Denali, Day 2: Fly to Base on glacier, ski to 7700'


Sunday, May 10

Day 1 Travel to Talkeetna, AK
Day 2 Fly to Base on glacier, ski to 7700'
Day 3 Tent bound
Day 4 7700 to 9450'
Day 5 Place cache at 11,200'
Day 6 Move to 11,200'
Day 7 Place cache at 13,500'
Day 8 Move to Genet basin, 14.000'
Day 9 Back-carry cache to 14,000'
Day 10 Summit attempt
Day 11 Return to Base
Day 12 Fly out

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window


  • Fly onto glacier
  • Ski 4.5 miles, 1000' gain, in 3 hours
  • Camp at 7700'

Plan said:

  • Ski 5 miles, 1200' gain, in 5 hours
  • Camp at 7800'

It was finally our day to fly onto the glacier. When the Roadhouse, a Talkeetna cafe, opened at 7:30, we hurriedly stuffed down breakfast (the Half is huge.... I don't know who could eat a whole portion) and ran over to the National Park Service for our 8am orientation. The orientation was pretty basic, and they didn't check our gear. As we got ready to depart, there were just over 100 climbers on the mountain.

The biggest questions we had concerned the CMC, or Clean Mountain Can. The CMC is a little plastic bucket, about 14" tall and 8 or 9" in diameter. Guess what that is for?

Then we ran over to TAT, ready to fly.

But they weren't. So we sat on the tarmac for about 2 1/2 hours, twiddling our thumbs. We amused ourselves with photos, but it was driving us crazy.


Finally our actual plane, a DeHavilland Otter, arrived and we packed in with several guys from Geneva, Switzerland.

We found that over half the climbers we talked to were from outside the U.S.: Dutch, Swiss, French, German, Japanese, Russian, etc. Most of the remaining-- the US climbers-- were in guided groups.

We were off!
Lunch stop looking toward MackayTom Lopez photo

That's Bro.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay
And Tom; all smiles. Lunch stop looking toward Mackay
Yours truly.
Lunch stop looking toward MackayTom Platt photo
Tommy sat in the co-pilot's seat. Lunch stop looking toward Mackay

The ride was surprisingly smooth, especially because the weather was a bit unsettled; note the band of cloud/fog. Those planes are amazing, taking off and landing in incredibly short distances.

Also note the scale of things- those are three skiers circled. They are heading downhill adjacent to the landing strip, where we will land going uphill.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay
And then we were at Kahiltna base. It was about noon. Lunch stop looking toward Mackay

After completely unpacking our gear, we were totally disorganized. So it took us quite a while to get our gear back into traveling shape. Then skis. Rigging. Sleds. Etc. And then we were off at about 2:45.

We were so intent on getting going that we skipped lunch, a pattern that would continue through most of our trip.

From Base to the 7800' camp, it's about 5 miles. But that includes a 600' drop and then a 1200' climb, and with each of us pulling huge loads. Then there is the matter of trying to ski with a rope laying in the snow in front of you.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay

As we labored up the glacier the weather was initially quite pleasant. And the views were astounding.

But then the wind came up. At first it seemed to be coming from a side canyon. I thought it would pass in a few minutes, so I just pulled my hat down a bit and put on my hood. But after we passed the side canyon (which ended up taking about 1/2 hour) the wind direction changed and it was coming straight down the Kahiltna. And increasing in strength.

When we came to the first camp with snow walls, we were ready to seek shelter and call it a day. But much to our disappointment, every tent site was occupied. So we soldiered on, finding another set of snow walls about a half-mile farther on, stopping at about 5:30. Even though there was an existing snow wall, it still took us more than two hours to get camp up. While one guy fed poles into the tent, two had to hold the tent down.

And we hadn't made it all the way to our planned camp.

This photo doesn't really communicate the force of the wind, but it you look closely you can see Bro's hood pressed against his head, and the wands bent in the background. As we went to bed in the howling wind, we were hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay

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