Denali is definitely big (hence the name) and definitely cold (~150 miles from the arctic circle). However, having previously led my own expedition up this burly peak, I feel the real crux of the west butt route is the camping. Our crew skis well, our crew climbs well, but living for 3 weeks in this harsh environment takes ample planning and practice. As Lou has rightly stated several times, we don’t want to go up there and make do, we want to step on the glacier like a well engineered machine.
So we’ve been getting out to test gear, cooking, and other camp strategies as often as possible. Unfortunately, with many busy lives it isn’t always easy to get everyone together at once. However when 6 of our crew members are free for a weekend, I consider it a fine opportunity. This so happened a couple of weeks ago, and up into Colorado’s central mountains we went.
I think we all noticed efficiency improvements from our first team training trip. Good news, but still a lot of tuning to do. Here were some of my observations from the trip, pretty much as reported to my cohorts via email two days after our return. A lot of gear talk, but that is the way it works on these types of trips. You start with a gear list, then you try to find the best product or homemade solution to fill each check box, while perfecting your camp and carry systems along the way.
* The big winner for the weekend was the GoLite Shangri-La 6+ Shelter. We all agreed on its merits for the Denali trip. Warm, big enough for 8, two doors, well ventilated, and I think better for us than the 2 BD Mega Light system we’ve been using, though we also love the ‘Mids and have been using those extensively as well. (advertised specs: 2 Mega Lights = 102sq ft & 4lbs 10oz, The GoLite = 135sq ft & 5lbs 4oz). The Shangri-La does need a few mods (like double zips on the doors) but then again it’s rare that any piece of gear on a Wildsnow trip escapes at least one modification. I would still like to get this spacious cooking and relaxing temple into some real weather. Promising so far though.
* I was finally able to use my NEOS overshoes in a live fire situation. I was skeptical about their utility on a trip like Denali, but I think I am coming around. My insulated camp booties fit in them nicely and the traction combined with the high cuff make for a compelling camp-work footwear choice. I think I am leaning towards taking them. I just have to be careful about the breathability. Heavy activity seems to cause some unwanted condensation build up. I have some ideas on how to manage this that I will experiment with.
* The Big Agnes Cyclone camp chair system is working well for me so far (and only 6oz). This will be added to all my future overnight trips I think. Still curious about durability, but so far so good.
* TNF Himalayan Parka beats my Marmot 8000m and MH Absolute Zero by a leap and a bound. The front zip is a bit difficult to get started, but that is minor, I suspect that it will improve with use. It also needs some enlarged inside pockets for water bottles and perhaps some loops for boot liners (hmm more mods, surprising). The materials and existing pockets are great though. I have been using it a little too often and reluctantly had to give it a wash. It held up very well and came out looking like new. I think this box can be checked.
* We should all get one of those GSI Fairshare mugs. I was jealous. They are perfect for this type of trip and cheap. Though again we will need to add something to attach the lid to the handle and perhaps locate some foam to make insulators for the exterior.
* Lou’s new MSR XGK needs some more study. Despite taking it apart several times, we had a heck of a time keeping the gas flowing on this trip and earlier in the week on Buffalo Pass. I am convinced there is a defective part. Will see what Lou can figure out after some garage surgery. The other XGKs burned like jet engines as usual.
* The new stove board Louie constructed worked really well. We came up with a few improvements to add before replicating more though. Like a shape change and stove leg fasteners. The material is perfect.
* Time to get serious about our snow melting system. Perhaps two 6-8 liter lightweight aluminum pots with added drain valves, insulators, and heat exchangers. Our current system is about as efficient as my typing skills.
* We need to name label all of our gear. There are so many matching items that confusion is certainly just around the corner.
Bacon and butter sponsor. I believe every meal we discussed had one or both of these ingredients. Yummmmm.
Oh yeah, when we weren’t camping, we did a little skiing too.
WildSnow guest blogger Caleb Wray is a photographer and outdoor adventurer who lives in Colorado and travels worldwide. He enjoys everything from backcountry skiing to surfing.