A 75 lb. Pack & Other Strange Aspects of Climbing the Highest Peak in North America
In 2017, I embarked on a once in a lifetime journey to climb the highest mountain in North America. Denali stands at 20,310 ft. (6,190 m) only 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Due to the heavy pack weight and terrible weather, Denali is considered one of the most challenging climbs in the world. On our final week, our clear weather window to summit was closed by a blizzard that would have given us frostbite in 10 minutes. After 6 months of heavy pack training and spending a small fortune on courses and equipment, we were forced to turn around.
You Have to Train With a 75 lb. (34 kg) Pack for 6 Months Prior to the Expedition
On Denali, you carry a 75 lb. pack while pulling an 85 lb. sled up the mountain. The guides stress that this training needs to start no sooner than 6 months prior to the expedition. Depending on where you live around the world, there are different ways to accomplish this. Climbers in urban areas climb stairs.
Where I was in Australia, I filled a pack with 75 pounds of water jugs and took a tourist train down the mountain. Then I climbed back up the steep winding cliffs of the Blue Mountains carrying my pack. Once I reached the top, I took the train back down and started over. I decided that the downhill portion was not productive, as it would wear down on my knees, so having a tourist train worked perfectly.
You Have to Poop in a Tiny Bucket
Since glaciers are a pristine natural water supply, U.S. regulations mandate that climbers poop in little green buckets. You carry your own assigned bucket to every single camp up and down the mountain. It’s not as gross as you might think, since being frozen solid reduces some of the smell. The “outhouses” are 3 sided snow walls, and the “door” is marked with a trekking pole, to let others know that it is occupied. Survival erodes privacy.
Camps are Snow Forts
I was lucky to be on a July expedition, since the May and June expeditions did most of the work of making the camps. The camps have to be carved out to be level, and the snow stomped down so your tent doesn’t sink at…