Denali: The plan


A trip to the top of the continent, Denali is probably going to be cold.

  • May 9- June 9
  • Summit: 20,320', 13100' gain, 33 miles round trip, 12-20 days plane-to-plane
  • Team: Tom Tom Club

    Tom Lopez
    Tom Lopez "Tom"

    Mt. Heinen
    Basil's Ridge
    Peak 10805
    Garden Peak

    Tom Martin
    Tom Martin "Tommy"

    Mt. Borah
    Mt. Washington, NH
    Mt. Mansfield, VT
    Mt. Chocorua

    Tom Platt
    Tom Platt "Bro"

    Mt. Shasta
    North Sister
    Mt. Borah
    Mt. Hood

    John Platt
    John Platt

    Mt. Rainier (early)
    Mt. Rainier (02, pictured)

  • The story behind this expedition

    Over a year ago, Tom Lopez (author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide, referred to on this page simply as "Tom") invited me to join him on an expedition to Denali, the great one. I have wanted to go on a major expedition ever since I was young, inspired by reading the book Annapurna (Herzog) as an early teen (in other words, a looong time ago).

    Last November my daughter Mariel and I climbed Mexico's Pico de Orizaba. Orizaba gave me a taste of climbing in an exotic locale and also confidence in my ability at altitude. I returned home ready for a bigger challenge. Although Denali was high on my list, any expedition to a great range would have satisfied me. Tom's motivation was slightly different, but I'll let him tell his own story.

    Another factor for this trip was my brother. Bro would turn 50 in late May, and this trip was to mark this milestone in his life. The special day might even come with the summit?

    The decision

    I first met Tom back in the '80s, but we didn't really know each other. We had become better acquainted recently, but only on one hike together. So before I could accept Tom's invitation, I had to satisfy myself that this is a person with whom I want to share three weeks in a tent. In the winter of 2007-2008, we got together for a beer or two, and went skiing.

    At that point, Denali was a definite maybe for spring 2008. We agreed on a variety of important factors: style, safety, gear (definitely skis, not snowshoes), motivation, etc. But then Tom had medical issues (explained in his story) so we put the whole thing off.

    When we climbed Basil's Ridge the next summer, we started talking about Denali again. Just before we climbed Peak 10805 last fall, Tom got a clean bill of health. So Denali was back on the table for 2009. Then it was a matter of finding an acceptable team. And we also agreed that we needed to be fully committed by January 15 in order to be ready in time.

    I had spoken to several people over the last few years (I had originally planned on climbing Denali in 2005, but put that on hold when I broke my leg). When I asked again, I got lots of "maybes."

    But my brother Tom (referrer to here as "Bro") was immediately in- he was looking for a special adventure to mark his 50th birthday. Bro has continued his bike racing over the last several years, so he is lean and mean; in a word, fit. How fit? Well, when younger, he won the Bogus Basin hill climb, riding up 4000' in under an hour. He looks like he could still do that.

    When Tom Martin (as the youngest of the three Toms, referred to here as "Tommy") joined, I knew we had a really strong four-person team. Tommy is a horse. How strong is he? I'm not exactly small but when I broke my leg in the Lost Rivers, he practically carried me out.


    From January 15, it seemed like May was an awful long way off. We went round and round about the best dates. Finally Tom chose a May 9 departure, and everybody accepted that. Then began round after round of equipment discussions and purchases, creation of menus, packing gear, etc. etc. until we're all just about sick of that.

    Our ace in the hole is my uncle Gene, who lives in Anchorage. Gene graciously accepted the chore of being a delivery point for gear we shipped, and driving us to-and-from Talkeetna. He's also letting us crash at his house. This saves us a ton of money, but also keeps us in our comfort zone- none of us is particularly comfortable in a motel. Plus, he's a great guy. With his positive attitude and can-do help, it feels like he's part of the team.

    We did the whole registration with the Denali national Park, choosing the name "Tom Tom Club" for what should be obvious reasons. We also made our reservations with both the flights to Anchorage and the flight onto the Kahiltna glacier, where the climb starts.

    And finally, it was time to get our bodies into shape. For the most part, we were all physically capable without doing any extra training. Tommy, Bro, and I are all semi-retired bike racers; we know how to train and also how to put out when it's necessary. Tom had been on Denali twice before, so he knows more specifically what is required. Even so, we've all been doing the extra work that should make our daily travails a little less fatiguing. Up to a point: the last couple of weeks have not been conducive to our schedule; either we have had personal chores to address or the weather in Idaho has been crap. Us Idaho guys were a little concerned about Tommy, who basically lives at sea level in New Hampshire. But Tom pointed out that being as Tommy is still in his 30s, he has an advantage for which us other guys can't really train. But seriously, not to worry. To acclimate properly, we need to go slow on the mountain regardless of how fit we are. So now that slightly slower pace will be enforced.

    At least in the crappy weather we can still do our crevasse rescue practice. Anyone for a z-pulley? Wanna climb a tree on your ascenders?

    A week to go

    It doesn't seem possible that we will leave in just seven days. All our shipped gear has arrived at Gene's. I guess it's time to start stuffing the remaining crap into bags. On the flight to base camp on the Kahiltna, we are limited to just 125 pounds each (!) unless we want to pay extra. But we have 60 pounds each in just food. Then there are the skis and sleds. Tents. Shovels. Stoves and cook gear. OMG- to make the weight limit, we're going to have to go naked! Pictures to follow ;-)

    Reports from the mountain?

    We are not taking a hundred pounds of telecommunication gear. If and when we can, we will try to call out on a cell phone (don't hold your breath). If our communication efforts are successful, we've arranged to have reports posted onto the IdahoSummits bulletin board.

