WildSnow Denali 2010!

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 1, 2009      

Denali, 1973. After nine days of snow cave groveling in a storm at 18,000 foot Denali Pass, we stumbled to the summit as the deadly Alaskan weather cleared enough for us to see the wand route leading up through scudding clouds. Luckily we were well acclimated from 35 days on the Muldrow and Harper glaciers, so no one died of altitude sickness. Even so I puked my guts out all the way to the summit, probably from carbon monoxide poisoning as I was guy who ran one of the stoves at the upper level in our snow cave.

Or perhaps I was nauseous because I’d left my skis behind. Yeah, we had the gear. We had the skill. A couple of us could have been the first North Americans to ski from the summit of North America (and perhaps even the first to claim a true ski descent). But it didn’t happen.


Jordan checks out the super-sized Scarpa Intuition Universal boot liners he'll be using for Denali in his Scarpa Skookums. Yes, that is indeed the largest liner Intuition makes, and they just barely fit big enough to be safe for Denali. Jordan is big. But he's strong.

Fast forward to now. Jordan Whit and his buddies (see below) asked me if I wanted to go again. Goal, to indeed ski from the summit of Denali. When Jordan asked, I realized I’d been thinking of that same thing for 30 years. More, my son Louie and I had talked about how cool it would be to ski off the top together! So we’re making it happen this spring.

As this is a WildSnow.com trip, a big part of our mission will be gear testing and blogging from now till we return with a summit, (or with no summit and our tails between our legs). The sponsors think we’ll do ok, and so do I. We’ve got an excellent team and terrific selection of committed gear sponsors so far, with more coming up. Thanks goes to Black Diamond, Scarpa/Intuition, K2, Backcountry Access and North Face, more to be announced soon as agreements are finalized.

Our plan is to climb the classic Kahiltna Glacier West Buttress route, then ski whatever line (or lines) are appropriate. At the least, it’s possible with a modicum of snow cover to ski back down the standard route, and if conditions (include your own) make it work, you can do big lines such as Messner Couloir. And there is always the North Summit if the weather is good and you’ve got the time. Look for a series of Denali gear-prep blogs throughout the winter, then daily updates here once we commence the trip in late May 2010!


    Joe Brannan—Joe, 26, a diehard ski-mountaineering addict, recently became the 6th man in history to ski all 54 Colorado 14.000 foot peaks. Joe spends his time climbing and skiing around Colorado. He will be getting married a week after our return from Alaska.
    Colby Christoff—Colby, 23, ski raced at Syracuse University. He moved to Colorado a year ago and explores the backcountry year round. Colby is determined to complete whatever the task may be.
    Tyler Christoff—Tyler, 26, like his brother Colby, grew up ski racing. He raced at Syracuse University, making Nationals multiple years. Three years ago he moved to Aspen to pursue a different sort of skiing. Tyler has rapidly grown into a strong mountaineer, and has the perfect form that most skiers only dream of.
    Lou Dawson—Lou, 58, author of the book Wild Snow as well as WildSnow.com, is a ski mountaineering veteran . He is the first man in history to ski all of the Colorado 14ers, and climbed Denali in 1973. A member of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Lou is still an avid ski mountaineer living in Colorado, with his wife, Lisa.
    Louie Dawson—Louie, 19, is the youngster on our team, but experienced nonetheless. Louie is Lou’s son and has been skiing backcountry since he could walk. Louie skis the high peaks in Colorado and Washington while pursuing a degree in Industrial Design at Western Washington University.
    Nick Thompson—Nick, 26, is our ground person back in Colorado who will be making sure our blog posts get published correctly. He brings an incredible amount of skiing and mountaineering experience to the team. Nick grew up climbing and skiing in the mecca of Telluride.
    Jordan White—Jordan, 23, is a ski mountaineering fanatic and incredibly strong alpinist. on May 3rd, 2009 he became the 5th man to ski the 14ers. This will be his third of the Seven Summits. Currently he spends most of his time exploring the Colorado mountains.
    Caleb Wray—Caleb, 32, a Colorado ski mountaineer and photographer, is heading back for a second attempt at the big one. Caleb has skied over thirty of the Colorado 14ers in 18 months, made many Cascade and Sierra descents, and completed a possible first solo descent on the Mongolian/Russian Border last September.

(First ski descent of peak, Mount McKinley, West Buttress, Tsuyoshi Ueki, July 5. He probably did a fine and complete descent, but I like to think we could have perhaps done better and thus claimed to have been the first. Yeah, I know, Lou’s off in fantasy land. Just allow me to dream in reverse, it’s fun once in a while.)


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40 Responses to “WildSnow Denali 2010!”

  1. dongshow October 1st, 2009 9:21 am

    Good luck, hopefully the weather is sunny and still!

