Preparing for any climb requires a number of steps, some of which can be stressful and some that come at you so quickly that intuition is your only guide. One step along your journey to the summit of Denali will find you at a small airport with a large group of climbers that you hardly know, and an inconceivable amount of gear that needs to find its way to Base Camp. This is a moment when stress can be high as this is your last chance to remember anything you may have forgotten.
It’s snowing, it’s blowing, this definitely isn’t Kansas anymore, and in fact, you aren’t even sure you are on planet Earth! Where are those puffy pants and how the heck are you going to get them on? Let’s see… you are at 20,000 feet, wearing big boots with crampons, harness on your waist, bundled under a big Michelin Man jacket and you absolutely dread the thought of taking your hands out of your mittens. It suddenly hits you, you are not in your living room and that you really, really, REALLY should have practiced with this more!
Mountain guides really prefer (read – insist!) wide mouth bottles so they avoid pouring water on their hands when filling them, and wide mouths are less likely to be plugged up when partially frozen. Two are recommended, but a small percentage of climbers should have three, especially in late season when it gets hot on the lower glacier.
What is the rest step? Simply put, the rest step is speed control. While climbing at altitude, on steep slopes, with a baby whale strapped to the back, it is difficult to go slow enough to maintain an efficient and aerobic pace. At several points you will probably hear your guides put a lot of stress in going steady, keeping the breathing under control and maintaining that efficient mountaineers’ pace that makes it possible for us mere mortals to climb one of the world’s great mountains like Denali. And one of that keys of that efficient pace is the rest step.
Keeping yourself thermo-regulated is important to conserving energy and you’re your general well being on and expedition. Technological advances in the textile industry have changed how we dress for the mountains and on Denali, we don’t need to follow the “old method” of piling insulated layers under a wind and waterproof shell.
As guides, we are tasked with helping you have an enjoyable time on your expedition and hopefully help you achieve your goal of standing on top of your mountain. Some of the the tools we bring to the table are our skills, honed through years of experience and training, our understanding of the region based on many previous expeditions, and our institutional knowledge that is shared among our team. Guiding big mountains is partly based in science (physics, math, meteorology, geology…) and partly art. Our goal is to help facilitate the best possible outcome for whatever situation presents itself.
An expedition begins long before you tighten your boots and begin hiking up the trail. Whether you’ve grasped it or not, you are already in the thick of your Denali expedition and you have already made numerous decisions that will ultimately affect your experience in the Alaska Range.
It doesn’t matter our intentions, mother nature is the boss, and if she says, “you ain’t going to do that,” you aren’t going to do that. This can plague us our entire trip if unlucky, but nothing is more frustrating than hitting Talkeetna raring to go, and then… nothing. Base Camp is socked in and the planes aren’t flying.
An expedition is a team effort and teams are strongest when there is clear, candid communication among all team members. Be honest with one another, even about little things. Often, minor situations become crises that otherwise could have been mediated early on, if only someone else knew about them.