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“The Great One” - Adventures on Denali by Rich Van Winkle

It was a year late, but our “bicentennial climb” of Mt. McKinley (better named as Denali – “The Great One”) was an adventure worth a few stories. I’m offering three of my favorites: Cricket, The Ridge, and The River. Plus, there are few extras that I hope you find entertaining.

We wanted a strong team to try something different – a traverse of the mountain while “bagging” both summits – and so my long-time climbing partner Al and I invited along Steve and Judd. All of us except Judd were USAF survival instructors so we knew plenty about hauling extra heavy loads across difficult terrain. Judd was the least experienced climber of the group, but he was a fitness “nut” and strong as a horse. So, his strength was his primary contribution to the team.

We had planned[1] in 1975 to climb in 1976, hoping to summit on Independence Day. We got started a year late, but were on the same basic schedule in 1977. Thus, in mid-June we were packed into my trusty 1964 Ford Falcon hauling my boat trailer that I modified to haul our 800 pounds of gear. Our first stop after leaving Spokane was the Canadian border where we got the full treatment. Aside from verifying all of our employment claims (and that Al and Steve weren’t AWOL since they we still active duty), our financial wherewithal and our itinerary, they decided they wanted to search our gear.

We had spent days organizing, carefully wrapping, and securing our gear for the ALCAN highway trip. It took us an hour just to get everything unloaded, another hour for them to do a cursory search, and another two for us to hastily return everything to the trailer. Not only were we pissed, we were already half a day behind schedule. Damn Canooks!

The ALCAN trip is worthy of a story itself, but I’ll save that for another day. Somehow, we managed to arrive in Anchorage only a day behind schedule with all of our gear. We had built extra time into our schedule for a fly-in delay since climbers routinely wait at the Talkeetna airport for a suitable weather break. We arrived at the Talkeetna public camping park in the evening and had perfect weather. Unfortunately, other climbers had been waiting for over a week and were ahead of us in line. Our flight service (aka “bush pilot”) wasn’t very assuring, but said he’d try to get us on the mountain later in the day. That gave us a whole day to take in the many exciting sights and activities in Talkeetna – which we completed in about thirty minutes.

To his credit, our pilot got us all on the mountain with all our gear in just two trips. The adventure of flying in and landing on a glacier is also a story worthy of pictures and more detail. But, I’m afraid you’ll have to come back later to read about it.

When we got off the plane on the Kahiltna Glacier we were down to the bare bones necessities, ONLY 178 pounds of gear per person. If that seems like an outrageous amount, try to live anywhere for 30 days on just 100 pounds of food. Then consider that Denali is one of the harshest places on the planet, that we planned to burn 4,500 calories per day[2], and that we had to be totally self-contained. The least obvious part of that challenge is the fact that there is no water on the mountain. To have water, one has to melt snow or ice. We carried two gallons of white gas per person (and needed every bit of it).

Our challenge was also different and difficult because we were going up one side of the mountain and down the other. Most groups can cache gear as they go, knowing that it will be there when they return down the same route they climbed (the average climb of Denali takes 17 days). We had to carry everything over the high pass between the summits at 18,200’ (“Denali Pass”). To facilitate carrying such weight, we used common plastic sleds and put half the weight in the sleds. Most of the lower climbing is a “snow slog” where the major challenge is avoiding crevasses on the glaciers and icefalls. Indeed, our biggest issues down low were overheating and sunburn. (Sure, we used sun creams, hats, and other common means to protect ourselves, but one forgets that wiping your nose will rub off the cream and the sun reflecting off the snow will burn the underside of your nose).

The climb of the lower mountain was relatively uneventful. It took us seven strenuous days (and two rest days) to travel the eight miles and climb the 9,000 feet to the “Basin Camp” at 14,228’. (When you’re carrying 100+ pounds, you count every vertical foot). In this relatively level, safe, and convenient place, climbers pause for a couple of days to allow their bodies to acclimate to the elevation and the “lack of oxygen”. (Actually, the percentage of oxygen in the air doesn’t change, the pressure differential limits one’s ability to get oxygen out of the air). Our arrival at “base camp” was highlighted by meeting Cricket.

