Your First 36 Hours in Alaska!

Sit back and relax–this is a rather long web page, but we ask that you please read through all of it. We know that we cannot eliminate all of your pre-trip stress; but we’re sure going to try.

Thanks for your trust in Mountain Trip!

Your Team Meeting

Team Meeting

Your guide team will meet you at 10 AM in the lobby at the Lakefront Hotel for a team meeting and equipment check.

Prior to the team meeting (in the morning) we ask that you lay out your Denali clothes and equipment in your room.  This helps streamline the morning.

*TIP – Laying your things out in “categories” helps a lot (for example: torso layers in a pile, leg layers in another pile, head and hands in yet another…).

We will ask to see everything that you intend to bring on the mountain so that we are all comfortable that you have enough kit, but not too much.
Meet and Greet

The guide team will arrive at the Lakefront Hotel by 10 AM, giving you plenty of time to organize your kit.  We will make introductions and the guides will talk about the schedule for the first couple of days, as well as other considerations for the climb.  Please ask questions if anything is unclear.  Depending on how we’re doing for time, the guides may defer responding to some questions to keep things moving, as there will be another detailed briefing on the glacier after flying into Base Camp.

Mountain Trip's Lunch Program

Mountain Trip’s Denali Lunch Program

The Mountain Trip expedition food is becoming something of legend on the Kahiltna, but we did receive a few comments about how we could better prepare our climbers for how the lunch program is orchestrated.  What follows is intended to help you have a better grasp of how we will pack a portion of your lunch food on the day of your Team Meeting.

Lunches are a mix of “food-on-the-run” and more structured, sit-down affairs.  The structured lunches range from different types of sandwiches, quesadillas, hummus and crackers, soups, or similar entrees.

Lunches on the run are more like snack items that you can carry in your pack or jacket and munch on during the day, during rest breaks.  You will have these snacks for every day of your expedition.

You will burn an amazing amount of calories on your trip, and so you need to replenish as many calories as possible.  When we are out working (carrying loads, moving camp) for hours at a time, we will take regular breaks at roughly one-hour intervals.  At each break, it is important to each some of your lunch snacks.  It is much easier to eat food that you enjoy, so we try to give you ownership of your food choices.

Denali lunch packing

At your Team Meeting, after the equipment check, the guides will lay out a huge quantity of snack foods from which you should select your “lunch on the run” items.  The exact selection will vary, but we typically try to include a variety of energy bars, candy bars, cookies, meat and cheese snacks, crackers, nuts and dried fruit.  The guides will help you select a sufficient quantity that will not be too much, so don’t worry about how the heck you’re going to know how much food you’ll eat over three weeks.

You could easily pack your entire lunch bag for the climb from what we provide, but please understand that we are bringing food based on historic general preferences that is designed to get as many calories into you as possible, without overloading your pack.  This approach might not accommodate your personal food preferences, so if you know that you really like salty food, big summer sausages, Grandma’s old-tyme pemmican, or are a huge energy bar or “Gu” fan, we suggest you bring some along or grab some in Anchorage, so that you have food you like to eat on day 18 of the trip.  Please ask questions if any of this is unclear!

The Next Day

Denali welcome to Talkeetna

The Next Day

The next morning the guide team will return to the Lakefront at approximately 8 a.m. to pick everyone up.  Please have your mountain kit packed and be ready in the lobby 10 minutes prior, so we can load your gear into our trailer quickly and efficiently.

*TIP – You can leave a bag of extra kit or clothes at the Lakefront, but be sure to bring a change of clothes and maybe a small travel size shampoo to Talkeetna for a shower after you fly off the mountain.  You should also leave a bag in Talkeetna, so that you’ll have clean clothes after the expedition.  We’ll collect valuables and store them in a safe at TAT.

*TIP – You can wear your “town” clothes up to Talkeetna, as there will be plenty of time to change into your mountain clothes before getting on the airplanes.

After loading up the van and trailer, we will drive about an hour to the famous town of Wasilla, Alaska and make a stop at a very well equipped supermarket.  You are welcome to try your best to see Russia, but you should also allocate some time to pick up some lunch food for the day, as we could be moving quickly once we arrive in Talkeetna.  The local Carr’s supermarket makes great sandwiches and you can refuel on Kaladi Brothers coffee, if you’d like.

After our Wasilla stop, we’ll drive 90 minutes or so up to Talkeetna.  Upon arrival, we need to unload the trailer and weigh all of the gear that is going onto the mountain.  We also need to check in with the National Park Service and settle up for your mountaineering and Park entrance fee.  The rangers will then show you all a Power Point presentation on climbing Denali, which has a lot of good information in it.  The sequence of events may vary, but you’ll probably drop off gear at the airstrip before going to the Park Service office.

