Denali is on

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Tuesday February 2, 2016.

The countdown is on.

I finalized my trip yesterday; flights are booked, insurance is purchased, and the final payment was made for my 2016 Denali expedition.

Here is how the trip will work. I will fly into Anchorage, Alaska two days before the trip officially begins. I am lucky enough to have a couple of cousins who live there and have a place to stay as a result. Coincidentally, the marriage of one of those cousins is largely at fault for me taking this trip in the first place, but that’s a story for another day. I’ll have a full day in Anchorage to do some final prep like shopping for the food I can’t travel with, making sure over and over and over that I have all of the prescribed equipment, and just resting after a longish day of travel before I have to fully immerse myself in almost a month of climbing, cold, and living in a tent.

I will then meet the team at the airport for a shuttle ride to Talkeetna, Alaska and get settled in for two nights. After night one, we’ll have briefings, meet to go over rules and regulations, check on equipment and make last minute additions, and begin to get to know each other. After night two, it’s time to load up and get on a plane that will fly to what’s referred to as Kahiltna International Airport. That’s just a fancy way of saying we’ll fly in a ski plane and land on the Kahiltna Glacier, which houses Denali’s Base Camp, at about 7,300 feet of elevation.

After setting up camp and getting some sleep, we begin to make our way up the mountain. Over the course of several days, we’ll hike wearing packs weighing about 50 lbs. and pulling sleds weighing about the same to camps at 7,800, 9,600, and 11,200 feet with a night at each. After a rest and acclimatization day 11k camp, we’ll bring equipment up to 13,500 feet and cache it there before heading back to 11k. We’ll take another rest day before heading to 14,200 feet and getting some rest. Then, it’s back to 13,500 to retrieve our cache and returning to 14k. A rest and acclimatization day at 14k, followed by a cache trip to somewhere between 16,200 and 17,200 feet are next, and a return to 14k. Another rest day or two there, then it’s up to 17,200 feet for the high camp, with us grabbing our cache on the way.

It could be as early as the next day or a rest day or two later, but next is going for the summit. The highest point in North America sits at 20,310 feet. It’s a long day, with the round trip taking 12–14 hours or so. After a successful summit, we’ll spend the night at 17k before heading back to 11k and resting there. From 11k it’s all the way back to Base Camp and, hopefully, a quick flight back to Talkeetna, depending on the weather.

All of this is at the mercy of the weather, of course. While the trip is scheduled to take 21 days from Anchorage to Anchorage, I was advised to book my return flight a full month later than the start of the trip in case we take longer to summit due to weather or can’t fly off the glacier due to weather.

Needless to say if you’ve been following along, I am pretty excited. I didn’t think I would even be close to making this trip this year, but was surprised by Christy with the admonition to go. Next year, my daughter will graduate high school and it would likely be during the trip. I don’t think I could wait two years, so it was now or drive myself crazy.

I still have a lot to do to prepare. I want to lose a little weight, get a bit faster and stronger, have a lot to make sure I finish at work, and have to buy up some gear. But the big stuff is out of the way. I have a spot on the team, plane tickets, and a really warm sleeping bag, so I should be good to go. The countdown is on, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."