We heard her long before we met her. As we were pitching tents, building snow walls, melting snow, and doing the daily routine of setting up camp, we heard a distant voice that was obviously upset and female. On the face of the West Buttress (2,000’ above us and almost a mile away) we could see a party of eight slowly descending. It was a guided party and their guide wasn’t pleased by their progress or their skills. Even at that distance, we could pick out words and most of them were harsh and vulgar. For over two hours, we laughed and snickered at the entertainment while we felt somewhat sorry for the poor guys who were the subject of the verbal abuse.

Meanwhile, we couldn’t help but notice that a short stocky bearded man standing beside nearby igloos was paying close attention to the group through binoculars. He was Ray Genet, the first person to climb Denali in the winter and the owner of the guide service. As the climbing party made their way past us, we saw that they were done-in; except, that is, for their guide. Cricket gave us a nod and was surely amused to see us try and lift our jaws.

For sure, we hadn’t seen a woman for over a week and hadn’t enjoyed a woman’s company for a couple. One might think that our perceptions were skewed, but I have pictures and even looking back I can say that Cricket was gorgeous. She certainly didn’t fit any expectation of a climbing guide – gender notwithstanding. She was slight and almost delicate in appearance. We were all in our twenties and she was perhaps a year older. The mountain air and sunlight worked wonders for her. None of us needed to say anything - we all had the same thoughts. (Oh, except me, I was the only married member of our team).

But hey, we were on a mission. We were going up, she was going down. Odds were we’d never even see her again. Luckily, we beat those odds a couple of times.

About an hour after the guided party arrived at base camp, Ray, Cricket, and one of the client/climbers (Dave) approached our camp. Dave was suffering from fairly serious frostbite on most of his fingers and Ray wondered if there might be a doctor in our party. Although none of us were physicians, they were delighted to find our level of expertise and preparedness was high (both Al and I were trained by two well known experts on hypothermia and frostbite). We had also brought advanced medical kits with us (and we were shocked that the guides lacked either training or basic medical supplies).

We discussed the situation and possible solutions – a situation made more complex by our isolation and circumstance. A climber needs use of their hands. No evacuation was available (unlike nowadays) and the weather was unsettled.  Dave’s fingers froze when he tried to adjust his crampons – the devices that attach to climber’s boots to give them hold on ice – and had been frozen most of the day. Under the best circumstances, they were two or three days from help.

The first decision was easy, we offered everyone warm drinks and got Dave warm. We gave him some painkillers (aspirin with codeine), immersed his fingers in cool water and warmed the water rather quickly. If you’ve ever had a “frost nip” and suffered the pain of re-warming, then you can partially imagine what Dave had to endure. I made a concoction of topical painkiller (benzocaine from Orajel) and triple antibiotic to reduce pain, inflammation, and the risk of infection. We knew Dave’s fingers might swell until the skin split open and we wanted to prevent that until he was off the mountain. So I carefully wrapped each finger with a stout “splint-like” tube of adhesive tape; loose enough to allow some swelling but snug enough to limit it. The tape would stick to the base of the finger while the petroleum based ointment would allow the ends to swell and not stick. This prevented any friction against the skin or bending of the fingers (which might break the skin). The group of fingers were wrapped in gauze and then in plastic. We admonished them to make sure that the fingers could not re-freeze, to leave the bandaging intact (if they could until he was at a hospital), to keep his hands elevated, and to generally ensure that Dave stayed warm. We gave them some of our stronger analgesics (Empirin-3s) and discussed their plans for getting off the mountain.

