Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Climber and Mountain Update

Colby Coombs, Josh Hoeschen, and Mr. Nubo Huang are now established at the 17,200' high camp and if all goes as planned they will try for the summit July 1st. AMS guide, Nick D'Alessio is a part of this expedition and today he helped the team a great deal by carrying extra loads up high today, June 30, he is at the 14,200' camp. I am willing to bet that Nick will be the most popular guide on the mountain tomorrow, July 1. Colby called me tonight and they are all feeling very well.

Nick will be a big help to Rob Gowler and Forest Wagner's team when they roll into the 14,200' camp on July 1st. I am sure he will greet them with his big smile and full pots of water. Hey, it's an arduous job melting pots of snow into water up there! At 14,200', a pot of hot water is similar to a big bag of gold for a mountain guide. :-)

Phil Ershler and Eben Reckord's IMG/AMS team have safely returned to Talkeetna and are now on their way home.

We expect Mike Hamill and Greg Vernovage's team in Talkeetna sometime July 1st.

The weather has been glorious both in Talkeetna and in the whole of the Alaska Range for the past several days. The days ahead look to be super for the climbers as well.

All Best,

Monday, June 29, 2009

Evening Mountain Update

Mike Hamill's team reached the top today! 2 team members turned back with guide, Greg Vernovage at Archdeacon's Tower at 19,650 feet, that's a great deal of work and a tremendous accomplishment in itself! Well done everyone! As of 8:00 pm they all had returned to the 17,200' high camp. They had a sunny, calm weather, but it was cold up there at 20,320' today. Everyone is well and they plan to be back in Talkeetna on Wednesday.

Rob Gowler called in. He and his team are having a great time and feeling well. Today they had a semi rest day and went back down to 9,800' to pick up their cache. Tonight they are eating "Mountain Pizza", a Denali meal Rob created many years back at AMS, and our teams have been enjoying it for years. It is tasty both in the mountains and at home, maybe if you're nice, he'll give you the recipe. :-) The team is planning on carrying some of their extra food, fuel and gear up toward Windy Corner tomorrow and caching it.

We expect Phil Ershler's team out tomorrow, Tuesday, June 30.

Colby Coombs and crew rested at 14,200' today and plan to make the move up to the high camp at 17,200' tomorrow, they are speedy!

We will get some photos up for you tomorrow.


Monday Update 6/28

Phil Erschler called from 17,200' this morning. They did summit yesterday and are moving down today.
Mike Hamill, Greg Vernovage and their team is going for it today!

Colby's group is resting at 14,200' camp today. They plan to move up tomorrow.
Rob & Forest's team is camped at 11,000' and plans to back-carry today, they'll camp at 11 again tonight.

It's partly cloudy here in the valley, but clear above. A good day for climbing!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Mike Hamill just phoned in from 17,200' camp. He said they are doing well, they arrived into camp at 6:30pm and everyone is doing well. Well done guys!

This is what their views were like today on the ridge from 16,200' to 17,200' - this is my favorite part of the climb!

"Edge of the World" Rocks the at 17,200' camp.

Mike reported that Phil and Eben's team did go for the top today with the rest of the folks at high camp. Mike thought they left high camp at about 11 am. They are not back in camp yet, I will let you know when I hear more from them!

An older photo of the 17,200' camp, this photo was taken straight on so it looks really steep, but really it's not, trust me!

Rob and Forest's team moved to the 11,000' foot camp tonight. They plan to get up early and pick up their cache at 9,800' tomorrow then come back and make a big pancake breakfast with real maple syrup! YUM!

This is part of the journey on the upper Kahiltna heading towards the 11,000' camp.

I believe Colby and crew moved to 14,200' today but I have not heard from him directly today.

More later,

Morning Update

Peter Anderson's Team is back in Talkeetna, they are changed into clean clothes and out to breakfast now. It is great to see their smiling faces back in Talkeetna!

No news yet on Phil Ershler and Eben Reckord's group today but here's what we can see from Talkeetna:
Denali is the highest peak on the right and about an hour ago it was clear enough to see the tops of Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter, which are further to the left in the photo.

I can't really tell what the winds are doing but it sure looks clear up there!

More later as I hear from them,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Today's Update

I heard from everyone today. LOVE THAT

Peter Anderson
and crew are at Basecamp, waiting for a flight out. They arrived into basecamp at about 2 pm this afternoon. They were due to picked up at 5:30 pm , but the winds picked up at basecamp and the air taxi's are waiting for them to calm before going in with any planes. I fully support these safety calls. There are climbing teams waiting to fly into basecamp from Talkeetna too. I am sure their afternoon activities included: cat napping, enjoying all the warm temps and breathing the "thick air" at base camp. They have plenty of supplies in camp to spend the night if the winds don't quiet down tonight.

Mike Hamill's team remains at 14,200'. They are doing well and are resting today. They hope to move up to high camp tomorrow.

Phil Ershler's IMG/AMS team is at 17,200'. The winds were again too high (25 mph) for a summit day, They are spending tonight at high camp and will make a call tomorrow to either go to the summit if the weather is suitable or to come down. They have spent 9 nights waiting for good weather at 14 camp and I am sure they are hoping for good weather tomorrow. They are up there with several other guided teams from other companies, they are all waiting for some clearing or at least some calming of the winds. For what it is worth (mountain weather forecasting is difficult to predict) the forecast looks rather good for them, not stellar and perfect, but it calls for winds less than 20 mph with a thin layer of clouds. Our fingers are crossed for them.

