Denali 2001
20,310 feet 6,190 meters
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In 2007 and 2008, I took on a challenging goal: The Road Back to Mt. Everest. This was a year long journey where I attempted to summit Everest in 2008 plus raise $100,000 for Alzheimer's research. In preparation, I attempted Denali in June 2007 and Shishapangma in September 2007 then summited Aconcagua and Orizaba in January 2008 and finally returned to Everest in April 2008. In between I climbed more of my Colorado 14ers. Using a system of a digital camera, PDA and satellite phone, I sent dispatches directly from the climbs. You can read the dispatches.


The 2007 climb is over now. Please visit the Denali 2007 page.

This is from 2001:Denali

Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, is in central Alaska - 300 miles South of the Arctic Circle and 200 miles East of the Bearing Sea. I flew from Denver to Anchorage drove to Talkeetna and took a bush plane to land on the Kahiltna Glacier to begin the climb using the West Buttress route. Denali offers some the the largest vertical gain of any mountain on Earth. With base camp at 7,200' and the summit at 20,310', this 13,110' of gain over twelve miles is larger than Cho Oyu (8,407) or even Everest (10,535).

The biggest threat on Denali is the weather. It is well known for socking you in for days with high winds and snow. And this trip was no exception. We had pristine weather until we reached the High Camp at 17, 200 when a front moved in that pummeled us with high winds, cold temps and blizzard conditions. The National Park Service issued a rare "evacuate the upper mountain" warning just as we arrived. We stayed a few more days hoping for a break but it was not to be.

Up Motorcycle Hill on DenaliThe trip up from base camp at 7,200' was easy and straight forward. I found the sleds not to be as big of an issue as many people said by balancing my load between the sled and my pack. We followed the normal schedule of establishing camps and caches so that we climbed high and slept low. This way we moved about 1,000' a day from 7,200' to 16,200' in about 8 days.

After arriving at base camp on day 1, we set up tents, dug a 6 foot cache and prepared for a short night. Up at 3:00AM, we packed all our gear and moved camp up the Kahiltna glacier to 7,800'. The next few days were spent moving gear by sled and pack to caches at 10,100' up ski hill, then to the base of motorcycle hill at 13,300' and finally around windy corner to 13,800. Each night we returned to the previous camp before moving camp beyond the previous day's cache to a higher camp.

Everyone was in high spirits when we reached the basin camp at 14,200. In fact, everyone was feeling so good, we skipped a scheduled rest day and climbed the 2,000' headwall to establish the next cache at 16,200. With the weather and our health holding we moved camp the next day to the High Camp at 17, 200. This was the longest, most difficult day thus by far for most of us.

Climbing The headwall ridge on Denali - on the way to Camp 3Once at High Camp, some people began to feel the effects of the high altitude. Symptoms ranged from mild headaches and lethargy to severe headaches, nausea and a lack of motivation to continue. It was very disappointing given how well everyone had been feeling.

We attempted a summit bid the following day since the weather was deteriorating quickly and we knew it may be now or never for us. We made it to Denali Pass where we were met with gusts of 60 mph, snow and extreme cold. When Bill saw a lenticular on Foraker and another forming directly above us on Denali summit, he called the climb and we returned to High Camp.

We sat out the next day in our tents with a blizzard howling outside. The next day, a few of us were prepared to attempt the summit again, but with high clouds, plumes off the ridge and forecast for more of the same, we made the decision to return to base and give this trip to the mountain.

Ranger camp - 14,200' Upon returning down the ridge to the basin camp, I hit a spot of soft snow with my right foot and hurt my knee when I twisted between my self arrest and my crampons. It appeared to be an ACL tear but ended up being a severe strain and nothing was torn. My trip down the fixed lines of the headwall was slow and painful. The following day's 7,000' return to base camp was my longest day of the climb. I had incredible support from my teammates - thanks guys! With some rehab, I am confident that I will be ready to climb again soon.

While disappointing to come within 2,000' of the summit, we had a great time and everyone gave it their best. I was very pleased with how my body behaved once again at high altitudes and especially to the heavy loads. I knew before this climb that I could control two of three critical variables: conditioning and attitude but not the weather. In this case two out of three was not good enough to make the summit. Next time!