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.
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.)