Colby Coombs' team rolled into 11,000' camp at about 6:30 this morning. They traveled in some windy, snowy weather from 7,800' to get there. They left 7,800' camp very early, still on their night schedule, and just after they left camp the winds started to pick up. They rested all day and hope to make upward progression tomorrow, weather depending.

Rob Gowler's team is at 7,800' they made a carry to 9,800' and put their extra food, fuel and equipment in a cache (big snow hole). They are sleeping at 7,800' tonight and if the weather is decent, they will move up to either 9,800' or 11,000' tomorrow. It was whiteout, snowy, windy and cold during on the glacier today for them but they cranked it out, the mountain is putting them right into the thick of it - they will have all of their clothing systems down pat in the next few days. Everyone is doing well.

- Caitlin

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rob Gowler and Colby Coombs Teams

Colby just phoned in from the base of "Ski Hill" at 7,800'.

Both he and Rob are settled into camp there and are doing GREAT! The move to the base of "Ski Hill" is often a heavy one, as climbers are starting off with all of their gear in one big push. From here on out they will carry loads up the mountain.

This is what they are looking at today:
An AMS camp at the base of Ski Hill, 7800', Kahiltna Glacier, looking up at " Ski Hill", the route for the next day.

Looking east from the 7,800' Camp. Toward the North East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and the West Face of Denali.


Tom Falley's, super cub photographs return! Thanks Tom for sending these along. If you double click you can easily see the white line in this photo. This is the route that Mike Hamill's team made from 11,000' to 14,200' yesterday, that's some trail breaking!

What great looking summit day weather for Peter's team!
This Tom Falley photo shows Windy Corner, 14,200' camp, and the fixed lines up to 16,200', and the routes. If you double click and look closely, you can see climbers rounding windy corner. Since this photo was taken just yesterday, I bet some of them are Mike Hamill's team.

Yesterday's TIPPY TOP

Peter Anderson just phoned in from 17,200', high camp.

He reports:

Yesterday, Peter, Martin, and Steve who is Climbing for Cancer, climbed all the way up to 20,320'!!!! It took them 12 hours and 45 minutes round trip, that is a great time, especially considering they were breaking trail the whole way to the summit!

They have spent 6 nights at high camp, this is a very a respectable measure of their mental and physical stamina for high altitude expedition climbing. Well done guys, and way to hang in there! Sticking it out up there is harder than most people imagine, it requires a great deal of focus and patience on top of all the skill training, physical conditioning and snow climbing prior to the expedition. Plus you have got to have a super attitude and be a skilled card player in order to pass the time!

The team slept in a bit this morning and are planning to descend to 11,000' this afternoon and rest there for a few hours. They plan to travel on the Upper Kahiltna Glacier during the night/early morning and be in the SE Fork (base camp) to fly out first thing tomorrow morning (June 27).

We will have juice, coffee, watermelon and other tasty snacks ready for them when they arrive!

Phil Ershler and Eben Reckord's IMG/AMS Team are at high camp. It is windy up above them, so not a summit day today for them or anyone else at high camp. Phil and Eben's team are fortifying their camp and resting up for a good weather day in their near future.

All for now,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Late Night Mountain Update

I just heard from Mike Hamill at the 14,200' camp! They made it to camp this evening and said they got 4 feet of snow at the 11,000' camp in 36 hours. The shoveled a lot. All on that team are doing well, and I sure they are happy they at 14,200'. - Fergal did get the message from his girls.

Mike reported that Phil Ershler from the IMG/AMS climb moved to high camp at 17,200' today as well. They were busy setting up camp and making a hot dinner. That first night at high camp is always a lot of hard work, but those folks have been waiting quite a while to get there so I imagine they are both tired and happy to be there.

Mike also said that he heard from Phil that Peter Anderson went for the top today and were on their way down to high camp tonight. I am sure Phil will be out there to greet them when they return to camp. We will let you know when we hear directly from Peter, which should be very soon. They are a very patient bunch!

Colby Coombs and Rob Gowler's teams are doing well and are ready to leave base camp in the cool of the early morning on Friday.

All of the teams really enjoyed the nice weather on the mountain today. It should be nice for a few days now, giving everyone a chance for movement up there!


Kings are in

Rob called from Base Camp. He said that they will depart around 2 or 3 a.m., going onto night schedule right away. He said they are all lounging in their tents. Colby is going to be on the same schedule. They said the weather looks splitter above them, so Peter Anderson is very likely making a summit attempt and Phil Erschler is very likely moving up. Mike Hamill is probably finally escaping from 11K, looks like the weather is good enough to permit a move around Windy Corner. We'll keep you posted as soon as we have news.

There are lots of things to do around Talkeetna if you're not able to fly.
Last night Rob joined up with Mike & Molly for some fishing, they came up with this little one, a 55 pounder.
Mike Wood used to guide here for AMS & ADG, now he and Molly live "up the tracks".

Everyone is flying!

Yes, it's a beautiful morning. Planes have been flying for the last hour, so we'll be seeing Seth, Dusty, Dan, Birger, Adam, Henry, Pat & Vince very soon!