  2. Mike Ben October 1st, 2009 9:30 am

    Sounds like an awesome father son trip! Good luck to you guys

  3. Hans October 1st, 2009 10:08 am

    Looks like a good group!
    Ty and Colby-bring your SU SKI team T-shirts to the top and get a summit shot with it in it! If you need one I’ve got a couple I’d loan you! I’ll be following this avidly!

  4. Nick October 1st, 2009 10:30 am

    Good luck. Lou – any thoughts on blogging via SAT or something from the various CAMPs? Just to make it harder on you :tongue:

  5. Tuck October 1st, 2009 10:30 am

    Godspeed. Very exciting.

  6. Randonnee October 1st, 2009 10:57 am

    All the best! I am so looking forward to following your climb and ski descent!

  7. Lou October 1st, 2009 11:06 am

    Nick, there will be blogging done from the mountain. Not sure how elaborate, but I’ve got high hopes and will be testing the system this winter.

  8. Halsted October 1st, 2009 12:34 pm

    Remember come home with ALL the fingers and toes…. 😉

  9. Jason Hummel October 1st, 2009 1:34 pm

    Awesome. Best of luck! I was going up there myself next season, but I lost my job, which shouldn’t be an excuse, right? I hope the weather is nice for you and the crowds aren’t too bad.

  10. Andy_L October 1st, 2009 1:50 pm

    need another photographer?? 🙂

  11. Sam Grenlie October 1st, 2009 3:08 pm

    Ummm… sick. Double generation ski descent. Wow.

    Hopefully see you guys on the glacier or around Talkeetna next spring.

  12. Colin in CA October 1st, 2009 3:33 pm

    Definitely a “hell yeah.”

  13. Jason October 1st, 2009 5:11 pm

    We want live updates! Sat phone video uploads! RAD TRIP GUYS!

  14. Mark W October 1st, 2009 9:26 pm

    So it is true, the trip to ski Denali. I’ll be checking often for any details. Sounds like a dream for sure. Good luck.

  15. CCD October 2nd, 2009 9:50 am

    Count me in as, let’s see— the CEO!!! Camp manager!!! Head whatever!!! Truck driver!!! Sherpa!!! Or-perhaps I’ll just watch from here, and imagine..
    Sounds like a wonderful trip, what a great group..here’s to a great success in the land of the midnight sun!!

  16. Zoran October 2nd, 2009 10:14 am

    Occasionally some famous people pop-up on Denali. Like Marko Prezelj, Steve House or Peter Hillary (etc.) but this coming Spring, you will be the most famous guaranteed. Regardless who will show up!
    I am sure many people will come to your tent to pay their respect to our ski Guru.

  17. CCD October 2nd, 2009 10:17 am

    Yes, Zoran, perhaps Lou could sit cross legged atop the peak and we could all climb up for an audience with the great one!! HEHE

  18. Andrew McLean October 2nd, 2009 10:29 am

    Stand tall and never fall. 😉

    Let me know if you need to borrow a pee bottle – I have a bunch of them.

  19. Matt Kinney October 2nd, 2009 11:31 am

    Good luck. I wonder if you summit if you will go down on record with the longest time frame between summiting Denali? 37 years is a long time. now you gotta really get in shape!! Maybe see ya in Valdez while your up here.

  20. Lou October 2nd, 2009 9:37 pm

    Yes, I’ll dig a snowcave on top and live on snow crystals after achieving the enlightened state of being (grin) that’s the promise of Denali.

    Actually, I appreciate the confidence you guys have in me even getting part way up the glacier, let alone the summit. But I’ll try. At least I’ve got someone along to carry my computer (though that’ll cost me).

    And in all seriousness, thanks everyone for the spirited atta-boys. It will definitely be interesting climbing onto that bush plane and landing on the Kahiltna. As in, what have I done! Or, where is the weisbeer?

    I’ve indeed been training. Diligently lap swimming all summer to let the knees recover from the big winter, now segueing back to biking and hiking. And at the moment MIA in Moab — today’s 12 hours straight of hardcore jeeping will toughen anyone up (but I’ll get in a bike ride tomorrow just so Andrew doesn’t scold me the next time I see him.)

  21. Brian October 3rd, 2009 6:08 am

    WOW! This is great Lou. Really looking forward to the updates on this trip. What other trips do you have coming up for this year?

  22. Zoran October 3rd, 2009 7:22 am

    You mentioned sponsors and you probably think about ski equipment.
    That is fine but I think you shouldn’t worry about ski stuff a lot. Ski gear is so good this days, it if will be almost impossible to fail.
    I feel free enough to suggest three things for you. You need good overboots, mask and good gloves. We already know you are OR fan, so go for AltiMitts. There is a great mask called Cold Avenger. Company’s name is Talus Outdoor Tech.
    I think you will take your Zzero4 up?
    Check PurpleHaze Overboots from 40Bellow this Winter. If you take care of your toes, fingers and nose all your stuff from your closet right now will be sufficient. Have fun!
    You will be stunned how good place Denali is for socializing with teams from many different nations. You will be suprised how many people you know already.
    At Camp4 fake some illness, they always have a cute nurse there. :angel:

  23. Jordan October 3rd, 2009 10:12 am

    Ye haw boys.
    Can’t wait to be landing on that glacier up there with you and the rest of the crew. It’s been a long time coming.

