The Best Denali Trip, Thanks

Post by blogger | June 14, 2011      

For the second time in my life, a year ago today, I had the humbling privilege of standing on the summit of Denali. The first time, in 1973 we climbed in a storm and left our skis at Denali Pass. Subsequently, I regretted those abandoned skis for near on forty years. The second time, I remembered my skis and glided off the summit with my 20-year-old son, who was about the same age I was when I first climbed the Big One so many years ago. A man and a ski mountaineer could not ask for anything better.


The 2010 Wildsnow Denali Boys. Right to left: Jordan White, Lou Dawson, Louie Dawson, Caleb Wray, Colby Christoff, Tyler Christoff, and Joe Brannan. Click image to enlarge.

Making that second journey possible was a group of guys who are simply exceptional human beings. Caring. Willing to learn and be humbled by a mountain. Incredibly strong. Caleb, Colby, Joe, Jordan, Louie, Tyler — just a note to thank you all for what still looms in my mind like some sort of visit to heaven and back. I wish all of you a good life as mountaineers and as men. Be careful and humble, yet at the same time elegant and bold. Apply those principles to all parts of life. You will all go far.

Lou and Louie on the top! It was incredibly cold on the Denali Summit, at least 10 below zero with a stiff breeze.

Father Lou and son Lou 2 on the Denali summit, what an experience! I climbed slower than the other guys so Louie and I traveled as a separate team an hour or so behind them.

Oh, I also should have mentioned you can read through the whole live-blogged trip by starting at the bottom of this Denali category index.


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13 Responses to “The Best Denali Trip, Thanks”

  1. Tyler June 14th, 2011 9:22 am


    Thank you for your kind words, your patience, and most of all, your ability to impart wisdom (on some wild kids)

    Those few short weeks are certainly something that will always fuel my soul.


  2. Caleb Wray June 14th, 2011 10:43 am

    I suspect that trip will top the charts of my mind for many years to come. Truly a great team, a great mountain, and some great luck. Thanks for steering our ship towards success Lou! I took so much positive stuff home with me. Experience, friendships, memories, photos, life lessons, broken gear, and a strange sun tan among many others things. Hard to believe its been a year already.

    Following recent events on the Big One also keeps the perspective that what we do is serious business and the line between triumph and tragedy is still a thin one. My thoughts go out to those affected by a rather tragic year up there.

    Perhaps we need to all get together this summer for a BBQ, I sure would like to relive some of the comical events for the hundredth time?

  3. Lou June 14th, 2011 10:52 am

    I just spoke with Jordan about getting together at some point. Was thinking today but with only 4 of us around here that seemed better to put off till You, Joe and Louie can be around. Later in the summer would probably work, if Louie is in town.

  4. Lou June 14th, 2011 10:56 am

    Just wanted to mention as well that in addition to our excellent crew on the mountain, the support of folks back home had a lot to do with success. My wife Lisa was key, and Nick being our blog groundman was huge. Thanks to them and all the other home support as well!

    As I’ve said before but is worth repeating, we should never never forget that organizing and pulling off an un-guided trip that had all 7 members skiing from the summit of Denali with no more problems than some broken gear and sunburn was something to be very proud of. And arriving back still as friends was the icing on the cake. Just beautiful.

  5. Nick June 14th, 2011 11:01 am

    Awesome stuff – I loved following those TRs last year.

  6. Colby June 14th, 2011 2:37 pm

    Lou and everyone thanks so much for the wonderful trip! We’ll certainly have to get back together soon as a group and share some more stories! Until then take care and ski safe!

  7. Brian June 14th, 2011 3:08 pm

    I was grateful for your trip as well… the leftover bacon you supplied us at 14 was crucial while we waited out the next storm!

  8. Lou June 14th, 2011 3:33 pm

    Brian, I can just imagine. That was a bit of a howler that came in as we left. Nearly made Louie and I have to dig in on the side of Squirrel Hill. We would have been screwed, since we didn’t have any bacon (grin).

  9. Patrick June 14th, 2011 4:34 pm

    “Be careful and humble, yet at the same time elegant and bold.”

    Great words Lou.

  10. Jordan June 14th, 2011 6:30 pm

    Great memories from today as well Lou. Thank you for the words of wisdom and for bringing them back.