It will be busy here for a while, more later.
Looks like a blue bird morning!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Still Hangin'

Time to set up the ping-pong table. The gang is all here, thinking about dinner. The air taxi is going to wait a bit longer before they call it a day, but it was still a white-out at Base Camp at 4:30pm.
Ciao for now,

Here is a group photo from yesterday. Pictured are: Ed Straebel, Rob Gowler, Caitlin Palmer, Rex Gray (front), Dean Dunham (back), Marcio Sartori, Colby Coombs, Yury Belovan, Jeremiah Gordon, Forest Wagner, Nick D'Alessio. Not Pictured: Mr. Huang, Julia, Rosie & Marty.

Ground School

Rob and Colby's teams are still doing the "Talkeetna Hang." They are making good use of their time on the ground when they can, trying not to think too much about being here and not on the Mountain. They've had some free time, reading, smoking cigars and relaxing. Marcio says he's "packed and unpacked 10 times". They all seem in good spirits. They are sticking close to Headquarters in case the air taxi calls. They jump every time the phone rings. Conditions in Talkeetna are suitable for flying (the sun keeps peeking out!), but Base Camp has a whiteout with snowfall. The runway will need to be packed before planes can land, once the visibility improves. I'm sure Base Camp Lisa has lots of eager helpers!

Yes, this means that Seth, Dusty, Dan, Birger, Adam, Henry, Vince & Pat are all still stuck in the Mountains. We'll make a new post if any of them make it out.

Rob's team is practicing setting up tents at the moment, this will help their efficiency on the Mountain considerably. They practiced their glacier travel techniques earlier, practicing good communication between team mates on the rope and belaying each other to a safe stopping place.

Jeremiah and Ed practice navigating the "3rd Street Glacier".
Yury practices belaying a teammate with a prussik.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Doing the "Talkeetna Hang"

It's a "weather day" in Talkeetna. No flights to or from Base Camp so far today, and it's not looking likely for the next hour or so.

Vince and Pat are still waiting at Base Camp.
is still at 17-camp with wind gusts 35 to 45 mph. He said they are "playing cards" and staying sane. Phil is at 14-camp with lots of snow and wind.
Seth and the 12-day Mountaineering Course
are stuck on the Pika glacier, probably with snow and a little wind.
Rob, Forest, Jeremiah, Dean, Marcio, Rex, Yury and Ed are waiting in Talkeetna, looks like they'll be here for the night. Same with Colby, Josh, Nick and Nubo.

We'll have the final word from the air taxi in an hour or so. It's light all night, so flying late is feasible.
We'll have an update for you all in the morning!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Base Camp

"We are at the upper strip now. We just missed getting out on the flight with Elliott and others. Hopefully, we'll get a window in the morning."

Monday Update + Earthquake in town

Just got a call from Phil. He said that he and his group made it back down to 14,200 feet after their carry before the weather socked in. They are going to hang out there at 14-camp until the weather improves. He said it is "unsuitable for moving". Visibility is limited by snow and wind. I could hear some wind in the background, but not the ferocious stuff we heard earlier this season.

Peter is at 17,200 feet, for the fourth day (says Phil). They plan to wait out the weather there. Both teams have many days built into their schedules to wait it out. This gives them time to acclimatize and enjoy some good meals.

Vince & Pat are dealing with limited visibility, so they stopped at 11,000 feet on their descent.

Haven't heard an update on Mike Hamill's location. Their schedule calls for rest at 11K today. We'll let you know.

Rob & Forest's team is here doing the Denali Skills Workshop. They got to enjoy a little Alaskan Earthquake. 11:28 am, 30 miles SW of Talkeetna, 5.3 preliminary magnitude. It was quite a ride inside the building!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quiet Day

Vince and Pat are planning on descending from 14,200' to base camp tonight and to fly out tomorrow mid morning.

Otherwise, no new news directly from the mountains so far today.

The weather is rather cloudy at base camp this afternoon, nothing dramatic, but still not flyable to pick up anyone that ready to come back to Talkeetna.

I hope to know more about what's happening with the AMS teams tomorrow.

All best,

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Peter Anderson and the rest of his crew including the climber for cancer rested at high camp today. It was relatively calm at 17 but cloudy up above.

Vince and Pat went for it today and summitted in a whiteout. I got an email/text message from Vince's satellite phone a bit ago from the summit. Weather must be decent if he was able to take the time to text me. I know I have been up there on the summit when I was definitely not willing or able to take the time. So, despite the lack of views for Vince and Pat they are doing well. They were on their way back down to high camp at 4:30PM. They left 17 this morning at 10:00 AM, 6 hours to the summit is very good time.

Phil Ershler's group made a carry yesterday all the way to 17 camp. That hardly ever happens! His group is sitting pretty. They are poised for a nice lightweight move tomorrow, or when ever the weather lets them.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Peter Anderson is planning on moving to high camp today. It has been dumping snow up at 14 lately. The weather has cleared a bit though.

Phil Ershler was getting ready to make his carry.

Melis and Joey's expedition is back in Talkeetna.

Operation Denali is in base camp and should be arriving in Talkeetna around 2:00 PM.

Due to all of the new snow Vince and Pat have shifted their sites to the West Buttress. They need pretty good conditions in order to climb the Upper Rib.