  24. Lou October 3rd, 2009 4:08 pm

    Thanks for the advice everyone! It sounds like the weather up there during early June varies quite a bit, so you have to be ready for either mellow conditions up high, or fairly frigid temps. We’re not using overboots, but rather oversized plastic ski boots with closed-cell foam liners. I’ve heard that’s sufficient. Not totally sure about that, but I figured some high altitude test missions in Colorado in December could make it clear what keeps our feet warm and what doesn’t. We’re working with OR to see what we can come up with in the way of mitts and such, should be interesting to see what hand protection combos we end up with.

  25. Louie Dawson October 3rd, 2009 5:47 pm

    Wohoo, I’m stoked. Going to be an amazing trip, no matter what. All my friends up at school are jealous.

  26. Joe October 4th, 2009 8:55 am

    I keep pinching myself. This is going to be unreal. Thanks to all the sponsors and Lou for making this happen.

  27. nick October 4th, 2009 5:53 pm

    I’m psyched to be included in such an impressive roster; this will certainly be an incredible trip. Lou and Jordan have been working overtime the last few months to get this trip together, thanks to you guys and to our sponsors for making this happen!

  28. Caleb October 4th, 2009 10:19 pm

    I have a great feeling about this trip fellas. I am sincerely looking forward to climbing with such a strong and experienced team. Thanks to all for the hard work that has been done and will be done to make this happen. Seems we are adhering to the 6 P’s, the key to expedition success.

    I also want to personally thank the quality sponsors that have signed on. The added dimensions of gear testing and blogging are really going to make this an interesting trip. I am sure many Wildsnow fans know how harsh Alaska can be, and great gear makes all the difference.

    See you Wednesday fellas.

  29. Tyler October 5th, 2009 8:14 am

    Definitely the trip of a lifetime! I can’t think of a better group of guys to head to Alaska with. A big thanks to the participation of some great gear sponsors. I’m pumped to give all this stuff a thorough beat down…..ah I mean testing. Colby and I have a bit different background from the rest of the crew. Should result in some interesting blogging.

  30. Lee Lau October 5th, 2009 9:20 am

    What a fortunate thing it is for father son to be able to attempt this together. Such a strong party. It’s going to be fun no matter how it turns out.

    Best of luck and weather to you all

  31. Lou October 5th, 2009 9:26 am

    Indeed Lee and all, simply amazing. Being on those Alsakan glaciers is such a trip. This will only be my third time on the big AK peaks and glaciers, but some of those previous experiences were the most powerful of my whole career as an alpinist.

  32. shoveler October 5th, 2009 12:48 pm

    This is so cool, you guys should be gettin your whole ticket written by a sponsor.

  33. Colby October 5th, 2009 12:50 pm

    Can’t wait for the trip! Excited to test out some new gear and appreciate all the sponsors helping the team out! Thanks to everyone who is helping make this happen. Should be a great winter getting ready for Denali. Pray for snow!

  34. Caleb October 5th, 2009 4:46 pm

    Agree with the “Should be a great winter getting ready for Denali” comment Colb. What an excuse to get after it in the backcountry.

  35. Drew Pogge October 6th, 2009 10:33 am

    Looking forward to the TRs! What an incredible opportunity of both you and Louie. I wish I was able to do anything remotely approaching the magnitude of this trip with my Dad. Best of luck fellas!

  36. Craig October 12th, 2009 8:45 pm

    If you need someone to yell from the back of a rope team to slow down every 15 minutes, and ski down slower than everyone else in case they drop something, let me know.

  37. Caleb P. October 12th, 2009 9:40 pm

    Not the same Caleb, but I will be on Denali in May as well. I’m climbing with team Denali for cops on top. We climb to honor fallen police officers. Glad to be on the mountain the same time as you folks. check out the website all!! See you up there! http://www.copsontop.com

  38. Tom Mc October 14th, 2009 8:43 pm

    Sounds great. We’ll be there in the spring also. Maybe climbing the west rib. What are your dates for the climb?

  39. Gael Stahl May 21st, 2010 5:38 pm

    Any gear Caleb Wray recommends, I want to have. I was at the base of the mountain thought to be yet a virgin unskied mountain when Caleb skied it. At that intersection we saw nearly adjoining peaks in Mongolia, China, Khazakstan, and Russia. I collected the names of every piece of equipment Caleb used. The guy has taste. Hope the sponsors give him the best they have for this jaunt,

  40. Jake Davis June 14th, 2010 12:26 pm

    All the luck to go guys!!! Sounds like an amazing experience!

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