Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Gearing up to fly onto Denali's Kahiltna Glacier to start the trip. I'm pictured in the center, with my friends Matt Reiter (left) and Bryant Mangless (right).

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

We're psyched to fly in from Talkeetna, AK to the Denali base camp. Our gear is on the left, and we're on the right, to keep the plane carefully balanced. In the back is fellow climber Bart Thedinger, a Houston, TX-based business executive.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

A view from base camp. You're looking at camp, a glacier runway, and Mt. Hunter in the background.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

One of our guides, Nate Furman, took his turn preparing meals in the cook tent. Hot cocoa, and Starbucks Via packets, were the most popular hot drinks. Notice how ergonomically correct the kitchen is, with a wraparound ice counter.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

An early morning view from base camp of Mt. Foraker (17,400 ft).

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The long march begins, loaded with gear on backpacks and sleds.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Setting up camp at our first stop, at 7,800 ft. We built a snowwall to protect camp from wind coming down the Kahiltna Glacier, but the sun was the greater enemy. The light white hat was quite useful on this 80 degree afternoon.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Amazing visuals can present themselves at sunrise in the mountains, which only last for a few moments. See how Mt. Foraker is casting a long shadow in the distance.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Depth perception, and steepness, are hard to gauge on Denali with the naked eye.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Time to let our sweaty boots air-dry during a beautiful afternoon at Camp 2--elevation 11,200 feet.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

One of the secrets to success in an expedition is caching. You climb up 2,000 feet or so with a few days' worth of food, bury it for future use, and descend back to camp. In doing so, you get your body adjusted to altitude, and you lighten future loads going up the mountain. But you still need to get the sled back down to camp, and bringing a sled downhill can be tricky. So we stuffed them in our backpacks.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Our lead guide from the American Alpine Institute, Richard Riquelme. A master of team leadership, logistics, meteorology, and of knowing how to joke around and have a good time. When a grease fire blew up in a cooking pan one night, startling everyone, he didn't even flinch. "We'll fix it. Don't worry," he told a junior guide. And they did.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Trudging our way up to Windy Corner (elevation 13,200 ft) on a clear day. Things were calm on this pass through Windy Corner, but it lived up to its billing during the descent.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

A water break on the way to Windy Corner. Standing is George Foulsham, an environmental engineer from Australia. He's joined on my rope team by Ryan Melcher, a designer from the Washington, D.C. area, and Nate Furman, a guide who has a day job as an assistant professor of adventure education at Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Did I mention how sleds could be tricky to handle? Here's one slanted stretch coming out of Windy Corner where they just wouldn't follow nicely behind you.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

That's me in the wee hours one morning at the next camp at 14,200 ft. You can see how much further Mt. Foraker is in the background now.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The view from Camp 14 up what is known as "The Headwall." The trail runs right up the middle, and the squiggly line that represents a ski descent from the high ridge above. The last visible stretch of trail was for a fixed rope line, which presented one of the bigger challenges of the trip.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

My ice axe was the source of one challenge on the trip. I broke off the back end while chopping ice at Camp 11,200. This could have been a show-stopper, because it's unsafe to climb without an axe to help stop a fall. Our lead guide, however, created a "MacGyver" fix it by taking a broken tent stake and wrapping it tight around the axe with athletic tape. Good enough.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

One of the members of a Stanford University research team was camped out at Camp 14. I joined a few climbers who participated in their study, which measured our blood oxygen levels, took ultrasound scans, put us through a 6-minute walk test, and assessed our hydration at high altitude. He's shielding a handheld ultrasound machine from the sun, that was provided by Redmond, WA-based Mobisante.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Here comes the sun

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

High winds on the high summit kept us stuck at Camp 14 for several days. Partly to stave off boredom, we took a jaunt one night to the "Edge of the World" a steep rock outcropping near camp, for a photo shoot. It felt like you could see hundreds of miles.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Meals were hearty most of the way, until we had to drop weight and switch to freeze-dried meals at the highest camp at 17,200 feet. We had some great storytelling sessions in the cook tent until then, and ate pretty well. Here, assistant guide Andy Stephen loads up his dinner with some hot sauce.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

We got a little bit of cabin fever at Camp 14, waiting for the weather to clear. One night after dinner, we visited a fellow expedition led by the Natural Outdoor Leadership School and played a round on their cleverly designed mini golf course on the glacier. My friend Matt Reiter lines up his putt here, right before nailing a hole-in-one.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The push up the high mountain begins, where the air is thinner and the winds are faster. Those little dots on the left hand side of this shot are the campsites we are leaving behind at Camp 14.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Matt Reiter taking a break after the climb up "The Headwall" to a cache spot at about 16,200 feet. This was a hard-earned break against the elements, and if you have any doubt, Matt had icicles attached to his beard to prove it.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