I'm gearing up for my Denali Expedition and helping all the other expeditions departing and returning so I haven't had as much time for all the photos and elaborating. Sorry.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Operation Denali Update

The team is moving right along! They are hanging out for a break at 9,300 feet. Looks like they will move down to 7,800 feet to camp there. That's a good place to get down out of the wind and weather. Looks like they may make it out tomorrow! Keep an eye on the blog.
Rob will keep you posted.

Operation Denali on the move + Updates from 14

Melis arrived at 14 camp last night and will rest there until 8 pm tonight then will move down. Peter Anderson's team is there at 14 camp resting today. They report lots of fresh snow up there.

The Operation Denali Team departed from 14,200 feet this morning and has been making steady progress all morning. Matt N. & Matt M. are moving down with them. We expect them to report when they get down farther, when they are able to evaluate the condition of the Kahiltna Glacier. Melis confirmed that Kirby's team is planning to take 2 to 3 days to make their descent to Base Camp. They will stop somewhere between 11,200 - 9,700 feet to camp and rest the remainder of the day, then travel at night/early in the morning when the conditions are more suitable. They are going to see how it goes before they decide their pace for tomorrow or their next stopping place.

We're getting lots of calls from all of you Operation Denali fans out there - it's awesome they have your support! We will post news here as soon as we get it and try to give you all an estimate of their return to Talkeetna. So far we've not heard from them directly today, but their Spot Tracker is moving. You can watch it here. It's more fun if you click on "terrain" so you can see the contour lines.

It's sunny in Talkeetna! The forecast says Mostly Cloudy with scattered showers or t-storms.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Phil at 14

Just got a quick call from Phil Ershler at 14,200 - "All good, have all our gear, will try to carry..." The signal dropped out, but I think he was about to say they'll try a carry tomorrow. They are right on schedule.

I just got the rest of Phil's call. Phil was about to say they will carry to 17K tomorrow, wx permitting. AND Peter Anderson's crew is planning on moving to 17K if they get the weather.

I have not heard from Melis and Kirby yet. I know Kirby is back in camp and I assume Melis is too. They will be starting their descent in some form tonight or tomorrow.


Seth Hobby called in from the pika glacier in a whiteout this evening. It's been relatively warm lately.


Melis at the Top and More... + Vince!

Yes, Melis and her crew did summit yesterday! It was a 16 hour day for them. They, as well as Kirby's crew, are heading down to 14 today and will start coming up with a plan for their return to Base Camp. Some teams do this in "death march" fashion, one very long day. We'll see if they decide to slow it down and set up camp somewhere along the way. Most of the time climbers "smell the barn" (or those caribou burgers Jon spoke of?) and are ready to march it out.

Nate's Upper West Rib group returned to Talkeetna yesterday - to sunny skies and lots of mosquitoes. Today is cloudy, so their timing was good.

Peter Anderson is thinking about doing a carry from 14 to 16,200 today, but may take a rest day instead and carry tomorrow. Phil's group is probably moving up to 14-camp today, but we haven't heard from them.

VINCE & PAT UPDATE - I forgot to add this one earlier - sorry! It was from early this morning.
"We are now back at 14 after an 8 hr hike back up from 7,600. We hiked with Leighan and Elliot. We will rest a day and then try to get onto Upper Rib.
Vince "

We haven't heard from anyone else today. Sounds like the weather is good above 8,000 feet, it's rainy here in town and not much flying happening. Sounds like 14-camp is the place to be tonight.

It's quiet on 3rd Street, but busy on Main Street in spite of the rain. Never let a little rain slow you down when you're visiting Alaska. Climbing season is winding down but there are still some great climbs out there.
Conditions are still good for Mountaineering Courses right through September.

We do still have space available on these 6 & 12-day Mountaineering Courses:
July 13-24 - One Space
August 3-8 - Two Spaces
August 10-21 - 6 Spaces
September 7-18 - lots of Space
September 14-19 - lots of Space

We also have space available on our weekend Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue Workshops:
July 18-19 - lots of Space
August 22-23 - lots of Space

Rob is shifting gears and getting ready for his West Buttress climb that launches next Tuesday. Caitlin & I will take over the blog while he's on the "hill".

Talkeetna Main Street on a rainy day. Add lots more pedestrians and a few more cars for an accurate image of today.

Ciao for now,

Update from Jon Kuniholm, Operation Denali

The Operation Denali Team reached the top yesterday and they are thrilled. AMS Guide, Kirby Senden told us that they wished they had the whole team together on the top. Sometimes that just isn't in the cards, for a number of reasons. Some of you may be curious about the members of Operation Denali who were not listed on the summit team yesterday. As a polite gesture, we let the climbers tell their own story.

Jon Kuniholm came down early after reaching a high point 16,200'. He had early signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and made a difficult and smart climber's decision to descend before symptoms worsened into the more advanced stages of the illness. AMS has medically trained guides on Denali and also the world famous high altitude doctor, Peter Hackett, MD on speed dial directly with the guides. Peter is a good friend and an asset to all of our climbers on Denali. I've got to say, when it comes to medical consults from afar, that is as good as you can get!

