Denali Practice Trip 2.0

Post by blogger | February 2, 2010      

Denali is definitely big (hence the name) and definitely cold (~150 miles from the arctic circle). However, having previously led my own expedition up this burly peak, I feel the real crux of the west butt route is the camping. Our crew skis well, our crew climbs well, but living for 3 weeks in this harsh environment takes ample planning and practice. As Lou has rightly stated several times, we don’t want to go up there and make do, we want to step on the glacier like a well engineered machine.

Tyler skiing.

Tyler with the Sawatch as the backdrop.

So we’ve been getting out to test gear, cooking, and other camp strategies as often as possible. Unfortunately, with many busy lives it isn’t always easy to get everyone together at once. However when 6 of our crew members are free for a weekend, I consider it a fine opportunity. This so happened a couple of weeks ago, and up into Colorado’s central mountains we went.

I think we all noticed efficiency improvements from our first team training trip. Good news, but still a lot of tuning to do. Here were some of my observations from the trip, pretty much as reported to my cohorts via email two days after our return. A lot of gear talk, but that is the way it works on these types of trips. You start with a gear list, then you try to find the best product or homemade solution to fill each check box, while perfecting your camp and carry systems along the way.

Denali training trip Vail Backcountry

These north facing trees made for a facet tossing contest as we dug out our camp space. It reminded me that big shovel blades and strong backs are a must.

* The big winner for the weekend was the GoLite Shangri-La 6+ Shelter. We all agreed on its merits for the Denali trip. Warm, big enough for 8, two doors, well ventilated, and I think better for us than the 2 BD Mega Light system we’ve been using, though we also love the ‘Mids and have been using those extensively as well. (advertised specs: 2 Mega Lights = 102sq ft & 4lbs 10oz, The GoLite = 135sq ft & 5lbs 4oz). The Shangri-La does need a few mods (like double zips on the doors) but then again it’s rare that any piece of gear on a Wildsnow trip escapes at least one modification. I would still like to get this spacious cooking and relaxing temple into some real weather. Promising so far though.

GoLite Shangri-La

5 star dinner under the big top -- GoLite Shangri-La 6+ shelter.

* I was finally able to use my NEOS overshoes in a live fire situation. I was skeptical about their utility on a trip like Denali, but I think I am coming around. My insulated camp booties fit in them nicely and the traction combined with the high cuff make for a compelling camp-work footwear choice. I think I am leaning towards taking them. I just have to be careful about the breathability. Heavy activity seems to cause some unwanted condensation build up. I have some ideas on how to manage this that I will experiment with.

* The Big Agnes Cyclone camp chair system is working well for me so far (and only 6oz). This will be added to all my future overnight trips I think. Still curious about durability, but so far so good.

* TNF Himalayan Parka beats my Marmot 8000m and MH Absolute Zero by a leap and a bound. The front zip is a bit difficult to get started, but that is minor, I suspect that it will improve with use. It also needs some enlarged inside pockets for water bottles and perhaps some loops for boot liners (hmm more mods, surprising). The materials and existing pockets are great though. I have been using it a little too often and reluctantly had to give it a wash. It held up very well and came out looking like new. I think this box can be checked.

* We should all get one of those GSI Fairshare mugs. I was jealous. They are perfect for this type of trip and cheap. Though again we will need to add something to attach the lid to the handle and perhaps locate some foam to make insulators for the exterior.

* Lou’s new MSR XGK needs some more study. Despite taking it apart several times, we had a heck of a time keeping the gas flowing on this trip and earlier in the week on Buffalo Pass. I am convinced there is a defective part. Will see what Lou can figure out after some garage surgery. The other XGKs burned like jet engines as usual.

* The new stove board Louie constructed worked really well. We came up with a few improvements to add before replicating more though. Like a shape change and stove leg fasteners. The material is perfect.

* Time to get serious about our snow melting system. Perhaps two 6-8 liter lightweight aluminum pots with added drain valves, insulators, and heat exchangers. Our current system is about as efficient as my typing skills.

