Denali - Trip Report - Part 2

Click here to go to the Peak Page for Denali

Friday, May 9:

Finally, at 2 PM I wandered down through the tunnel under Spenard Road to the main lobby of the Barratt Inn and saw a bunch of guys standing around near the sofas. They were Steve and Mike, the two AAI guides, plus some other clients. We all shook hands and started chatting somewhat awkwardly, and when everyone (except Andy, whose flight had been delayed) showed up, we all went to a small meeting room downstairs in the hotel to formally introduce ourselves.

The two AAI guides for our trip were:

Steve House, 26 years old, lived temporarily near AAI headquarters in Bellingham, WA. Originally from rural LaGrande, OR, he started climbing seriously as a teenager, and already had a very impressive climbing resume considering his youth. A graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, he had spent a year abroad in Slovenia and had climbed major peaks in the Alps, Andes, Alaska, Canada, and the American West, and had been on a Nanga Parbat expedition. Recently he had soloed a difficult new mixed route on a huge cliff on McKinley, earning him a write-up in climbing magazines. Extremely capable, experienced, and confident, he was also patient and tolerant of his clients. Steve had summited McKinley four times previously, twice on the West Buttress and twice on the harder West Rib.

Michael Powers, 38 years old, was also temporarily living in Bellingham, since "his car was parked there". Originally from Rochester, NY, he mostly grew up in Montana, but traveled around a great deal in his 20s, often in Europe, and once he was in New Zealand for a long period. He didn't start climbing until he was in his 30s, and he and Steve had joined AAI at almost the same time. He had done less hard-core technical stuff than Steve, and he had only been to McKinley once before, but he was still a competent and experienced guide with many climbs in the Alps and Andes to his credit.

Neither guide was a lead guide or an assistant; in theory they both were equal co-leaders. In practice, though, Steve was in charge, due to his far greater Alaska range experience, greater technical climbing prowess, better physical conditioning, and the aura he held as a consummate climber who had devoted his life to the sport from an early age. Still, they got along very well and seamlessly ran the trip professionally. The more I observed other guided groups on the mountain, the more I realized that I had the best.

The seven clients were:

Bill, 32 years old, was a senior software executive who lived in Harvard, MA, near Boston. An avid cyclist in excellent physical shape, he had been bitten by the climbing bug only two years earlier, and he had been on only two real climbing trips in his life: a Mont Blanc traverse and trips up the Ecuador volcanoes, both guided. Steve House had been a guide of his in Ecuador. He was the most inexperienced climber in the group--he had spent maybe two nights out in a tent in his life--but his physical conditioning, quickness to learn, and drive for the summit more than compensated.

Barry, 39 years old, was an emergency room doctor from Lexington, KY. He was an experienced hiker and climber, but with little big mountain or international experience. He had spent a solid month outdoors with a NOLS group traversing the rugged Chugach Range in Alaska, crossing glaciers the whole way, and he had practiced medicine on Kodiak Island. He was an avid sport climber on Appalachian crags and also a veteran cave explorer, and he had been to 14,000 feet in the American west.

Andy, 35 years old, was a flow-controls engineer living in Boulder, CO. He was the quintessential Colorado outdoorsman: tan, fit, and lean, and an expert rock climber, ice climber, and skier. Although he had very little mountain experience outside of the Rockies, and had never been over 14,500 feet, he was in the best shape of anyone on the trip except maybe Steve, and he seemed to have a natural ability for climbing and innate outdoor leadership qualities. (He hadn't shown up yet for the orientation and introductions, but he appeared shortly.)

Bruno, in his mid-thirties, lived in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked doing computer stuff of some sort--telecommunications or air-traffic control or something. His English was excellent--he read books in it, and even kept his journal in it--and he spoke French and German in addition to his native Dutch/Flemish. He had climbed 22,834-foot Aconcagua, the volcanoes in Ecuador, and Kilimanjaro, as well as having backpacked quite a bit in the Rockies and Alaska's Brooks Range. He claimed to never have turned back or failed when attempting a peak, and he was sort of working on the "Seven Summits".

Luis, 33 years old, was a federal prosecutor living in Los Angeles. Very widely traveled--including six months in India and Pakistan--he was also a very accomplished climber. He hung out in places like Joshua Tree doing 5.10 routes, was very into ice climbing, and had climbed big mountains like the Ecuador volcanoes (with AAI) and Mt. Rainier, often with his friend and climbing partner Greg W.

Greg W, in his early thirties, was Luis's best friend, climbing partner, and co-worker, living in Pasadena, CA. His climbing experience was the same as Luis's, too--lots of sport climbing, ice routes, and a few big mountains. He was very bright but reserved, and a solid climber. To distinguish him from me, Greg S, I use his last initial throughout the journal.

Finally, myself, a 33-year old computer cartographer from Seattle with a fair amount of experience on big and difficult mountains.

I was very impressed with the group of clients. I thought that I had a lot of experience, but everyone else had me trumped in some way: they had been higher up, were better rock or ice climbers, had been winter camping for weeks on end, or various combinations. I was worried about my level of fitness, too, since all these guys seemed to be in excellent shape. Socially, we all got along well, too. Except for Bruno being Belgian and Luis being Asian, we were all wealthy, white, well-educated (four Ivy Leaguers), professional American males in our thirties, so there was natural common ground. There were no serious rifts or conflicts on our trip, and the guides mentioned numerous times that we were an exceptionally strong and well-qualified group.

After we had introduced ourselves, Steve and Mike talked a little bit about the route, what was expected of us, and other general trip information. All of us then followed them to their hotel room, chock-full of gear and food, where Steve and Mike went over the gear we were supposed to have and used their equipment as examples. While we were here, Andy showed up in the room-- he had just gotten in, and we all introduced ourselves to the one guy we hadn't met yet.

Then we all went to our rooms and waited for the guides to come and check out our gear, like I thought they might. I arranged all my stuff on my beds and waited and read until Steve and Mike came, and they thoroughly looked over all my expensive gear. They didn't really see anything wrong with what I had, except for my mittens, which they felt might not be warm enough, and my mug, which wasn't insulated. As the only guy with a car in town, I had volunteered to make a run to REI at 5:30 PM, so I could look for those things there.

I had time to kill before 5:30, so I finished reading Minus 148 and put all of my vetted stuff into my pack and duffel bag. At 5:30 I managed to collect Luis, Greg W, Barry, and Bruno, and the five of us piled into my Volvo for the ten-minute drive to REI. I bought an insulated mug, but couldn't find any better mittens. We all went over to AMH just down the street, too, and there I was able to buy some thicker-insulated mittens, the last piece of gear I bought. The others along with me bought minor odds and ends, too--Luis was fixated on getting a yellow water bottle parka, and no other color would do.

At 7 PM all 7 of us "clients" met in the lobby to go eat out, and we asked the desk clerk for a recommendation--she naturally said the Barratt Inn's own place was good, but we wanted something else, so after some prodding she said that Gwennie's, a ten minute walk down Spenard, was known for hearty portions of basic fare. We walked down there and had a good meal--most people had ribs--and we all got to know one another better. There were a few awkward silences, but all in all it seemed like we were part of a good group of guys with solid experience.

We went to our rooms back at the Barratt Inn, and I did my final organizing of gear by 9:30 PM or so. Tired, I went to sleep early--it was a little quieter than last night, but still a noisy hallway outside.

Go to Next Part of this Journal

Go to Previous Part of this Journal

Go to Main 1997 McKinley Journal Index

Copyright © 1987-2022 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service