In his own words, Jon describes his descent fro the mountain here: http://openprosthetics.ning.com/profiles/blogs/operation-denali

Here's an excerpt:
"....I was forced through the wise decision-making of our guide, Kirby Senden, to abandon the climb on the 14th of June, having reached just over 16k feet and the top of the fixed lines (what I viewed as my major challenge) during our forward carry up there, on suspicion of my potential to develop (but not actual) high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) if I were to go higher. I've coined this potential "Statutory HAPE" (sorry--groan if you need to; please don't be offended). It's surprising that after all of this, the difficulty that forced me off the mountain was not arm-related.

Not knowing how much longer the climb would take (the team left for high camp with a week's worth of food), and being able to offer no more than moral support, I elected to catch a "ride" (under my own power) off the mountain with Leighan from AMS and Tyler from RMI (another guide service). I stayed at 14 camp another night before leaving, not really feeling all that bad, and left the evening after the rest of the team left for 17 camp. Descent improved things further, and I felt even better pretty quickly. After a marathon descent from 14 camp to base camp from 8 pm to 5 am or so the next morning, a plane ride off the mountain, a caribou burger and beer in Talkeetna, drive to Anchorage and flight to RDU, I found myself surreally back in Durham, NC, by the evening of the 15th, feeling a little like I'd been kicked out of school. I was able to pick my son up from basketball camp yesterday night (the 15th)."

All of us at AMS are having a super time with the Operation Denali Team, working with them last year on a 12 day mountaineering course , and this year during the climb of Denali has been such a blast. These folks are very hard workers.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Days of our Glacier Lives" more to come soon.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Operation Denali Summits!

Kirby called at about 6:30 pm Alaska Time from the summit of Denali! "The first Wounded Warrior to summit was David Shebib, followed by Marc, followed by Bob" He said it was cold and windy so they were going to take some pictures and move on down. Their "SPOT" tracker is a bit off, but more accurate than we expected - Matt had informed me before they left that maps tend to be off by about 500 meters south and 200 meters east. If you want to follow their Spot Tracker, check out their website: Operation Denali These guys have worked tirelessly to make this climb happen, before they ever arrived in Talkeetna. Job Well Done! Congratulations!

Melis is not far behind them. When we talked to her earlier she said that if it is cold and/or windy they would wait to call us until they get back to camp, and if it was "sunny & warm" they would call from the top. From what Kirby said, I don't expect to hear from Melis until they get back to camp later tonight. We should be able to make an update by morning.

It's cloudy at 14,200 foot camp and it is flyable at Base Camp. Mark Hamill and Greg Vernovage flew in to Base Camp with West Buttress team Porter Draper, Charlie Pasch, Leslie Herje, Fergal O'Donnell, Manev Luthra and Keith Bronstein. They slathered on the sunscreen before they left!

More tomorrow...

Melis and Kirby

Melis and Kirby (when Melis called) were just out of view of this photo, were the trail goes out of view to the right of the picture.

Melis just called in, she is up above the Zebra Rocks, 18,600 +- right now, GOING FOR IT! Her whole group is doing well and they are plodding along, slowly and steadily. It was warmed up a bit and the wind has died off. Sounds like a good summit day to me.
Kirby and Operation Denali are cruisin along. They are out in front of Melis's gang. They are at about 19,000 feet. It's just putting one foot in front of the other at this point, and quite a few times. The terrain is fairly tame where they are at now. They are most likely moving for about an hour or so at a time, then they take a rest, food, water and check-in break.

Both groups still have a long way to go, but they are steadily on their way.

Bottom photo, A view looking down the summit ridge.


Round 2

Operation Denali made it to Denali Pass yesterday. They are going for it again today.

I haven't heard from anyone else yet.

short update

Monday, June 15, 2009


A guide standing in a cache hole at 13.5. Note the fuel in the bottom of the cache. In case it leaks it won't contaminate the food.

Peter Anderson and his crew, one of which is climbing for cancer. Rolled in to 14 a bit ago. When he called me, they had just finished setting up camp.

It is a white out at 14K. It is flyable into base camp right now, and when the clouds broke a little bit ago he said that it looked clear up above him. He couldn't see if there was any wind. "They" are not calling for wind and "they" have actually been fairly accurate this season.

Peter's team made the move from 11 to 14 in 5 hours. That is fast. Peter and Dan had a fair bit of supplies cached up at 14 so they were able to make the move very lightweight.

Phil Ershler's group was getting ready to make a carry to 13.5K when Peter was rolling out of camp this morning.


Your Mission, should you choose to Accept it: Operation Denali, underway, SIR

A team at the beginning of the Audubon, with high camp in the background,

Melis called in from HIGH CAMP this morning. Her group is all in good spirits and doing well. They are going to take a rest day today. It is hard sometimes to want to take a rest day when the weather is splitter like it is right now. It is worth it though. One days rest can make all the difference in the world. Two really difficult days in a row with only 8 hours rest is tough for anyone.

Kirby and Operation Denali were roping up to head toward the summit when she called. They rested yesterday. It usually takes between 8 and 10 hours to get to the top.

They are probably on or getting close to Denali Pass now. The route up to Denali Pass is called the "Audubon". Guides used to leave high camp with 15 to 20 snow pickets clinking and clanking as the first guide would go out and place at least one picket per rope length. There is always lots of climbers yelling "STOP" and "GO" as they clip their rope through the pickets. Now the National Park Service "fixes" the route up to the pass. That means that the pickets are already in place. Now we just need a handful of pickets to place for when the route changes a little bit and strays away from the protection.