* We need to name label all of our gear. There are so many matching items that confusion is certainly just around the corner.

GoLite Shangri-La at night.

As the sunset and the temp dropped into the low teens, we sat cozy under our circus tent discussing food, cooking, and then more food.

Bacon and butter sponsor. I believe every meal we discussed had one or both of these ingredients. Yummmmm.

Oh yeah, when we weren’t camping, we did a little skiing too.

Joe skiing.

Joe happy to be skiing something besides 14ers.

Nick skiing.

A rare sighting of Nick on AT gear.

Colby skiing.

Colby mistaking the trees for race gates.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


20 Responses to “Denali Practice Trip 2.0”

  1. mark z February 2nd, 2010 11:47 am

    Id be happy to be the bacon and butter sponsor…. Colorado homemade for some BD deals.

  2. ed February 2nd, 2010 12:23 pm

    Caleb/Lou –

    Would really like to know what you find out on the MSR XGK. Mainly, what you find wrong with it, but also how you are using it (fuel, heat shields, 1/2 open valve..etc) for melting snow.

    I bought this thing cause it’s supposed to be sturdy/bombproor & i don’t have much patience for finicky things. 🙂

    I purchased one of these brand new about 3 years ago now (used sparingly) & it causes me problems in the cold. I only use white gas/coleman fuel. No problems starting & for the first boil, but it always seems to just cut out and die after a consistent amount of time has passed. temps averaged somewhere between -5 and -20C (no wind). Not THAT cold anyways.

    I’m convinced its gas flow/pressure related, but i took it apart as well & couldn’t find anything out of order. I wonder if there is any point in somehow trying to insulate the fuel bottles tor keep the fuel warmer??


  3. Lou February 2nd, 2010 12:34 pm

    I’m going to be more than bummed if my new XGK doesn’t work as well as my older ones. I mean, I’ll be more than bummed, I’ll be furious. Jordan brought it back and I hope to mess around with it today. But I’ll admit I’m already pretty pissed off.

  4. tom lionvale February 2nd, 2010 12:49 pm

    lou about the problem with the msr xgk stove, try removing the shaker unite for better fuel flow. tom

  5. Mark February 2nd, 2010 2:23 pm

    Are you taking overboots? I have always just used the overboots with my sleep booties inside as camp footwear.

  6. Lou February 2nd, 2010 4:25 pm

    Mark, that’s the thing, not taking overboots at this point and wanting everyone to have footwear they can really work in and not be stuck in ski boots in camp. If you’re using climbing boots, it’s much easier to function as they can be used comfortably around camp. Overboots are tough to use with ski boots. Instead, we’re all fitting our boot quite carefully.

  7. Brian February 2nd, 2010 5:50 pm


    wondering what material you used for your stove board? Throwing around some ideas for ours right now…


  8. Halsted February 2nd, 2010 6:18 pm

    How many folks are going on this grand adventure?


  9. Louie Dawson February 2nd, 2010 6:21 pm

    For the stove board I used some 1/4 inch plywood, cut with a jigsaw and sanded. I cut a piece of aluminum flashing and used silicone caulk to glue it to the wood. Nice and simple. The silicone took a loooong time to dry though.


  10. Lou February 2nd, 2010 6:56 pm

    And, I’m looking for some slabs of honeycomb carbon fiber.

  11. Lou February 3rd, 2010 7:24 am

    Halsted, our group is around 7. Fairly large which creates some logistical issues but is fun at the same time.

    More here:

  12. KevinD February 3rd, 2010 8:01 am

    Since you are using Hilleberg tents, did you consider the Altai yurt style communal tent they make?

    Looks interesting, but not sure if it handles big mountain weather.

  13. David February 3rd, 2010 12:50 pm

    I think the melting snow topic is rich enough to warrant its own post.

    MSR liquid gas stoves are usually pretty reliable, but there are sometimes when they just lag and it is difficult to ascertain why. I have also used new XGK’s that are wimpy while their seemingly identical neighbor is a rocket. When there is a group waiting for water or hot drinks this is a major pain.