Once you are finished with the NPS, the goal will be to get all of your kit weighed and ready for flying to the mountain.  When the folks at Talkeetna Air Taxi give us the signal, you should change into your mountain clothes for the flight in to base camp.  (Please read Drew’s Guide Tip below.)

*TIP – Fill your water bottles with water before flying to the glacier.  If you have a NEW AND UNUSED pee-bottle, fill it too. This helps by minimizing the amount of snow we need to melt at base camp for water.

*TIP – You should leave your town clothes at the TAT shed in Talkeetna.  Don’t be like the guy in 2005 who forgot that all his street clothes were buried in a cache at Base Camp and wandered around Anchorage in his stinky mountain clothes the night after flying off the glacier (true story!).

If flights are delayed due to weather, you can explore Talkeetna, but be certain to let your guides know what you plan to do.  The museum is really neat, there is great ice cream at Nagley’s Store and good pizza at Mountain High Pizza Pie.  Listen for the “planes launching” siren that sounds conspicuously like an air raid siren.  If you hear it, make your way quickly to the air strip.

Every now and then, we cannot fly that day, so please read Dave Staeheli’s article, The Talkeetna Hang, at the bottom of this page.

Take plenty of pictures and enjoy the flight!

In Talkeetna

ALL ABOARD! PREPARING FOR YOUR FLIGHT

by Drew Ludwig

Preparing for any climb requires a number of steps, some of which can be stressful and some that come at you so quickly that intuition is your only guide. One step along your journey to the summit of Denali will find you at a small airport with a large group of climbers that you hardly know, and an inconceivable amount of gear that needs to find its way to Base Camp. This is a moment when stress can be high as this is your last chance to remember anything you may have forgotten. The noise of the planes and a closing weather window tend to escalate pulses as well. Good preparation should put you at ease and enable you to relax and enjoy the flight as it is one of the most beautiful in the world.

I thought it might be helpful for you all to see what I have in my pack and on my person right before I step into the ski plane. I have omitted some guide-specific items such as sat phones and rescue gear.

Denali at airstrip

What I am wearing before I board the plane:

_Socks, mountain boots

_Gaiters (if needed)

_Light base layer bottoms

_Soft shell pants (lip balm and small sunscreen in pocket)

_Light wool base layer top (I’ll wear it for whole trip!)

_Exp weight fleece (R1 Hoody!)

_Shell jacket  with my facemask & Buff in pockets

_Light gloves

_Sun hat

_Sun glasses (with their lens cloth in my pack lid)

_Nose guard

_Altimeter watch

I have three bags for which I am responsible before I fly onto the glacier:

#1 My duffel bag that will be used as my sled bag

#2 My camera bag

#3 My backpack

Here is what I have in each:

#1 My duffel bag:

****(all sharp points need to be protected!!!)

_Helmet

_Crampons

_Carabiners, accessory cord

_Harness

_Bag of my lunch food (Big sandwich from Carrs in Wasilla)

_Ski poles

_Snow shoes

_Foam sleeping pad

**(I wrap my poles and snowshoes in my pad for extra protection)

My camera bag:

My bag often contains my digital SLR, as I work as a photographer in my other identity.  Typically, I recommend that you bring the smallest, lightest and highest quality camera you can find with extra memory cards and batteries.

My backpack:

Everything else!

Thanks for peering into my bags with me and enjoy your preparations.

Happy climbing,

Drew

The Talkeetna Hang

THE TALKEETNA HANG

by Dave “hangdog” Staeheli

Here is the problem.  We are dependent, or some might say, whores to the weather.  It doesn’t matter our intentions, mother nature is the boss, and if she says, “you ain’t going to do that,” you aren’t going to do that.  This can plague us our entire trip if unlucky, but nothing is more frustrating than hitting Talkeetna raring to go, and then… nothing.  Base Camp is socked in and the planes aren’t flying.  Or it is pouring rain in Talkeetna and the ceiling is on the deck, or the pilots report severe icing and they can’t fly.  But we have this schedule!  We are ready to go NOW!  What to do now?

Well first of all, let’s not waste a good panic.  As a guide, I’m first thinking of this as an opportunity.  With all the packing, travel and briefings, it has been tough to get a good breath in.  If we had flown straight in, we would still be on the hustle until we got out to Ski Hill, a full day up the route.  Getting on the route is a lot simpler.  Get up in the morning, eat, climb, eat, kick back, eat, eat, eat and then sleep.  If it is stormy, replace climb with more sleep.  So if we can’t fly, step back, take a deep breath and remember that this is arctic, high altitude mountaineering!  Rarely do things go according to plan.  Someone once asked that prolific climber of Alaska Mountains, Jack Tackle, how to climb in Alaska.  He said, “Buy a plane ticket to Alaska, a roll of duct tape, and everything else will sort it self out”.  Or as our inestimable leader Todd Rutledge will say, “be rigidly flexible.”  There are always things we can do to advance ourselves in the big picture.