Vince and Pat are probably on the lower portion of the West Rib.


Sunday, June 14, 2009


Nate Opp's gang made it up to about 18,200 feet yesterday. Upper rib summit days are extremely long and hard. I talked to him last night when they had arrived back in camp. They were formulating a plan. I'm not sure what they are going to do next yet. They have some time to work with.

Kirby Senden and Operation Denali are taking a well deserved rest day at high camp. They had a long day yesterday. I talked to him this morning. He hadn't poked his head out the tent door yet but thought that the weather wasn't bad. I couldn't really hear the winds over the phone or anything.

UPDATE: Kirby called in at 3:30 pm AK time, they had only a little breeze at high camp and it was a "no gloves" day up there - sunny and warmish. If the weather is good, they plan to go for the summit tomorrow. They enjoyed the rest day today and are fueling up for tomorrow. The Operation Denali Team at high camp are all feeling great! - Caitlin

Vince and Pat are still waiting to launch on the complete Rib. I have been getting text messages from his Sat phone. They are in the middle of the pea soup I think and are hoping for some better weather and visibility before they commit.

Ershler should be carrying right now to and beyond the Corner. I haven't heard from Peter Anderson lately, but I heard from one of my sources on the mountain that Peter is moving to 14K today.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

One step closer

Okonek photo of some climbers building camp at 17. Sometimes you get to move into an already built camp up there and sometimes you don't. At the very least, you always have to fortify camp a bit. This is the one camp that I prefer to move into an already existing camp. Other camps on the mountain, I like fresh real estate.

Operation Denali is at HIGHCAMP! I'm not sure what the weather is like up there. I talked to Joey, Melis's assistant (and Husband) a bit ago and it was a ping pong ball at 14K. If you're not sure what that means, just envision what it would look like if you were stuck inside of a ping pong ball.

Melis and Joey's group are doing well and excited to move up tomorrow, weather depending. Johann says to Nikki and Hank that all is well and cold up here and for you to enjoy Greece. Joey says hello to his Mother.

I haven't heard from Kirby yet. They just rolled in within the hour. They are probably busy melting snow for water right now. I don't think that it is windy for them, which is very nice. He's been good about calling in, so I may hear from him soon. They are cranking, that's for sure. To be at high camp on schedule is extremely lucky! Weather usually shuts you down for at least a little while.

I was talking to some of the climbers who just came off the mountain on one of our trips that went 25 days. They had bad weather at every camp. Spent 12 days at 14K and said they were glad that they got to experience Denali like that. Joey said they have been in the clouds most of the day so they were unable to see if Nate's crew was climbing today.

11 camp is in the middle lower left of this photo in the flats to the right of the lone dark rocks. The trianglular rock buttress is the West Buttress proper and where it's right hand ridge comes down to the glacier is windy corner. Phil's crew is planning on heading arouond to the other side of Windy Corner tomorrow to make their cache. From their cache site 14 is only about another 30-40 minutes this year.

Phil Ershler is doing well. Phil is leading the IMG/AMS expedition. They have all of their stuff with them right now at 11 and will carry half of it to 13,5 tomorrow. I told them that we have some fuel up at the next camp waiting for them, so maybe they will be able to head up a little lighter. I can't remember exactly but I seem to remember when Phil guided Denali last season it was his 25th Denali summit.


Mountain Movements

I talked to Melis this morning. Her group is taking one more day at 14K for acclimatization. As of yesterday Melis said that they were one day ahead of schedule so she wanted to spend one extra day at 14.

Kirby and Operation Denali should be at the top of the fixed lines about now. They are right on schedule for their move to high camp.

The lower mountain is socked in, but the upper mountain is really nice. Virtually no wind up there and just a few patchy clouds up high.

Haven't heard from anyone else. Melis did not know if Nate was heading for the summit when I talked to her.
The Upper photo shows
the Mesner Couloir (hourglass shaped) in the upper left portion of the photo. 14K camp in the middle left of the pic. and the West Rib starts in the far lower right corner of the picture and ends in the upper left section of the picture. The lower photo is just a cropped version of the one above it. In the lower right portion is about where Nate's group is camped and the route ends in the upper left.

No one has been able to fly in or out of base camp for a couple of days, but Seth Hobby made it into the Pika Glacier, AKA Little Switzerland for the 12 day Mountaineering Course last night.

Here an AMS climber sits on top of a route in Little Switzerland.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Special Opp

Greg Collins heading out for a ski.

Nate Opp called in from their camp on the Rib a bit ago. Their plan had been to go for the summit today if the weather was perfect and if it was anything but perfect, they would rest. He said that the wx. was not horrible, but that the winds are 10 to 20 mph and "pea soupy" so they are taking a rest day. Everything is going really well with his team and everyone is good and strong. Nate, Ben, George, Mike, Kim and Elizabetta all slept well last night. They are now waiting for the next good weather window to go for it. Nate said he could see AMS guides Greg Collins and Leighan Falley heading up toward their camp right now. He thought they were heading up to try to reach the summit in a one day push from 14K.


Peter Anderson

A tent near the location Peter called in from early this morning. Notice the guylines on the tent and the nylon "parachutes". In the snow you cannot use regular tent stakes. So we burry these "chutes" in the snow and dig them up when we move camp. We always made our own parachutes, now they are available commercially.