There weren't many places to sit and rest on the ridgeline up to High Camp at 17,200 ft.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The clouds were thick around us on our last break before reaching the highest camp at 17,200 ft. Pictured in the foreground is Ralf Roddenhoff, a London-based investment banker.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The clouds moved fast, in beautiful patterns, at high camp. Here is assistant guide Andy Stephen wrapping up rope, with a rock outcropping known as "the springboard" in the background.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

We reached the summit on Day 17, right before a storm moved in and forced us to move down. This is me and my two climbing partners of the past 10 years, Matt Reiter and Bryant Mangless. We are Wisconsin natives, and met as undergrads at UW-Madison, which explains the banner.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Enjoying some rest, and the views, at "the springboard" during the descent from Camp 17.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Relaxing at high camp with Ralf Roddenhoff (left) and Matt Reiter (right).

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The descent was long and adventurous at times, especially going down "The Headwall," standing up to some powerful winds around Windy Corner, and avoiding many of the many new crevasses on the low glacier. Here, Nate Furman is getting ready for the last stretch of glacier from Camp 1 to base camp. We went in the middle of the night, in hopes of avoiding high heat and slushy glacier conditions of the day. It was still slushy, and Richard Riquelme had to use some careful navigation to get us all the way back to base camp.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

A bush plane from Talkeetna Air Taxi landing on the Kahiltna Glacier on Day 21 of our trip. Although this wasn't our plane, it cleared the way for others to signal it was safe to land that day. It was a relief, as we had arrived at base camp the day before and hoped to fly back to Talkeetna to celebrate later that day. Instead, we made camp, caught up on a lot of sleep, and ended up playing an evening round of the boardgame Clue. You never know what those guides have in their secret cache at base camp, do you?

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

The whole team, safely back on the ground at K2 Aviation in Talkeetna, AK. Standing, from left--Nate Furman, Patrick Montoya, George Foulsham, myself, Matt Reiter, Ralf Roddenhoff, Bryant Mangless. Front row, from left---Ryan Melcher, Richard Riquelme, Bart Thedinger. Not pictured is Andy Stephen, who snapped this photo.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

Celebrating the climb at a Talkeetna restaurant, The West Rib. I'm thankful to have had Richard Riquelme as my guide, as he imparted a few valuable lessons about leadership.

Denali 2013

Denali 2013

I’ve been dreaming about Denali since I started climbing mountains a decade ago with two best friends. This is the year we made it happen.

As many Xconomy readers know, I just returned from a successful three-week expedition to climb Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America. Many saw me grow a beard to protect from the winds, or saw me get ready through one of my grueling daily hill climbs with a 75-100 pound backpack. All the community encouragement and support was greatly appreciated in the run-up to this extreme physical, mental, and psychological challenge.

For those unfamiliar, the Alaskan peak is known as Denali, or the “The High One,” to Native Americans and climbers, and Mt. McKinley to many others. The summit, first reached 100 years ago, stretches up to 20,320 feet. Everything about it is extreme. It’s so remote, you have to fly 40 minutes on a bush plane to land on a glacier at 7,200 feet to start. You need to bring three weeks of food and supplies to allow time to climb, adjust to altitude, and last through inevitable bad weather. You need to haul 120 pounds of personal gear, and team gear, spread between your backpack and a sled that you get to drag uphill.

This is also a U.S. National Park, which means there are no Sherpas or Andean donkeys to help carry the load, and don’t even think about littering. I was part of a team of 11 guys—eight climbers and three guides—who were supported on this quest by the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, WA.

Then there’s the weather. The June sun can beat down on you at 85 degrees on the low glacier in the afternoon, and the mercury can easily dip below 0 when the sun hides behind a ridgeline at night. Wind gusts can be powerful enough to knock you off your feet, especially in tricky spots where every foot placement counts. Storms can move in, and pass, at a moment’s notice, with little forecast warning.

People ask me sometimes why I climb, and it’s hard to answer in a single line. I love being in a beautiful natural environment. I love testing my own physical and mental limits. I love camping. I love the joking around, and fellowship with other climbers. I’m sure I could go deeper into mountain metaphors for life and business, but I’ll save those thoughts for another day. Today, I hope you enjoy these photos from a great adventure in one of the world’s amazing natural environments. Have a great holiday weekend.

  • Chris Rivera

    Great pictures Luke! It looks like you had a great time, I am glad that you are back, safe and sound so that you can emcee LSINW’s Women to Watch next week :-).

  • Johnny T Stine

    Awesome shots and a great story. Thanks for sharing this – looks like an incredible experience.

  • Mary brownell

    Great pictures and story Luke! I enjoyed the next one about leadership also.