Early the next day the guided party (along with two other guides) headed down the mountain with the intent of meeting up with two other guides who were flying in. If all went well, Dave would be flying off the mountain in less than 36 hours. The weather was cooperating , so it looked favorable.

Ironically, later that morning, two park rangers showed up at the base camp. They walked around to see who was there and introduced themselves. Their mission was to locate, uncover, and remove old caches left behind over the years. We offered to help and our reward was some extra food and fuel. In fact, there were several gallons of extra fuel. The rangers were just going to burn it along with any other flammable garbage, so we had a wonderful idea: we would build a bathtub and clean up some.

First, you should get a handle on just how great that sounded. We had been rationing fuel and water, taking sponge baths, and sweating hard for over a week. To describe us as “rank” would have been an understatement. With the extra fuel, we could make enough water to wash some clothes. With a little imagination and even more fuel, we could take a bath.

We had three stoves and borrowed two others. With five stoves cranking, we dug a bathtub size hole in the snow, lined it with sleeping pads (closed cell foam) and covered that with a waterproof tarp. Then we poured boiling water into it for about an hour. It was working wonderfully and we knew we had a big issue to work out: who would go first. The water wouldn’t get drained, so the last guy wasn’t going to have a pretty sight.

As we were discussing that, Cricket showed up. She had stopped by to say thanks, saw something odd going on and wondered what we were doing. As soon as she heard “bathtub”, she lit up. As we were about to draw straws for who would go first, she asked if she could get in on the deal. That held real promise because we had every intention of continuing to add water during the bathing. We cut an extra straw and she drew the second shortest. To the dismay of the others, I drew the first. (Hey, it was my idea).

Ahhhh! You simply cannot imagine the luxury of a hot bath at 14,000’ on Denali. The water was almost too hot! I wasn’t all that “dirty”, but the cloudy-soapy water that I left wasn’t nearly as inviting as the crystal clear water that I entered. But hold on, there was another issue. Cricket was next – who would pour the water into her tub? It immediately became clear that this was going to be an even bigger issue than who got the first bath. Then, to my surprise, Cricket made it perfectly clear that only one person would be allowed to pour her water – me. Gads! So much for team harmony. My friends gave me the dirtiest look I’d gotten yet (and I had had a few since one of my duties was to assign camp jobs – including digging the latrine).

It was a job assignment with many benefits. With the five stoves running, I would pretty much be making a continuous loop to the tub. In case there’s any doubt, I should say that our tub was not intended for privacy. We were in the middle of a glacier where it is wise to stay on a well beaten path, close to camp. The stoves were set up only 20’ from the tub, nearby our tents. If anyone expected privacy, they were in the wrong place and Cricket plainly had no such expectation[3]. She took her stuff over by the tub and undressed unabashedly down to her “skivvies”. She let out a pleasant yelp as she entered the hot water and mostly disappeared into the water.

My first round with the water was the most awkward and I tried to avoid gawking. I wasn’t wholly successful. That was partly her fault – when I emptied the pot of water, she held out her underwear and asked if I would hang it up to dry. I guess that one advantage of being married is that you may have some experience with such things. I took her panties and bra and stretched them between some ski poles (and have a favorite picture of such with Denali in the background). If my teammates were discontented before, there was a full-fledged rage going on by the time I returned to the stoves.

After a few trips to the tub, I had seen all there was to see and Cricket was more talkative. I asked her why she had picked me to deliver her water and she gave me a wonderful smile and said: “because it’s obvious that you’re the only guy who’s married.” Since I was wearing my wedding ring on a necklace inside my shirt, I knew she hadn’t seen it and asked how she knew that I was married. “A woman can tell,” she replied mysteriously.

The final injury came when she asked me to hold a shield for her when she got out of the tub to dry and dress. I know how disappointed my comrades were to miss this anticipated delight. From my viewpoint, I can say that they had no idea what they were missing.