Peter called in this morning before anyone was in the building. This time of year the expeditions on the mountain are traveling on a night schedule so they can take advantage of the colder temperatures and stronger crevasse bridges. All of the reports I have been hearing are from guides who have been able to travel without snow shoes due to freezing temps.

Peter's group was at about 10,000 feet on their way to camp at 11K. He said everyone his group was doing awesome and is traveling well. They are planning on resting tomorrow. It is nice and sunny where they were calling from, low clouds below, high cirrus clouds and a lenticular over Mt. Foraker. From where they are they are unable to see the upper slopes of Denali, so I'm not sure what the weather is like up there right now.

Vince and Patricia should be heading up the N.E Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier now heading toward the bottom of the West Rib. From the bottom of Ski Hill they have 4-5 miles toi get to the "Chicken Couloir" where the route starts.

Upper photo: climbers heading up the N.E. Fork. Lower photo: the "Chicken Couloir". Vince said there were some other climbers heading up the North East Fork at the same time to climb the Cassin.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nate Opp

Nate called in and left a message. They are in camp at 16.2K and doing well. He said they made good time (3 1/2 hours) from 14K to their camp on the Rib. Said that if the weather is good tomorrow they are going to go for it. rfg

From Vince:
Hey Rob,
"Will go down to the NE fork tomorrow to start our climb. "

A few updates

Climbers taking a break while another team plays through with 14K in the sun in the background.

Melis just called in from 14K. They had just done their cache up to the top of the fixed lines. All of her group is doing great. They are planning on resting tomorrow. Previous AMS groups have been collecting stores of food and fuel for the later expeditions heading on to the mountain. Melis is nice enough to go through all of it and inventory it, organize it, and re-mark it and cache it. She is planning on moving to high camp the following day if the weather is conducive.

Caches are very helpful to us, but only if they are good caches. Daryl Miller, an incredibly experienced Alaskan climber and mountaineer went even as far as saying that caches are sacred. We leave seasonal caches for ourselves and one another all season long on Denali. Once the season is done we remove everything from the mountain and leave nothing up there. Thanks Melis!

Upper photo, the prominent ridge to the right of the sun shade line is the lower West Rib. where this ridge starts heading straight up there is a flatter area before the rocky section, this is Notch Camp. Lower photo, taken from Notch Camp.

She said that Nate Opp's Upper Rib expedition is doing good and all team members are strong. They went up to their high camp 2 days ago and built walls and left a cache. Rested all day yesterday and moved up onto the Rib today. They are staying at "Notch Camp". They will be looking for summitable weather in the near future. These days most Rib expeditions camp at notch camp instead of balcony camp as it is less exposed to winds and weather. It does mean that they have a longer summit day though. I'll keep you updated IF nate calls in.

Kirby and Operation Denali are taking a rest day at 14K today. They are doing very well and are planning on moving up tomorrow.

A group probing out a camp, or more likely probing for a crevasse to dump poop bags. I say more likely, because I know this is an NPS patrol and this is not a very good place to camp. You can see a lone tent a little further in the compression zone, thet is the better place to set up camp.

Peter Anderson, Dan Corn, Steven Ranellone, Kevin Grogan, Terry Harvey, Matthais Landsbergerl, Steve Gasser, Martin Frey are most likely at the base of ski hill right now. They will not get any cell reception until they are above Ski Hill. Steve Gasser is doing this climb in the name of Cancer Survivors. For those of of you tracking Steve Gasser and his climb for cancer, you will see many of the updates listed under the lead guide's name, Peter Anderson.

Tim Hewette's and Tom Torkelson's expeditions are back in Talkeetna!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Photo of a group nearing the camp at the base of Ski Hill. This camp that is pictured here, is actually camped about 1/4 mile before the good camp spots. As you can see they are camped in a bit of a rollover in the glacier. You can expect to find more crevasses on rollovers. The best camping is out of view in this picture. It is in the compression zone at the bottom of the hill. The glacier slows down as it runs in to the flats and crevasses get compressed together.

Phil Ershler's AMS/IMG Denali expedition is at the bottom of Ski Hill. Haven't heard from him but I got an update from a SPOT on his team. This means that they should be making a carry tomorrow to the top of ski hill. The weather still looks awesome up there.

I heard from Nate Opp of the Upper West Rib expedition yesterday, He said they were doing fine and didn't have much of anything to report.

IF anyone calls with updates, we'll update. If no one calls we don't.

Operation Denali Update - The Headwall

Kirby called from the ridge around 16,200 feet with an Operation Denali report. He said everyone made it, all are doing well! "We have a little wind but it's clear & sunny. Will call back with more updates." They are scouting out that area for a potential camp at 16,200 feet and are caching supplies. With the wind that the other groups have been dealing with they are considering snow caves.

This means they have conquered the steepest part of the route! The Headwall can be intimidating for some people, but I know that the Operation Denali team has been doing lots of practice clipping into running protection and working on the other skills needed to negotiate the fixed lines there. The hard part is bending over to manage your carabiner at each anchor with a heavy pack on your back, while maintaining your hold on the hill with crampons and ice axe. These guys have amazed me with their ability to negotiate running pro!

They will go back down to 14-camp tonight and take a rest day there tomorrow. If the weather cooperates and if everyone is feeling good, they'll try to move to 16,200 on Friday. They will have that same climb to do again up the fixed lines. They can relax for now and do some eating, drinking & sunbathing!

