1. The Transition:
The easy access to Denali, piling out of the pubs and hotels in Talkeetna, into a tiny plane and landing on the glacier an hour later can be an abrupt start to an expedition. You are there in an instant. Your first step is out onto the glacier, your new home a tent on the ice, your dinner burbles up on a tiny stove and the toilet is in a can, a very short, cold can with a bag inside.
There is no cure for this, you must consider it exciting and just be prepared for it – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a shock to the system.
2. The ropes, and more ropes:
Then you need to actually get out of the glacier camp. To do that you need to be roped, and attached to your sled, and if skiing, your skis attached to your harness. And your climbing rope should run over the top of your sled and be tied in there, so the sled doesn’t fall on your head when you fall in the crevasse. As a friend pointed out on my first climb ‘If you can just get past the toilet, you will be okay.’ A bit laughable but seemingly true. For the rest of the story, just read the book.
Don’t worry about looking foolish roping up and asking advice before you leave. Focus on getting down that first hill tied in and all in one piece.
3. The sled:
Unless you bring your own, you will have a yellow-blue-pink-orange, bath-tub shaped plastic sled tied to the back of your harness with long shoelaces. If you were 6 years old and on a good snow-slope, it could be fun. On Denali you will soon learn it has a mind of its own, sliding off in directions it shouldn’t logically go, tipping over, getting stuck and then breaking loose and attacking you when least expected.
The abage ‘oh, it’s easy to carry more weight,’ may be true, but as the trundle up the glacier it may well also be muttered frequently under your breath.
Pack your sled as if you had to carry it all on your back, then put it all in the sled, heavy items right at the bottom, gas at the other end from the food, tent and warm clothes on top. And the lighter you can make it, the better it will behave.
4. The Cold, with a capital C:
On Denali, you can go early season (May) and avoid some crevasses, which must be some of the biggest holes in the world. Or you can brave them and go when a bit warmer, but the odds go up you will fall into one of those holes. And as much as it is cold on Everest, oxygen and down suits help, which aren’t in use on Denali (at least not yet). So you will have to be prepared for temperatures that feel even colder and are more dangerous for your extremities. To ward off frostbite you may wish to read the article Dr. Chris Imray helped me out with to save those precious digits.
Take warm boots (6,000 meters about right, unless you really like clomping for days in an 8,000 meter boot), buy the best gloves you can, learn how to use mittens if you really must. Have a face mask that you have tested and approved that covers every inch of your face.
And remember, if you can get up Denali, it is a very good stepping stone to Everest. Or perhaps if you have been up Everest, it may turn out it was pretty good training for Denali.