One of those things is that we have quite a number of briefings, or “schools” we can do just as easily in Talkeetna as on the glacier.  One or two of them are actually easier to do in Talkeetna.  These briefings cover such mundane subjects as sled and pack rigging, tent erection and camp building, travel practices and crevasse crossing, aspects of high altitude arctic mountaineering, as well as less pleasant, but for some reason always entertaining, subjects like how to use a CMC can.  Expect to hang from a rope thrown over a roof beam in the shelter at Talkeetna Air Taxi as if you were in a simulated crevasse.  Get these schools out of the way and then when we finally do fly in, we can hit the glacier running.  Well, maybe not “running,” but you get the picture.

Unfortunately, about once or twice a season Mountain Trip has a team that is shut down in Talkeetna for more than a day or so, which is about how long your guides can stretch their briefings.  Welcome to the “Talkeetna Hang!”

You can’t really be an Alaska climber until you spend time hanging out in Talkeetna waiting for the weather to clear.  This is what is known as “full value!”  It’s time to really get into it.  Most climbers really never get to experience Talkeetna, which in my opinion, is a really cool town.  Early season before the tourists arrive, the local wildlife has to be seen to be believed.  Some of them aren’t even climbers!  Yes sure, check out the museum and get some ice-cream at Nagley’s, but the experienced Alaska climber packs an extra book in their luggage for an eventuality like this.  Go to the Roadhouse for breakfast and order the “Full” rather than the “Half” breakfast for a gastronomical overdose.  Check out the Fairview Inn for a beer or two, but caution, every season I have a climber or two who spends their first day on the glacier with a hangover.  Brutal!  Watch the experienced Alaska climbers and do what they do.  No panic, it is just part of the game, and probably doesn’t change the results in the big picture anyway.

What you do need to do though, is stay close or in touch.  The weather can break at unexpected times.  Usually the first plane into base camp handles 7 or 8 climbers, and if we are first on the list, we want to fill every seat.  If that plane makes it in, then there is a massive launch of planes and climbers towards base camp.  If the weather holds, no worries, Talkeetna Air Taxi will get everyone in.  Last season after a five day shut down (not a record, but pushing it), TAT flew 110 climbers into base camp in one day!  If there is any chance of a flight that day, we usually keep a guide on short leash to the air taxi.  Please let your guide know where you are going and how to get you back to the airstrip pronto!

If you are forced into the Talkeetna Hang, be patient, keep your spirits up, relax and realize it’s all part of the Alaskan mountaineering expedition game.  For many of you, this might well be your only Alaskan trip; enjoy it for what it is.

Thoughts on Gratuity

Some Thoughts on Gratuity…

Due to an increasing number of requests from climbers seeking some guidance on what would be an appropriate gratuity for your guides, we have decided to tackle the subject.

Mountain guiding is the most challenging work I’ve ever done. There is virtually no “down time” during an expedition, even during the night, as guides wake up at intervals to listen to the breathing of those nearby and often need to go out to pull snow from tents. They are the first to awaken and the last to dive into their tents, and spend the interim period in a high state of awareness so that they can notice that unlocked carabiner on your harness or remind you to drink that second hot drink before settling down for the night. They also train hard when not on the mountain, by taking relevant training courses that are mandated by us and by land managers. All in all, it is a hard, dangerous profession.

At Mountain Trip, we take pride in supporting our guides, as they are the foundation of all that we do in the mountains. This includes paying our guides very well for providing us with their services. That being said, none of us are getting rich from our chosen profession and tipping has grown into something that guides increasingly rely on to supplement their wages.

There seems to be cultural nuances that affect who might be more inclined to provide a gratuity to their guides. In North America, giving someone a gratuity for a service that was provided well is considered the norm.

If you feel that you were provided with a high level of service, we encourage you to express yourself verbally, with a written note of thanks and also by providing your guide with some amount of gratuity.

We have not provided tipping guidelines in the past because we do not want to discourage the occasional super generous gratuity. Feel free to blow your guides minds if you are able and eager to do so! On average, however, a gratuity of 5 -10% of the trip cost, split amongst the guides, would be a really nice way of saying, “Thank you.” Private trips, or trips with extraordinary circumstances, might bump that percentage up as an acknowledgment of an exemplary job well done.