  11. Shawn June 15th, 2011 10:04 am

    I just returned from a successful summit via the West Butt. I’m still in that place where the enormity of the mountain (and journey) is still unraveling. Those last several days become a connected blur. Got lucky with the weather on the way up–got a taste of Denali’s power at 17 for a few days.
    I cant thank you guys enough for your, and prep posts from last year. Per your recommendation Lou, per your comments, I packed an Exped mat and it saved my trip! I’m 45 and pretty beat up, I slept like a baby. Worth the extra weight, for sure.
    It started off to be a sketchy season up there but the route (Autobahn) mellowed by the time we got up high…plus, everyone was hyper focused.
    Nothing better than a Roadhouse cinnamon bun post summit!

  12. Joe June 15th, 2011 10:49 am

    It was truly an honor to do that trip with you Lou. I am still shaking my head thinking back to how special those days were. A great-fun crew. I always come back to that moment when you and Louie came over the summit ridge as we were starting the ski. From then on I have this idea in my mind, your Gandalf the Wizard, always playing off like you don’t have the right stuff, and then when you aren’t looking… a unforgettable example of humbleness for us youngins. Thanks man!

  13. Chris Eldred June 24th, 2011 2:24 pm

    I figured I would post this here since any responses will have useful information for other future Denali planners.
    Dear Lou Dawson,

    I have been an avid follower of your blog for the past few years and I was very excited to hear about your successful expedition on Denali. I am currently planning an expedition to climb the West Buttress of Denali during May/June of 2012 and we are also looking into skiing the route. I had some questions about this that hopefully you guys can help me with:

    Gear Questions:

    -Would it be possible to get a copy of your full gear lists?

    -Did you find the extra configuration on your sleds worthwhile? We were planning on only taking sleds to 11K and then double or triple carrying to 14K. We might take one sled to 14K to haul down any food/fuel we can’t give away when descending.

    -Where did you find your large (5/6L) pots? The only lightweight aluminum pot I have been able to find in that size range is the GSI Bugaboo Basecamper.

    -How many stoves did you take? We have a group of 4 and were planning on taking 3 stoves- 2 for melting water and 1 for boiling water/cooking.

    -For your cooking system, did you find the lack of a heat exchanger or pot cover to have a significant impact on efficiency?

    -What were your thoughts on your solar charging set-up? If we are just going to be charging Ipods and E-readers, is a smaller set-up adequate?

    -Did ever feel like it was necessary to build a snowcave or did the Nammataj tents hold up to the storms?

    -How are ski boots kept warm enough for Denali? Our plan is to use ski overboots (probably the 40 Below versions) along with Intuition liners in over-sized AT boots that will fit a VB sock system (very similar to what you guys did). Do you feel this will be sufficient? I was also wondering how well the ski overboots worked with step-in crampons- should the neoprene be trimmed near the toes and heel or do the bails compress it enough for a solid fit?

    -How much technical gear for glacier/crevasse rescue did you take?

    -What are your thoughts on the use of softshell bibs coupled with WPB shell pants rather than soft-shell pants coupled with WPB shell bibs for the upper mountain? Did you find the Arc’Teryx bibs breathable enough?

    -Do you feel that a full-on WPB shell jacket is necessary or is a good wind shell sufficient?

    -Are helmets necessary for the WB route?

    Route/Trip Questions:

    -On the upper mountain, where do you suggest roping up? My understanding is that on the WB ridge, unless one is placing protection for a running belay it is more dangerous to be roped than unroped since a fall is likely to take the whole rope team down.

    -For skiing downhill, which sections do you recommend being roped up for? We were planning on skiing roped downhill on the lower mountain (below 14K) but are unsure about the upper mountain.

    -Do you have any beta for ski descents from the summit and the Orient/Messner/Rescue couloirs or the Headwall?

    -As far as skins go, from the photos and trip beta I have read it seems that they are not useful beyond the headwall up to the WB ridge. Would they be useful for coming back from skiing the Messner/Orient/Rescue couloirs or can those sections be skated?

    -How necessary is it to wand routes? We were planning on bringing a GPS and using that for white-out navigation on the lower glacier and using wands mainly to mark caches.


    -How did the pre-cooked bacon work out?

    -What are your thoughts on rations and food- how many lbs per person per day. We were planning on 2lbs/pppd but are unsure if that will be sufficient calories to keep us warm if the weather turns.

    Again congratulations on your successful ascent.

    Chris Eldred

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