So You’re Planning on Climbing Denali?

An expedition begins long before you tighten your boots and begin hiking up the trail. Whether you’ve grasped it or not, you are already in the thick of your Denali expedition and you have already made numerous decisions that will ultimately affect your experience in the Alaska Range. You have decided upon climbing Denali, you selected your route, you made a decision as to which guide service to use and you undoubtedly have much of your equipment already at hand. You are effectively already on route!

As you continue with this journey, you will find numerous occasions when you may not know exactly what is expected of you. Maybe you’ll not know exactly what kit to keep with you or pack up, where you should be at a given time, or who you should ask for guidance. Part of our job is to help minimize those occurrences, as each of those adds a level of stress to an already stressful pursuit­ climbing the highest mountain in North America.

While we reccomend reading the articles at strategic intervals before your climb, you can find all of our pre-trip installments conveniently archived together HERE, should you wish to bookmark them. You’re welcome to read them all at once, although we’ve found that it can be a lot of information to process in one sitting.

Denali-pretrip-kahiltna

Hopefully, the following information will reduce some of the potential stresses of climbing Denali. We will share tips and secrets that we have learned over the years and we will try to help you understand what the various stages of the expedition will look like, so that you feel comfortable at each step of the way. Well, as comfortable as you can on a Denali climb, which are renowned for not being super comfortable!

As always, if you ever have a question about anything having to do with preparing for or climbing big, cold mountains, don’t hesitate to contact us. We want you to be ultimately prepared for this experience.

This page will help guide you through the process of registering for your Denali permit with the National Park Service and touch on some information relative to staying healthy on an expedition.

NPS Climbing Registration Instructions

Denali NPS pretrip 1 registration

Mountaineering Special Use Fee

All Denali and Foraker climbers must complete an online registration form with the NPS. The form requires climbers to pay for a “Mountaineering Special Use Fee,” in full, at the time of registration. The 2019 fee is $275 for climbers aged 24 or younger, and $375 for climbers over age 24; however, this fee is subject to change yearly.

Please note that this fee is non­refundable after January 15th of the year for which you are registering. We suggest you protect yourself by bundling that fee into your trip cancellation insurance or perhaps wait until closer to your departure before you commit to that fee.

HERE is the registration link.

Prior to registering, the NPS requires all climbers read “Denali Expedition Planning Tools.”
“Denali Expedition Planning Tools” contains important information and it is a great resource to prepare for an expedition. HERE is a link. To make sure you read this document, the NPS has hidden a “registration code” in the body of the document which is necessary for completing your online registration.

Much of the form is self explanatory, but the following should help with some of the sections:

  • For both EXPEDITION NAME and LEADERS (sic) NAME we suggest you just put “MOUNTAIN TRIP”
  • For NUMBER IN PARTY, you should enter 9 (for 6-­climber teams). Private groups should know the number in your party or just take your best guess (It’s not critical that your number is exactly correct)
  • For AIR TAXI SERVICE, select “TAT–Talkeetna Air Taxi” from the drop down
  • For DEPARTURE DATE, enter the day after your Team Meeting date in Anchorage
  • For RETURN DATE, enter the date which falls 22 days after what you entered for your DEPARTURE DATE

The most important parts of this form are the sections with your personal information and those that help the Park understand that you are part of a Mountain Trip expedition. The arrival date is pretty important as well, as that helps our colleagues at the Talkeetna office front desk keep track of who is on which team.

Hopefully, this all makes sense and helps you complete the registration form.  Good luck!!

Altitude Medicine

Altitude Medicine

Staying Healthy at Altitude
At altitude, your immune system is compromised. There are some good drugs that you might consider talking to your personal physician about bringing along that could help if you get sick on the mountain. Rest assured, we will have medical kit outfitted with medications advised by our Medical Advisor, Dr. Peter Hackett; but drugs are best prescribed by your doctor (this protects you and us). HERE is a great summary, written by Drs. Hackett and Barsch, of guidelines and treatment for high altitude illness.

Dr. Hackett is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Altitude Medicine and is the Director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine (IFAM) in Telluride, Colorado. The Institute’s website has a number of really good resources, including a page for Healthcare Providers that lists a number of medications that you might consider consulting your doctor about bringing.

For more information, check out the Institute for Altitude Medicine website.

Altitude Myths
Myth # 1 ­ Don’t drink caffeine at altitude.
We don’t know where this false assumption came from, but likely from the fact that caffeine is a mild diuretic (makes you pee). The concern is that it could dehydrate you and contribute to altitude sickness. This concern is unfounded unless you drink pots of black sludge coffee a day and little else. In reality, caffeine stimulates your brain, kidneys and breathing, all of which are helpful at altitude. And for those people who drink several caffeinated beverages a day, stopping abruptly can cause a profound headache. Read Dr. Hackett’s article on caffeine and altitude HERE.

Myth #2 ­ Diamox masks symptoms of altitude sickness.
Taking Diamox to prevent AMS will not mask symptoms. It works on the same pathway that your own body uses to help you acclimatize. It is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor which makes you urinate a base chemical called bicarbonate. This makes your blood more acidic and therefore stimulates breathing thereby taking in more oxygen. It speeds up your natural process of acclimatization and if you stop taking it you will not have rebound symptoms. It is one of the main medicines doctors use to prevent and treat acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Myth #3 ­ Physical fitness protects against altitude sickness.
Physical fitness offers no protection from altitude illness. In fact, many young fit athletes drive themselves too hard at altitude prior to acclimatizing thinking they can push through the discomfort. They ignore signs of altitude illness thinking it can’t affect them because they are fit and healthy. Everyone, regardless of fitness, is susceptible to AMS.

