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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Climbing Mt. McKinley (Denali) in May, 2005 - Part 2

The climb starts at 7200' feet after a fantastic ride in a specially equipped plane that lands on the glacier. The plane from Talkeetna Air Taxi was built in 1951, a DeHavilland Beaver rotary piston engine "tank" of a flying machine. To this day I still love looking at the machine that flew me to the mountain.

You can see that I already have on the first few layers of light thermals, softshell pants and Koflach brand climbing boots. They are similar to ski boots with a hard plastic shell, rubber Vibram hiking soles and super warm inner liners. I am also wearing ultra thin liner socks, light hiking socks and heavy expedition socks over them. Note the snow on the ground at the Talkeetna airport. Do I look excited or what??!

The Route Up The Mountain

I am often asked "How many miles did you hike to get to the top?" and I don't have an answer. There may be some estimates out there but we measured time and distance in terms of reaching good spots to shelter at certain altitudes.

The Gear We Needed

It takes a lot of gear to survive the weeks on Denali. Once you are up there you cannot go back for the forgotten gloves or a missing carabiner. It makes you sort of paranoid about losing things because your very life may depend on that one item. You have to carry all of it in a pack and in a sled you tow behind you. We had no guides, no sherpas, no porters, no sled dogs, no snowmobiles. Just our own human power.

Here is a lot of expensive gear!

Loaded onto these wagons, it is ready to roll out and load on the plane!

How will it all fit?

It actually took two flights to haul us up there. If you ever get a chance to take a flight-seeing tour up there by all means go! The beauty of the glacier clad mountains is beyond description.

Be sure to fly up there via the company called Talkeetna Air. Great people and a company that a climbing expedition can stake their lives on.

When our team got the first batch of gear loaded I was lucky enough to go. I'll tell you, when I looked out the window it was really "living the dream" as the view was even better than all of the Alaska documentaries I ever saw!

The heavily loaded plane climbed steadily higher and labored towards the "Kahiltna International Airport" on Kahiltna Glacier.

It is jokingly called "international" because of climbers from all over the world setting foot there.

Here are a few of the many types of bush planes with skis. Note the large belly pod for cargo in this one.

A turboprop from K-2 Aviation

This is our our plane on ice; note that the skis have been hydraulically lowered below the rubber landing wheels

During the planning process we had to fill out a form for the Denali Rangers where we listed our climbing experience and expedition plans. It also asked for the name of our "team". Being the flippant type I fused together thoughts of naive beginners from the countryside (American Gothic painting of husband and wife) and what happens to folks who make fatal errors in mountaineering (frozen dead bodies). After kicking around some names we came up with something a little whimsical from the Oxford Climber's Dictionary:


n. Slang
An unsophisticated country person

ice rube

n. inexperienced climber
A frozen climber
a.k.a. Human Ice Cube or "Corpsicle"

Instead of Human Ice Cubes we were now Team Ice Rubes!

"Houston, the Ice Rubes have landed on Denali!!"

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