Unfortunately, there was another issue that arose from the tub. Al (my tent partner) drew the last straw and decided (upon seeing the water) that he would pass on the bath. I suggested that it was a good idea and would still feel great, even if it didn’t look all that inviting. He more firmly declined and I more firmly insisted. A shared glance told us that our friendship was being stretched and with obvious reluctance he finally chose to bathe. Whew! (Thanks again, Bud).

While at base camp we met parties from several other countries including Swedes and Japanese. I’ll get around to writing those stories one of these days…

From base camp at 14,000’ we started the real climbing. As with the guided party before, some groups try a summit push from base camp all in one day. I think that’s a lousy and lazy idea that causes too many injuries and deaths. Even those who take the time to acclimate well at 14,000’ are rarely ready for 14 hours of climbing above 16,000’ – especially those who didn’t carry their own gear up to base camp. But enough pontificating.

It took us five days to get from base camp to the “Crow’s Nest” at 17,400’ (the logical place for West Buttress climbers to push for the summit). This is where we really paid for our choice to traverse since we had to shuttle loads to the high camps (climbing all of it at least twice) and this is where “The Ridge” story begins.

The West Buttress of Denali is far from a highly technical route. Even where there are fixed ropes up  “The Wall”, one doesn’t usually need to “front point” or use any technical skills. The top of the ridge isn’t all that steep on its sides or difficult although there is some pretty impressive exposure. The day we shuttled our first load to the Crow’s Nest was a gorgeous and grand day for climbing. The second day would prove just how much difference a day can make.

From our camp at the top of The Wall (16,200’) we started up with poor visibility and a stout breeze. Within an hour the breeze had turned into a “blow” and before long we were getting blasted (70-90 MPH winds). We took a break behind a rock and discussed the situation and decided we were as good going up and dropping down. We all knew that it is entirely possible for the wind to literally sweep climbers off the mountain and we were in the wrong place for this weather.  Al was leading with Judd, Steve and me roped in behind. The damn snow and grit was hitting us like sand-blasting and the roar of the wind made it very difficult to hear.

Three of us were carrying our sleds attached to our packs with bungee cords and within a few minutes each was ripped from its pack by wind gusts over 100 MPH. In a sense, it was good riddance although we would wish that we had them back later. (At least we had one at the Crow’s Nest).The visibility dropped to a few feet and we entered that “twilight zone” where all you can see is the rope just in front of you leading or dragging you into the void. The wind-chill was off the charts and we all made sure that no flesh became exposed.

Then, it got worse.

Gusts started knocking us off our feet. Some provided enough uplift that I could feel momentary weightlessness. A worrisome situation was becoming down-right scary, especially with the steady increase we had been experiencing for two hours. Al stopped behind a rock that was just big enough to offer some shelter and we shouted our views of what to do. Going back down made no sense and none of us wanted to stay put and hope things improved. So, Al started up the ridge again slowly dragging the rope with him. It seemed to take forever for the slack to reel out until Judd had to follow.

Steve and I remained behind the rock as the gusts battered us. I can only imagine what Al and Judd were going through and their pace indicated their difficulty. It was apparent to me that getting off the ridge was the greatest imperative and that our packs were the greatest hindrance in doing so. Since we had a fully stocked camp just above us and what seemed to be a good place to store our packs, I suggested to Steve that we leave our packs behind the rock and move up as quickly as we could. We pushed them into the base of the rock and stacked some smaller rocks on and around them. Then Steve headed out as the rope tightened.

Sitting there alone watching the rope slowly slide away, I recalled an earlier time when Al and I faced some extreme wind and how that day had turned out badly. But then another huge blast struck and knocked me over. Amazingly, it not only moved me from a crouched position behind a rock, it pushed my pack out of its place. I grabbed it and laid out flat on top of it. Then I knew that we had a problem – the rope would pull tight in a couple of minutes. I couldn’t carry both packs or communicate with the others. So, I threw my pack on and tried to secure Steve’s pack even better. Then, the rope pulled snug.

