalanches on the surrounding peaks reminded us of how alive this place is. There was a NPS ranger stationed there as well as a base camp manager to coordinate all the air taxi services. On a busy day they can fly in and out approximately 100 climbers and their gear.

Originally we had planned to spend only one night at base camp and leave early the next day for camp 1 at the base of the Ski Hill. However, Monday morning we woke to rain and wet, heavy snow. The day before in base camp we had met an Irish duo, a couple of guided groups, and the Fins we flew in with. Nobody was moving anywhere so we decided to stay put ourselves. We spent most of Monday hunkered down in our tent. It was some of the wettest snow I've experienced. The next morning, the weather cleared enough for us to think about a move to camp 1. By Tuesday afternoon we had blue skies overhead and I was able to take some phenomenal photos of base camp. Tuesday evening we divided up the group gear, packed everything into our backpacks and sleds, then around 11pm we set out for camp 1.

Crossing the lower Kalhiltna on the way up was uneventful, although we did see several large holes where climbers had obviously busted through into a hidden crevasse. Later on we found out that one of those holes right before camp 1 involved a rope team of 2. One climber fell 60 feet into a crevasse and the other was barely able to arrest the fall. Unable to extract his partner from the crevasse by himself he had to use a satellite phone to call for help. Traveling at night was definitely a requirement on the lower glacier. It was the only time the snow bridges froze up enough to support our weight. We had plenty of light as we never saw darkness the entire trip. Sunset was sometime around midnight and sunrise was sometime between 3-4am. In fact, most of us ended up leaving our headlamps behind, joking that we'd only need them if we fell into a crevasse.

We arrived at camp 1 in the early morning, pitched our tents, ate breakfast then went to sleep to the sounds on another storm approaching...

Be sure to check back next week for Episode 2!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For all my fans chomping at the bit...

... here is the link to my Denali photos. For those more patient my trip report will be posted shortly...

- Chuck

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Off the mountain...

Just talked to Chuck... and I'm sure some of you have heard from the group by now... they are safely off the mountain and in Talkeetna. Looking forward to a shower (and shave please!), pizza and beer. They will figure out return plans tomorrow after a good night of sleep. Sounds like good stories and even better pictures. Thank you all for your support!
- Kerry

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After 19 days on the mountain we're back in Talkeetna. All 5 of us had a perfect summit day on June 19th - blue skies, no wind, breathtaking views. It's too bad a lack of cell service kept me from sending regular updates, but stay tuned for our photos and trip reports when we get home. It has been a great adventure and we're all looking to coming home!
- Chuck

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Drum roll please... Summit!!!

Hello friends... I just received a very choppy sat phone call from Chuck. They all summited yesterday in perfect weather. I am raising my glass of wine as we speak. They spent last night at high camp and are at 14,000 right now. They will leave at midnight tonight to descend to base camp. They hope to get a flight off the glacier and be in Talkeetna tomorrow sometime where I am sure they will enjoy a well deserved and long awaited burger and beer.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

News... looking good...

I had a message from Chuck tonight. They are moving to high camp tomorrow and planning to summit on Tuesday. If all goes well they may be back in Portland next weekend. No guarantees of course but everyone is doing well.

Friday, June 15, 2007

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June 15 - looking down on camp 4 from the fixed lines on the Kahiltna headwall

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Latest update...

I talked to Chuck this afternoon around 1:30. They are still at 14,000 today but going to the top of the fixed line tomorrow (16,000 feet). High camp planned for Sunday or Monday and hopefully they will summit Tuesday or Wednesday next week. If all goes well they will be back in Talkeetna next weekend. Chuck reports that none of them have cell service and they are not expecting access to satellite phone again; so we will not hear until they are off the mountain.

This is Kerry reporting from Alturas, CA at 4,500 feet :).

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June 14 - view of the Kahiltna Glacier from the 'Edge of the World'

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

We have contact!

Hello all... I just talked very briefly with Chuck - he borrowed a satellite phone from a guided climb. Everyone is feeling good. They are at the 11,000 camp right now; carried to 14,000 yesterday and will move to 14,000 camp tomorrow. They are a little behind the intenerary due to being held in base camp for two days on account of rain. Weather now is looking good and if it holds they are planning to summit in six to seven days. They had no cell (digital) service at 14 yesterday. Only the old analog phones and satelitte phones had service so our future communication may continue to be spotty. Sounds like all are in good humor and looking good for summit. He wanted me to post for you all as soon as I got off the phone!

Take care...

Monday, June 11, 2007

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June 11 - looking down at camp 3 from the top of Motorcycle Hill after a carry to camp 4

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Hello friends...
I find myself this Sunday afternoon reading posts from several guided climbs of Denali. The last week sounds like it has been harsh; at least two teams waited at either 14,000 or high camp for a week for the high winds and clouds to break. In the end they called it and headed down Thursday or Friday last week. However, this may be good news for our group as weather still reported to be better earlier in the week. Their schedule indictates 14,000 camp tomorrow; which I am thinking is good as they may hit the end of the bad weather that kept others from summiting. Keep up the positive thoughts and have a good week. Hopefully I will check in with direct news in the next couple of days...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

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June 9 - looking back down the Kahiltna Glacier on our move to camp 3

Thursday, June 7, 2007

No news is good news...

or that is what I hear from climbers. I've been reading posts from guided climbs on Denali and several teams have been sitting at the 14,000 foot camp for a week due to high winds and heavy snow (but at 14,000 they have cell service). They expect it to break soon, which is good news for our group as they aren't scheduled to hit 14,000 until the 10th or 11th I think. Positive thoughts that they will find a good weather window. I know they appreciate everyone checking in as you all are. Again, I know not much about mountain climbing but learning VERY quickly. Until next time...

and for our friend Greg, who clearly I have never met in person, I am Chuck's wife...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

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June 6 - looking up the Ski Hill from camp 1

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

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June 5 - north face of Mount Hunter looming over basecamp

Monday, June 4, 2007

I talked to Chuck a couple of times yesterday; he is having problems with the text message posting to the blog. So here I am, technologically challenged, trying this. They checked in at the ranger station yesterday and spent the rest of the day waiting for a weather break to fly on to the glacier. They finally got a plane out around 4pm. The ranger said probably no cell service, at least for the lower part of the mountain, so it may be some days before I/we hear from them. The ranger also said there are several hundred people on the mountain right now. Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 3, 2007

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June 3 - we have all landed at the Kahiltna basecamp

Saturday, June 2, 2007

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At Talkeetna Air Taxi hoping for a break in the rain tomorrow so we can fly onto the glacier.

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All arrived in Anchorage WITH gear and on the road to Talkeetna.

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Shawn and I are at the airport waiting to board. Keith, Jim and Kari are already on their way. Everyone is super excited and ready to go. The adventure has begun!