Vince & Pat called in from 14-camp. They are doing well and plan to spend two days there acclimatizing before making their next move. They'll let us know what that move will be later.

All for now,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2 Denali Summits!

Hewette just called me from the summit. He made it up there with the rest of his folks. And just as I asked him about Tom Torkelson he handed the phone off to Tork. Tork made it up with the rest of his crew as well.

They were on the top at 6:00 pm. Tim said it was rather windy in the morning, but that he was hanging out in his fleece glove liners. It was an awesome summit day. And judging by the webcam it looks like they are going to have great weather for their descent too.

Tim said that he definitely wished that Adam and Ross were with them. Adam, I relayed your message to Tim.

Here's a photo of one of the many views you get from the summit.
And here's a video from the summit by the one and only Colby Coombs.

Kahiltna Dome

Kremer called in just a bit ago from the summit of Kahiltna Dome. She said that there was not a lick of wind. She actually had her boots off airing her feet out. The Kahiltna Dome expedition is an awesome climb. It offers some of the best views of Denali. You can get virtually the same angle for photos of Denali as Bradford Washburn did from the plane.

Here's a view from the lower section of the North Ridge of the Dome, looking directly over at 11K camp on the buttress, the polo field and Windy Corner.

The next photo is a a view of the upper section of the N. Ridge of Kahiltna Dome.

The Kahiltna Dome climb uses the same first few camps as the West Buttress. It is a really good way to get ready for climbing Denali or as a climb of a lifetime in itself. Climbers on the Kahiltna Dome drag sleds, build camps, learn how to build walls, learn glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills. By the time they are done with this climb they will know: what they need to do to get ready for Denali, know how to adjust their training tactics and have the rest of the season and winter to get mentally prepared.

Kirsten said that Denali was looking very calm today as well. Aside from Kirsten Kremer, we haven't heard from anyone else today.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Tork and Hewette

Picture of Denali taken from Kahiltna Dome.

Tom and Tim and the rest of their crews are all at 17K. Tim should be waiting for the next weather window to make an attempt.

This photo was also taken by Tom Falley. He took it yesterday. Camp is relatively empty since most everyone is out and about this day.

Tork rolled in to high camp a bit ago. His preference is to rest tomorrow and go for the summit the next day. He'll give me an update in the next day or so.

Tork passed Mike Janes, Lhawang and Brian and Todd's expeditions as they were heading down and he was heading up.

I'm not sure what Mike and Lhawang's schedules are right now as far as when they will leave 14 and when they will arrive in base camp. If I had to guess, I'd guess that they will be in base camp sometime tomorrow morning. Brian said that they are going to camp at 14 tonight and start heading for base camp tomorrow.

We're at 14 now and are acclimatizing. We've been here 2 nights. Will hike up fixed ropes today. All is well. Nate and Ben are. We're camping adjacent to them." -Email from Vince

Kahiltna Dome in the background. Climbers rolling into 11.

Kirsten Kremer called in from 9,700 foot camp. They were on the North Ridge of Kahiltna Dome this afternoon. She said they had 40+ mph winds up there, so they came down after a bit. They are doing great she said and getting in lots of classes, as well as having a good time. It sounded like they are going to give the Dome another go as soon as the winds die down a bit.

Operation Denali at 14,200 feet!

Kirby just called in from 14,200 feet - "Operation Denali is kicking butt, everybody is strong". They are setting up camp and looking forward to a good rest.
If you have not had a chance to see them in action, take some time to watch the video on their website Operation Denali. Scroll down until you see the video options. Watch it start to finish: you'll be awed and inspired!


Glacier Trek, Melis + More

Christian March flew out this morning to take two people on a Glacier Trek to the Ruth Glacier. They plan to camp near (or at) the Mountain House tonight and do some ski touring today and tomorrow, mostly to enjoy the view! (photo: sunny day view of the knoll where the hut sits, the landing strip just below it, behind is Denali)

called from 13,500 feet at noon. They were caching there and headed back down to 11K to sleep. They plan to move up to 14-camp tomorrow, weather permitting. She said not to feel sorry for them because yesterday they ate pizza in their t-shirts!

She said that Kirby & the Wounded Warrior Team - Operation Denali is looking good and due to arrive at 14-camp in a couple of hours! Great! Right on schedule, maybe a half day ahead of schedule. They'll probably enjoy a big rest there, as clouds and wind are predicted again soon.

Melis also reported that the Kahiltna Dome/Denali Prep team was "playing around" at the bottom of Kahiltna Dome, getting some good experience there. She said they looked like they were having fun.

She said that she thought that Tom's group was planning to move up to 17-camp today. We heard that the fixed lines are still a very busy place with everyone moving after so many days of bad weather, so they may have to wait in line. From looking at the race-tracker, it looks like Mike Janes' group is at the top of the fixed lines waiting to go down.

More later, if anyone calls in.

Photo update

Another photo taken yesterday by Leighan's Dad Tom of 14 camp and 51 climbers heading up the fixed lines.

It looks like another really nice day up there today. Most often, expeditions take a rest day the day after the move from 14 to 17.

Tork should be heading up to the fixed lines right now.

As soon as I hear from our people in the mountains I'll let you know.