We moved at a snail’s pace for about a half an hour, then all the sudden the pull on the rope changed dramatically and I struggled to keep up. I figured that they had crested and were on the flat area above the ridge. I was anxious to get off the ridge and didn’t want to hold them up so I hurried to keep up. As I crested off the ridge, I found that they were taking a break in a place where the wind was greatly reduced – simply pulling the rope in as I approached (following Steve who didn’t have a pack). When I reached them, I was seriously winded, but was relieved to see the worst was behind us.

Al was upset because I/we had left behind Steve’s pack, but there was never any question about whether we would go back and retrieve it in that wind. So we headed to the Crow’s Nest and the cozy igloos there. There was some debate about whether we even needed to go back for Steve’s pack until he realized that his glasses were in his pack. That made the decision easy and when the next day started clear and calm, we all headed down the ridge in good spirits. When we reached the place where Steve’s pack should have been, it was gone. Astoundingly, imprints in the snow showed that the wind had picked it up, blew it up the ridge about 50 feet (close to the crest) before gravity took over and it rolled down the ridge. Had it gone over the crest, it would have been lost forever. Instead, a quick search located it about 1,000’ below us on the glacier. We climbed down, recovered it with little difficulty, and climbed back to the Crow’s Nest with enough day left to shuttle a load to Denali Pass.

We spent a couple of days camped at the Pass – a place properly described as one of the most hostile places on the planet. Our time there was anything but hostile and in two successive days, we climbed both the South (20,320’) and North (19,470’) Peaks. It was also delightful to know that from Denali Pass, the rest of our camps would be downward. On the other hand, while down-climbing, we would be carrying all our gear in one trip (about 85 pounds each).

We figured the first day of the down-climb would be the most challenging since we had to descend a steeper and more technical route than we had climbed up (another story). But, having managed the “technical” part (after an overnight at 11,000’), we were going to descend through the icefalls on the upper Muldrow Glacier. They were challenging enough and under normal conditions, things would have gotten much easier as we completed the lower icefall. Unfortunately, it had started to RAIN below 7,000’ and that made the glacier a mess (also another story). After a horrendous day we managed to reach McGonagal Pass (our last camp “on the mountain”) where we would leave the glacier and walk a trail back to civilization. Hoo-Ra!

We lugged our heavy packs (made even heavier by all the rain) the 16 miles from McGonagal Pass to the McKinley River. When we saw the river, we knew we had another major obstacle to deal with – two days of heavy rain had swelled its braided channels and it looked daunting. We hoped that a cold night (higher up) might ease the flow and make crossing it safer. No such luck.

We knew the crossing would be an issue before we headed to Alaska. We had studied the maps and had chosen to cross where the river was wide – spreading the water into more shallow streams. We knew the techniques for hazardous river crossings and started out by experimenting with the various techniques. We knew the water would be cold, but even accurate expectations cannot really prepare you for ice-water immersion. The first few braids of the river were no more than knee deep and we crossed with chilled feet and boots filled with water. We had poles to lean against and offer balance and got off to a good start. Then we came to the first major branch.

You can tell a lot about a river’s flow by the formation of large standing waves. You can also be warned by the sound of large rocks being swept along and bouncing into each other. Neither warned us sufficiently about this torrent. After getting about 1/3 of the way across, it was clear that we had a problem. We re-grouped, discussed our options and tried a different approach. We tried crossing together, grouped to use each other for balance and to share the load of breaking the current. We didn’t even get half way across. We re-grouped and discussed roping up, sending one person across with a rope and floating packs across. Then we could tie into the rope and have a better margin for safety. But, of course, that requires that someone get across the river with one end of the rope.  

As it turned out, I was having less trouble than the others. Being a bit taller and thinner helped, but the real difference was that I grew up around the water (both ocean and rivers) and had developed what I now think of as “surf balance”. Having the water push me around and move the sand beneath my feet was a familiar situation. I guess it’s like learning to ride a bike – not really difficult AFTER you get the knack of it. Well, for the others, this was like learning to ride a bike down a rough steep hill.