    If you are wondering about the Denali climbing season in general, the Park Service maintains a page for current conditions and statistics.


General information and The Plan

Route map
Route map

webcam morning

Talkeetna, 6:30am

Talkeetna webcam

Talkeetna, 11pm


Big pack


Denali haircut = loose hats

Special thanks

  George's Cycles
  Greenwood's Ski Haus
  Idaho Mountain Touring
  Last but not least:
Our individual SOs (Significant Other, Supervising Officer, whatever) for putting up with all these shenanigans
Denali spirit    


    Talkeetna web cam    
    Talkeetna NOAA    
    Fairbanks NOAA    
    Above 14k'    

Volcano alerts (Mt. Redoubt)

    Alaska Volcano Observatory    
    NOAA Redoubt page    
    Mt. Redoubt (pics: erupting volcano)    

2008 statistics

    NPS summary of Denali climbing in 2008 (2Mb PDF)

Trip reports

    One Man's Guide to Climbing McKinley: Great trip report with equipment and food suggestions
    Eighteen Days on Denali: A fairly typical 16 day climb
    Denali for Dreams: A trip report by my friend SawtoothSean

Important documents

    Expedition confirmation from Denali NP
    Flight confirmation from TAT (and info)


    Plan requires previous acclimatization with sleeping >10k' NIH explains AMS
    Mid-May, expect 20 hours of daylight at 14k':
the sunset picture on the right is from 11PM on April 30


    SummitPost page on Denali
    Denali Nat'l Park web site    
    National Park booklet (590K PDF)
    AAI preferred brands list (320K PDF)
    AAI West Butt equipment list (330K PDF)

Training completed (not comprehensive)

  3/1 Cervidae, 2.5m, 1900', 70# 1:20  
  3/12 Cervidae in the moonlight    
  3/21 Shaw Mountain   5904'
  3/26 Cervidae, 70# 1:15  
  3/28 Snow camping    
  4/04 Cervidae, 70# 1:20  
  4/05 McDonald Peak   10068'
  4/09 Cervidae, 70# 1:12  
  4/11 Garden Peak, 15 mile hike    
  4/12 Peak 10941   10941'
  4/16 Cervidae (no weight, no time)    
  4/19 Mt. Heinen 5:40  
  4/23 Cervidae, 70# 1:04  
  4/26 Shafer Butte ski, 4.5 miles, 2k'    
  4/30 Cervidae, west side,
1mi, 1800'
  5/3 Cervidae, west side 0:36  
  5/6 Cervidae, north route    

Proposed schedule

  Date Objective
Sleep Height
Est. Time Activity / Distance / Gain/ Max day height
  May 7 Tommy arrives Boise 7582   Sleep on Shafer Butte
  May 9 Travel
Arrive in Anchorage
11:39am Alaska Flight 85
  All 4 of us have tickets on this flight
Shop in Wasilla, load up, and drive to Talkeetna
Stay in bunk house of TAT (Talkeetna Air Taxi)   Full Moon!
From here on, add random storm days
1 May 10 Prep, fly to glacier, and start skiing
8am Park Service headquarters
10am? Fly to Kahiltna Base w/Talkeetna Air Taxi
7200', Repack
  bury cache  

2 days' food
dry bag, wands to mark

  pack and rig    
  Descend Heartbreak Hill
0.5 miles, drop 600' to 6600
  Climb to Ski Hill camp
7800', 5 miles, 1200' gain
2 May 11 Ski to 9700' camp

Climb to 10k camp, 9700'
(usually double carry)

2000', 3 miles
3 May 12 Ski to 11k camp

Climb to bottom of Motorcycle Hill
(11k camp)

1200', 1 mile
4 May 13 Climb Kahiltna Dome
or rest!
12,500', 1500' gain, 2 miles
5 May 14 Walk cache to Windy Corner
  to top of Motorcycle Hill
  to Squirrel Hill
  Place cache at 13.5k

climb to 13,500' , place 13.5k cache:
3 gallons gas
12 days food

  Return to 11k camp
6 May 15 Walk to Genet Basin (14k camp)
Leave 11k cache:
Skis, sleds, dry bag, 2 days' food, 1 gallon gas, 1 roll TP
climb to 14200', 2.75 miles (3200' gain)
7 May 16 Recover 13.5k cache
  Descend to 13,500'
700' descent
  Climb back to Genet Basin
700' climb
8 May 17 Place cache at 16k... or rest!
  Climb headwall
16200', 1 mile (2000' gain)
  Descend to camp
9 May 18 Rest day
10 May 19 Climb to 17k camp
      Carry 5 quarts gas, 5 days' food, minimal climbing gear, sleeping tents (only)
~ 60# packs
  climb headwall
16200', 1 mile (2000' gain)
  climb West Buttress
17200', 0.75 miles (1000' gain)
  dig in camp
11 May 20

Possible summit day

2.5 miles (3100' gain)

Denali Pass, 18,200', 1000' gain
12 May 21
13 May 22
Football field, 19,500', 1300' gain
14 May 23
15 May 24
Summit 20320', 800' gain
Return, 2.5 miles, 3200' drop
16 May 25 Descend to 14k camp
1.75 miles (3000' drop to 14k)
17 May 26 Walk to 11k camp
2.75 miles (3200' drop to 11k)
18 May 27 Ski to Kahiltna base camp
  descend to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill
8.5 miles (3800' drop to 6600')
  climb Heartbreak Hill
1 mile, 600' gain to 7200'
19 May 28 Fly to the Outside
  repack for the plane, fly out
  drive to Anchorage  
  Dinner with Gene      
  May 29 Fly home


Back to the climb


Mr. Natural Home | 2009 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski