Denali Update 2 of 6: A Slow Start

In 6. Denali, North America, Project 7in4by Steve

Denali Day 1, 21-Mar-2018: Flight In

This afternoon got dropped off on the glacier at the foot of Denali, the site of the normal base camp. It was a remarkable flight from Talkeetna over epic winter Alaskan scenery. It was a bit of a reality check when the plane took back off leaving the 4 of us standing knee deep in snow, isolated and alone. We are the first team in this season. There is nobody else on the mountain anywhere. Considering it was mid-afternoon by the time we got dropped off, we set camp and will commence tomorrow.

Denali Day 2, 22nd-Mar-2018: A Frustrating Start

What a frustrating day in the most beautiful (and cold) place! Made bugger all progress trying to wade through knee deep snow while pulling a really heaving sled. There was just too much weight on these cheap plastic tubs they call sleds and they kept rolling every few minutes. We persevered for several hours and only made 1.6km, well short of the required 11km to our planned destination. We’ve set camp where we are and are nice and comfortable for the night. Tomorrow we’ll try a different tactic – cache and carry. We’ll do a lighter load carry day to move half our gear up, come back, then move our camp up the following day. It will triple the distance traveled, going up, back down and then back up, but hopefully can make some forward progress. We’ll see how it works!

Denali Day 3, 23-Mar-2018: Load Carry Day

What a magnificent day! Perfect weather, spectacular scenery and made great progress. Carried a load of food, fuel and gear up to the bottom of the “Ski Slope”, stashed it there and returned back down the glacier to our camp. About a 16km round trip. Tomorrow we’ll move our camp up to where we stashed the gear today. We now have a pretty good packed trail through the soft snow so hopefully tomorrow will be a bit quicker. After a demoralising day yesterday making near zero progress we’re feeling a bit better about life today.

Denali Day 4, 24-Mar-2018: Up to Ski Hill

Another day in paradise! Hashbrowns and bacon fried up in copious amounts of butter to kick start the day. Does it get any better? Pulled camp and moved up to the bottom of the “Ski Hill” where we’re staying tonight. It was ten times easier today just following the track we put in yesterday. This afternoon Jon and I then pushed further on and did a load carry to about 3000m before descending back down. It is tough, slow going but we’re chipping away at it.

Denali Day 5, 25-Mar-2018: Up to 11K Camp

A fairly solid day today! This morning did a load carry with food and group gear to the cache we started yesterday. Pack weight slightly shy of 40kg, ~600m up and back down again, round trip 7.2km. Back down for a quick lunch then pulled down camp and headed back up again, this time with camping equipment and personal gear. Heading back up we pushed on past our cache and continued to 3315m where we’re camping tonight. Approx. 1000m elevation gain above last night’s camp. Although we still have a cache slightly back down the hill which we need to bring up. A job for tomorrow.

Second time up was with packs and sleds. While total weight was probably less than what I had the first time up this morning, with the sleds it was a real drag (pun intended). Lesson learnt; heavily weighted packs are still a million times better than sleds.

On the way back up one of our fuel cans with white gas leaked through the bottom of my sled. Now my duffle, which was in the sled, and all its contents stinks of gas. This just reinforced my hatred for these wretched bloody sleds. My two pet hates for this expedition so far; sleds and snow shoes!

The leaking gas in the sled was on top of somehow getting gas into our cooking pot last night while melting snow and subsequently putting contaminated water into all our water bottles. We’ve been super careful but somehow accidents still happen. Fortunately recoverable, albeit with a lingering gas smell.

And talking about accidents, I just went to put a 1L Nalgene bottle filled with boiling water into my sleeping bag as a hot water bottle for the night. After double checking the lid was secure it still spilt boiling water in my crutch. Another lesson learnt; don’t buy cheap Nalgene bottles from Nepal.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”