I tried crossing again with my pack on and found that the weight actually helped. I also left my balance pole behind since it seemed more a nuisance than an aid. I crossed with little difficulty although the water reached up to mid-chest and I had to “dance” my way across the deepest part. (By the way, we tried the rope idea but found that we couldn’t keep it out of the water and when the current caught it, it was more problem than help). Now that we had hope, we developed a new plan: I left my pack on the far bank, re-crossed without it, put on Al’s pack, and then we crossed together. I walked on the upstream side and broke the current and we braced each other. That got us half way across the first major branch of the river. There were plenty more.

Our system worked well – except that I ended up crossing every major branch seven times carrying packs on four of them. After three or four similar crossings, I was getting tired and cold. That’s when we came to the widest and deepest channel. Ug! We walked up and down the sand bar looking for a better crossing point and picked the best, but it was still deeper and faster moving than any yet. But we were already committed, so away I went. Twice during my first crossing, I almost lost my balance. I carried the packs with only one arm through a strap so that I could release it if I went under. On this crossing, the water was deep enough that the pack’s weight didn’t help my footing. I worried about crossing back without the pack, but had less trouble than I expected. However, we changed our technique and each person carried their own pack while I broke the current and offered a hand hold.

Judd was the shortest of us and was having the most trouble. When we reached the deepest part, he slipped, stumbled, lost his grip on me, and disappeared beneath the muddy water. I took off after him trying to judge where he was by the disruption of the water, but lost him. I kept expecting him to pop up after he released his pack so that I could help him, but he never appeared. I ran along with the current for over 100 yards and what seemed like far too long and was about to give up. Then, I ran to an odd bulge in the water and right into him – almost falling over him. Pumped with adrenaline, I reached down, grabbed his pack (he was face down) and yanked him up. His head cleared the water and he gasped for air. I rolled him over and drug him to shore by holding onto his pack. He had both pack straps on. It had been sheer luck that he survived and foolishness that he almost hadn’t. Apparently he decided that wearing both pack straps would give him better balance.

The current and bouncing along the bottom of the river had ripped Judd’s pack apart and every attached item had floated away. Steve and Al looked for his things down river, but found nothing. Judd had lost his camera and film (with about half of our pictures), our larger food bag (with about 80% of our remaining meal food), and other personal gear. I had also dragged him out of the river on the bank where we had started. So, we had to do it all over again.

We survived the McKinley River after spending the whole day crossing it. It got in one last “laugh”; once we thought we had finished crossing, we stopped, built a fire and tried to warm up and dry off a little. Thinking all we had left to do was a half-mile uphill hike to the Park road, we headed into the trees – for a hundred yards or so. Then we encountered another major branch of the river. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the worst, but we all got drenched on more time.

Having reached the Park Road that leads to Wonder Lake, our climb was “officially” over. Unfortunately, we had missed the last park bus. After 28 days on the mountain, we were sure looking forward to some “civilization”, but had resolved to the reality of one more night in our tents. Of course, it was going to be a miserable night – we had nothing to cook and everything we had was soaking wet. Then, along came a bus – a private Mercedes bus - driven by a sweet young lady who was kind enough to stop and check on four scraggly looking guys sitting beside the road. She confirmed that we had missed the last park bus and regretted that she couldn’t give us a ride since she worked for Camp Denali – a private resort just outside the park beyond the Wonder Lake campground (90 miles from the Park Entrance see http://www.campdenali.com/live/page/camp-denali). She told us the bus schedule for the morning and said she’s let the Wonder Lake ranger know that we were down.