    While I use heat exchangers on the pots with XGKs and find them to definitely increase efficiency, they do not seem anywhere near as sophisticated/efficient as the integrated pot systems found on jetboils/reactors etc.

  14. DK February 3rd, 2010 1:00 pm


    Lou’s new MSR XGK needs some more study. Despite taking it apart several times, we had a heck of a time keeping the gas flowing on this trip and earlier in the week on Buffalo Pass. I am convinced there is a defective part. Will see what Lou can figure out after some garage surgery. The other XGKs burned like jet engines as usual.

    Try removing the dip tube filter on the pump if you are in very cold weather and have fuel flow issues. White gas often contains parafin wax and which solidifies in the cold and can clog filters. You can either freeze and prefilter your fuel or remove the dip tube filter on the pump during cold weather trips.

  15. A-train February 3rd, 2010 1:21 pm

    New XGK’s are no good. My friend has climbed and skied Denali the past two years and bought new XGK model and had issues both times. For a group that size and for three+ week trip canisters seem out too. I’ve used and loved Optimus Nova. Metal (maybe alum) pump, fuel control for pancakes (I’m a guide so yes I know how to control BTU output through pressure on XGK) and cranks almost as many BTU’s.

  16. Christian February 3rd, 2010 2:39 pm

    Do you think this camp will survive a heavy snowfall or strong winds?
    That aside. My best friend climbed Denali a couple of years back. His main observation was that people brought too much stuff, so they had to walk twice as much as he/they did.

  17. Lou February 3rd, 2010 4:13 pm

    I did a major test yesterday and made 5 liters of water from snow in 18 minutes. The only time the stove quit was when I dripped water on the flame spreader, or when I over pressurized it and opened the valve all the way. It’s super important to only give it 10 pumps or so, start it, then pump a bit more till the sound is right. Then just give it one or two pumps every 10 minutes or so. Dripping water quenched it very effectively I did the same test with my Whisperlite and it took 27 minutes to melt the same amount of snow.

    I’ll try it again tonight when it’s cold. Am wondering what kind of fuel they sell up on the glacier. We definitely need to bring a good filter. If it’s a wax problem it would probably help to add some acetone, but they won’t let you bring anything like that in the plane. I’ll keep the filter removal trick in mind.

    I did my first test with the shaker jet, then removed it for another test. Didn’t notice any change but I’m just going to leave it out and see what happens.

  18. Nick February 3rd, 2010 6:19 pm

    “While I use heat exchangers on the pots with XGKs and find them to definitely increase efficiency, they do not seem anywhere near as sophisticated/efficient as the integrated pot systems found on jetboils/reactors etc.” – David

    David – one obviously huge problem with jetboils/reactors, as well as with any canister stove, is that they essentially do not work in extremely cold temps. When relying on the canister for pressure (due to no pump), cold temps render the pressure lower until they frankly will not work. Going to Denali, there is no way I would take those.

    Although – I don’t think that is what you were saying – I think you were just mentioning the heat exchange is better with those canister stoves.

    Andrew Mclean has a really cool stove system that seems to attempt to solve some efficiency problems with the XGK:

  19. Jim Lamb February 4th, 2010 5:45 pm

    Lou and Denali team-

    I suggest you talk Patrick Smith out of a loaner/demo 8 man tipi/liner/sst pin set for use as your basecamp/group gathering shelter. Really windproof.

    No, I am not sponsored by them, I just own a 6 man and it is ideal for winter camping with a group.


  20. Gael Stahl February 7th, 2010 2:15 pm

    I’ve never heard of this specific new equipment and find it fascinating. When Caleb skied the peaks at the tip of the northwest border of Mongolia a couple of years ago, I marveled at his equipment. But your preparation for Denali is even more revealing. One says most bring along too much too often. But something about your spending 3 weeks at the top of the frigid earth makes me fear your going without anything essential. And by that, I realize that daily dark chocolate may not be the dearest essential of the high life after all. Do keep these reports coming. ~Gael Stahl :sick:

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