Myth #4 ­ Drinking extra water will protect you from altitude illness.
Staying hydrated is important at altitude. Symptoms of dehydration are similar to AMS. In reality you only need an additional liter to a liter and a half of water at altitude. Too much water is harmful and can dilute your body’s sodium levels (hyponatremia) causing weakness, confusion, seizures, and coma. A good rule of thumb to assess for hydration is to check your urine. Clear urine indicates adequate hydration, dark urine suggests dehydration and the need to drink more water.

Medications

At altitude, your immune system is often compromised. There are some good drugs that you might consider talking to your personal physician about bringing along that could help if you get sick on the mountain. Rest assured, we will have a selection of medications for emergency use as directed by our Medical Adviser, however; most drugs are best prescribed by your doctor (this protects you and us).

Again, we would refer you to Dr. Peter Hackett’s Institute for Altitude Medicine and their very informative website, particularly the page regarding Information for Healthcare Providers.

In particular, you should discuss certain common altitude drugs with your personal doc, such as:

  • Diamox
  • Dexamethazone (Decadron)
  • Cialis or Nifedipine

** If you plan on taking medication while on your expedition, consider bringing along more than you would otherwise need.  If you pack your meds in two places, it could help minimize the chance that all your medications are in that stuff sack that rolled downhill and into a crevasse…!

***The latest word from Travel Guard Insurance is that their trip cancellation policies will cover altitude sickness as well as other, more mainstream, illnesses that could cut a trip short. US and Canadian residents interested in a policy should contact us for more information. If you live elsewhere, consult a travel agent for recommendations.

Frostbite on Warm Days?

frstbite on fingers

Frostbite could be described as a hydration issue that is generally avoidable.

Frostbite on Warm Days?

This is a phenomenon that we have seen a few times in recent years, both in Alaska and in Antarctica. It occurs on days when it is relatively warm outside, yet a climber is still dressed for very cold temperatures. The climber often has his or her mittens of thick gloves on, while others might only have light or no gloves on.

We’re not entirely certain what causes the fingers to freeze in situations like this, but surmise it might have something to do with the gloves or mitts getting wet from sweat and the climber losing heat rapidly due to conductive heat loss. Perhaps there is some form of paradoxical shunting of blood flow because the brain thinks the hands are warm and reduces circulation to those extremities. Whatever the case, it is somewhat bizarre and very unfortunate.

Dress in layers appropriate for the hour in which you are traveling. This might change a lot from hour to hour. As mentioned above, a good rule of thumb is that if you are just chilled a bit when beginning to hike, you probably have the right layers on for when your body starts warming up with more exertion.

Frostbite generally occurs on cold days. Communication, honesty with yourself about how you are feeling, and keeping well hydrated and fed are all tools available to us to prevent frostbite. We have most often seen fingertips get what is called partial ­thickness frostbite. This is preventable.

Keep fuel in your system, as that will help you stay warm.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and if you feel that your fingers are numb, or if you are are suffering from a loss of feeling or experiencing a stinging sensation, let someone know!  Frostbite is often described as a hydration issue, rather than a cold issue and you have control over how well hydrated you are at any given time.

We have begun using the following system to rate how your extremities are feeling.  Your guides will discuss this at your Team Meeting and we will include this in another discussion about communication, but it is important, so we want you to be familiar with this system:

Rate your fingers and toes:

1. Hot
2. Warm
3.  Cold, but warm up easily
4.  Colder, but you can warm them with exercise
5.  Cold and you cannot rewarm them

Contact Lenses

Contact Lenses
by Bill Allen

Contact lenses can be a bit of a hassle on an expedition, but with a bit of care and planning, they’ll work great.

Be sure to bring extra lenses, and solution.   Bring more than you think you will need, you may go through more lenses in the dry environment at high altitude than you will at home.  They don’t weigh much, so there is no reason to skimp and be concerned about running out.

Keep your lenses and a small bottle of solution in your sleeping bag at night to keep it warm.  Nothing worse than frozen contact lenses, and/or solution in the morning when you are trying to get ready.  I keep a small kit with my lens case, a small bottle of contact lens solution, and a small mirror and that will go in the bottom of my sleeping bag at night.   It takes me a couple of extra minutes in the morning to put my lenses in while everyone is getting ready, so I try to get up right away and deal with them.

Consider getting disposable “Daily” lenses for the trip.   It’s nice to skip the solution and the case and just have daily use lenses for an expedition.   Try them for a while before you commit to using them on a long trip, but I’ve started using these on expeditions and they work great.   Again, bring more than you think you’ll need, and keep a few extras in a warm place.   I usually have a couple extras in an inside pocket, so I’ll always have a warm pair ready to go.

Put your lenses in with clean hands.   It’s not always easy to wash your hands on a climbing expedition, and you’ll often have sunscreen or something on your hands.  Put your lenses in before putting sunscreen on in the morning.  You can usually use a bit of snow to rinse your hands before handling your contacts if they are dirty.

If contacts are not an option and you need prescription glasses, consider bringing a back up pair of sunglasses.  Many companies make goggles that will fit over your glasses, but fogging can be an issue.  While pricey, consider a goggle that has a built in fan to reduce fogging.  Smith makes several models that incorporate a small, battery powered fan in their Turbo series.