We were about to start setting up tents when along came a National Park pick-up truck headed for Wonder Lake. Inside was the Wonder Lake ranger who heard our woes. He apologized for not being able to offer food, but did give us a ride to the campground. We were delighted – a rustic campground was far better than the wilderness. We set up our tents, heated water, and wringed out our sleeping bags. (Imagine four exhausted soaked guys sleeping in damp sleeping bags). Then, another turn of good fortune – a different pick-up truck arrived at our campsite.

A friendly guy approached and asked if we were the guys who just came off the mountain. Although it was obvious, we affirmed that we were. “I’m Wally, the owner of Camp Denali and I heard about your situation. I’ve got an offer for you: we’ll provide you dinner if you’ll entertain our guests with stories about your climb.” Geez, that was an easy one. We explained that we lacked dry clothes, but he just smiled and said that wasn’t a problem – we could dry out during dinner. So, we loaded into the pick-up and headed for the beautiful rustic resort.

They were waiting for us. The dining hall had four tables with 8-10 people at each. They sat one of us at the head of each table and we were introduced. Then the food started arriving. I’m not sure it was the best meal I’ve ever had, but I know there’s never been one I enjoyed more. The food was delicious and the company was delightful. The wonderful hosts and great guests made us feel more than welcome, and the fantastic food just kept on coming.

It wasn’t until I was warmer, dryer, and less starved that it occurred to me – the others were hardly eating. When I said something, one of the guests explained: the hosts had discussed our situation with them when everyone came in for dinner. Because food was brought in for a specific number of guests, they had no extra. But, if the guests were willing to share, they would invite us to join them. The guests had agreed unanimously to hold off dinner until we arrived and to give up their food for us. I looked down at my fourth bowl of stew and realized that I had just eaten about half the meals designated for this table.

“Go ahead and eat,” one of the guests said, “I’m enjoying watching you eat more than eating itself.” I had two more bowls of stew and three pieces of pie. Wow! Wally took us back to our campsite and we overcame the cold damp night with warm thoughts of generous people and new friends.

I’ll finish with two final asides. We caught the first park bus in the morning to the Eielson visitor center where we could buy some food and refreshments. Then we got on the next bus headed for the Park entrance. We hadn’t travelled far before we were recognized: one of the passengers was Dave – the frostbitten climber we had helped at high camp. He was effusive with praise and appreciation – the doctors had credited our care with saving his fingers. We got to be celebrities for the three hour ride.

Finally, the next day, we were on the Alaskan railway train headed back to Talkeetna and we made a bee-line for the club car. The bartender heard that we had just climbed Denali and unhesitatingly said – “anything you want is on me.” Needless to say, by the time we reached Talkeetna, we were barely able to walk. But there are traditions to be upheld and one of them is the “safe return party” at the “West Rib Pub”. So, we partied some more among fellow climbers who were more interested in the bathtub story than details of our climb. Unfortunately, Cricket was back on the mountain and we didn’t get to buy her a drink. Oh well, our memories of her couldn’t be improved anyway.


Some informative links:

Climbing Denali: http://www.summitpost.org/parent/150199/mount-mckinley-denali.html


Route photos and videos: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/denali/clim-01.html

Route maps: http://classic.mountainzone.com/climbing/99/denali/map-climbingroute.html


Ray and Cricket: http://jukebox.uaf.edu/denali/html/people.htm

McGonagal Pass Hike: http://www.greatoutdoors.com/published/classic-hikes-of-the-world-mcgonagall-pass

McKinley River: http://www.pbase.com/ellenfreeman_usa/image/49455573

Denali Equipment List: http://www.swissmountainguide.com/eqdenali.html

Denali National Park: http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm

[1] With the help of John Roskelly and Dr. Jim States of Spokane, two well known locals who had climbed Denali.

[2] 5,500 calories per day when climbing, 2,500 for “rest days”.

[3] On a glacier, there’s nothing to hide behind and one can’t wander around unroped, so I’m sure that Cricket was accustomed to dropping her drawers to an audience of strangers.









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