Adventure beckoned. On May 31st, 2016, my dream to climb Denali officially started. I've been training, planning, and contemplating this moment for many years. I remember flying into Anchorage 16 years ago from Wisconsin actively pursuing adventure and silently dreaming of one day climbing the highest mountain in North America. Every twist and turn in my life has taken me one step closer. I 100% know that God has helped me and directed my steps along the way. Thank you Isty, Jason II, Isabelle, Paul, Mom, Dad, and siblings for all your endless support, love, and prayers! Thank you to my relatives, church, friends and co-workers for your ongoing belief and words of encouragement.
Enjoy the pictures and views of the summit!
Monday, May 23rd: Getting my gear ready for the expedition. In the end, with food and group gear, I had about 85 lbs. to carry between my pack and sled.
Tuesday, May 31st: My wife and children drove me to Talkeetna to meet up with my climbing team. We had an opportunity to walk down to the Susitna River, take some photos, throw rocks in the river, have dinner together, and stroll through the town prior to saying goodbye for several weeks.
My wonderful family! It was very difficult to say goodbye. I thought about them every day on my trip. They gave me strength along the way.
Wednesday, June 1st: After a night at the Talkeetna Motel, our team spent the day sorting gear at the K2 Aviation hanger and getting ready to fly onto the mountain. It was a very busy day!
Thursday, June 2nd: Due to weather, no planes could fly. Our hopes of getting to the Kahiltna Glacier would have to wait another day...
Friday, June 3rd: I woke up to another stormy sky over Denali. All forecasts indicated the likelihood of being grounded in Talkeetna until at least Sunday. We were all pretty bummed to say the least.
Finally, around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 3rd, we got word of a "small weather window" onto the glacier. Our pilot told our team to get ready and be prepared to fly out ASAP. With a surge of adrenaline, last minute phone calls home, and a frantic pace to pack up any last remaining gear, we boarded our plane in the pouring rain and prayed for safe travels to base camp.
One of many glorious views from our plane.
At 8:21 p.m., K2 Aviation landed our team at Kahiltna Base Camp, which lies at about 7,200 feet. Our journey to the top of Denali would need to cover almost 20 miles of distance and 13,000 feet of elevation. Whew! Let the fun begin!
Base Camp was a flurry of activity with climbers from all over the world setting up camp and/or preparing to begin their own personal journey or expedition.
I was so happy to be out of Talkeetna and onto the glacier. Denali can be seen in the background. The size and scale of the area, surrounding mountains, and glacier is beyond words.
Given that we were 1.5 days "behind schedule" due to weather, we decided not to set up camp at Kahiltna Base Camp. Our team organized gear and rigged sleds, ate a quick meal, and then started the 5 mile journey to the base of Ski Hill, which lies at 7,800 feet. After traveling all night, we arrived at our first camp around 5:00 a.m. on June 4th. Our team was exhausted but in good spirits!
Saturday, June 4th: After "sleeping in," I awoke to a white winter wonderland. This was the most snow that I saw all winter! Our plan for the day was to rest and acclimate.
Sunday, June 5th: Today we rigged our trusty sleds again and set out to cache food and gear somewhere between 9,600' and 10,400'. I enjoyed the slog up Ski Hill...
Monday, June 6th: After caching food and gear at 10, 400 the day before, our weather allowed up to move up to our 11,200' camp at the base of Motorcycle Hill.
Our team is taking a well-deserved food and water break along the route. The snow was deep but our optimism was high as we continued to make progress up the mountain to our 11K camp.
We made it to 11,200'! After a long day of hard work, now the fun of building camp begins!
Tuesday, June 7th: Our team awoke to cold, clear skies. However, the sun made our rest/acclimation day feel much better! It is amazing how the sun impacts a person's mood and outlook.
Wednesday, June 8th: The objective today was to climb Motorcycle Hill, head up Squirrel Hill and the Polo Field, traverse around Windy Corner and cache food and gear at 13,500'. Our team felt strong and decided to continue climbing up to 14K camp in order to maximize the acclimatization process. Upon reaching our destination, we took some obligatory pictures and descended back down to our 11K camp. One step and day closer to the summit of Denali!
Cresting the top of Motorcycle Hill. The views were stunning!
Hello from 14K camp!
The climb up to 14,200' was tough, so we greatly enjoyed being back down to 11K camp. We appreciated the thicker air, nicer weather, hot drinks, and food.
Thursday, June 9th: Rest and acclimatization! This was a wonderful day to relax, marvel at the views, read, listen to music, refuel, and further connect with team members.
Friday, June 10th: Time to break down camp and move to our 14K camp. Exciting!
Saturday, June 11th: A view of 14K camp as seen from the base of the fix lines. It reminds me of many of the remote Alaskan villages I encountered when I worked in rural Alaska. Today we rested and acclimated to the thin air and let our bodies recover in preparation for higher ground.
Sunday, June 12th: Mount Foraker as seen from 14K camp. We started our day early with cold weather. The plan for the day was to carry and climb up to the West Buttress and cache somewhere around Washburn's Thumb (approximately 16,500'), or higher if possible.
From 14K camp, it was daunting to look up at the fixed lines leading up to the West Buttress.
Climbing on the West Buttress! This is some of the best climbing on the entire expedition. The views were incredible and the climbing was exciting. We eventually carried to Washburn's Thumb before descending back down to 14K camp to sleep.
Standing on the Edge of the World! I enjoy heights, but the sheer drop of 6,000' down to the Kahiltna Glacier definitely had a slight pucker factor.
Tuesday, June 14th: Due to high winds above 14K, we rested, acclimated, and found solace in our tents, hearts, and minds.
Wednesday, June 15th: The forecast called for high winds above 14K through the morning, with tapering in the afternoon. We applied a bit more patience throughout the morning and then started our ascent and move to our camp at 17,200'. Climbing from 14K to 17K is really fun!
17K camp in sight! Finally, what a long hard day. I was exhausted by the time we got to camp. The crazy part is that we still had to set up and build camp. There was no hot shower or bed waiting.
Thursday, June 16th: Summit day! God gave us a small weather window to attempt the summit. We woke up early and geared up for a long day of climbing.
The summit ridge as seen from the top of Pig Hill. Oh my goodness!
The summit of Denali! I was overcome with emotion!
I was overjoyed to be standing on the summit of Denali! Thank you God! Truly an epic moment.
Friday, June 17th: After a successful summit, we carefully descended back to our 17K camp to sleep and prepare for our long continued descent down the mountain. This is a photo taken from our tent looking up towards Denali Pass from the Autobahn. So awesome!
Breaking down 17K camp. We are tired but still have many miles and days to get back to base camp. The forecast indicated a storm moving in as of the afternoon. Time to get down!
Despite high winds, blowing snow, and low visibility, we made it down to 11K camp. This photo is taken looking up towards Motorcycle Hill. The wind is roaring off the top. We decided as a team to keep descending to 7,800' in order to avoid being trapped at 11,200' for days.
Saturday, June 18th: Our team made it down from 17K to 7,800 in one long day. When we woke up our tent was covered in snow and the visibility was very low. The plan was to trek out to 7,200' base camp and call in a plane to get off the glacier and back to Talkeetna.
We made it back to the Kahiltna base camp! We called K2 Aviation and they somehow found a way to navigate the low visibility and pick us up. Wow! I was so relieved!
Sunday, June 19th: I'm back safely in Anchorage. Time to celebrate!
Thank you God, family, friends, and co-workers! My dream of climbing Denali has been fulfilled.
Do not fear: I am with you;
do not be anxious: I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10.