Doing Denali Light: Post-Trip Report and Gearlist

It IS possible to climb Denali using lightweight techniques! Agnes and Matt discuss their gear and provide detailed gearlists.

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by Agnes Stowe with Matt Hage | 2007-08-29 00:00:00-06

Doing Denali Light:  Post-Trip Report and Gearlist

Introduction

For most people climbing Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) is no easy task. A vertical rise of 18,000 feet makes it bigger than Everest. It is no wonder that Denali means “the high one” in the Athabascan language. With backbreaking loads of 100 pounds (45 kilograms) or more the haul to the summit is grueling for even the fittest climber, but as Matt and I proved on this trip, it’s not so miserable with a lighter load. In a mere 3 hours Matt and I trucked into the first camp at the base of the ski hill at 7800 feet (2377 meters) with half the load of a typical climber and plenty of energy to spare. We could not go any further until our bodies acclimated. We set up camp and tried to “chill” in the heat of the day when afternoon temperatures can swelter to 100 °F (38 °C on the lower glacier. Perhaps our two most unorthodox items - at least for this type of climbing - were our 20 ounce (567 gram) packs and 2.5 pound (1.1 kilogram) tent. For most climbers on Denali, these two items alone can weigh from 15 to 20 pounds (6.8 to 9.0 kilograms), while these two items weighed only 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) for us. By taking techniques from ultralight backpacking and alpine climbing, we manage to put together a 30 pound (13.6 kilogram) kit (base weight plus non-worn technical gear) not including food and gas.

The Gear

To jump directly to the gear lists and weight summaries click here.

Our Golite Gust packs, at 20 ounces (567 grams) with no bells or whistles fulfilled our volume (5000 cubic inches, 81 liters) needs - they carried a lot of goose feathers. I rigged a sternum strap to help adjust the pack under load. We pushed the pack’s 30 pound carrying capacity limit, which helped us keep our loads honest. Early in the trip when the pack was maximized and we were pulling sleds the thin unpadded waist belt made our hips tender. We were thankful to be caching the sleds at the 11,000 foot (3352 meter) basin camp, especially after the hard second day around Kahiltna Pass with high winds.

The high winds persisted at the 11,000 foot (3352 meter) camp, putting our small tent to the test. The Stephenson Warmlite tent (2.5 lbs, 1.1 kilogram) was designed over 40 years ago and today is still one of the lightest high quality mountaineering tents on the market. The tent depends on its aerodynamics to withstand high winds with no guylines attached. As is expected in such cold conditions, condensation formed on the inner walls. The condensation accumulated primarily on the single-wall end sections rather than on the double wall section over the sleeping bag area. This minimized the dampness of our bags.

Another fairly unconventional item that we included in our shelter system was an 8 x 10 foot (2.4 x 3.0 meters), 14 ounce (397 grams) Integral Design Siltarp. Part of Integral Design’s “fast and light,” line this ultralight waterproof nylon tarp was great as a vestibule or awning. During high winds, we setup the Siltarp as a huge vestibule with snow walls digging down to make a cubbyhole great for cooking or just hanging out. Most of the time we did not so much encounter wind but intense sun instead. Using our poles and snow walls, we created a front porch (awning style) that allows us to stay out of the hot tent but remain protected from the blaring sun. The tarp was probably the most admired commodity on the mountain.

When it came to choosing technical gear, we had to ask ourselves, “what can we get away without?” and “what can’t we do without?” One thing we noticed was that many climbers carried excessive amount of technical gear: miles of cordalets, numerous screws and slings, and carabiners galore. The National Park Service provides fixed ropes and permanent pickets at all the technical locations leaving you to provide basic gear in case of a self-rescue situation. We reduced our technical equipment to two pickets, one ice screw, two Mammut Specter slings, two Petzel Tiblocs, and six CAMP Nano carabiners per person (Note:

The West Buttress does not have a high avalanche danger, so we decided we could “do without” an avalanche beacon. A probe, however, is useful for finding crevasses.

Choosing snowshoes instead of skis was a no-brainer for us. It is hard to pull a sled when you’re roped together on skis going downhill. Snowshoes are also lighter. Backpacking Light supplied us with Northern Lite snowshoes that worked great for travel on the lower glacier. We cached the snowshoes along with the sleds at the 11,000 foot (3352 meter) camp. Dependable footing is critical when one slip could be fatal so steel crampons were necessary. On the other hand, self-arresting on blue ice is challenging even with the best of ice axes so we felt safe with lightweight aluminum alloy CAMP USA XLA ice axes, which also assisted with the headwall climb above 14,000 feet (4267 meters).

Multi-purpose items and simplicity were the keys to our cooking system. All our meals were of the “just add hot water” variety, which allowed us to bring one four-liter cooking pot to melt snow for the two of us. Our MSR XGK stove provided the BTUs required to melt large quantities of dry snow in a short amount of time at high elevations. Some of our favorite parts of our kit were our homemade insulated yellow buckets. We purchased 32-ounce Nalgene containers that we insulated with blue foam and duct tape. The buckets were used for both hearty meals and hot drinks. We even used them to cook our Mountain House Pro-Pak meals with an extra half cup of rice. They were easy to clean too - just add water, cover, and shake.

Our sleeping setup was nothing fancy, but it was one place we did not want to skimp. After a bit of research, we chose REI 20-below Sub Kilo sleeping bags. The Sub-Kilo’s specs were comparable to bags costing twice as much. A basic blue foam pad cut to length served as both bottom insulation and as our “blue foam couch” under the front porch. Lastly, a ¾-length ultralight Therm-a-Rest provided a little more insulation under the torso.

When worst comes to worst you want to be warm. A good sleeping bag is one thing, but great layers are equally if not more important. It is crucial that when conditions become desperate you can throw on all your layers and keep moving until you can make camp. Matt and I tested our layering system on a 30-below ski tour in late February so we were confident that our clothing would see us through the Denali attempt. Key pieces included MontBell UL Down Inner Pants (7 ounces, 198 grams), Patagonia Specter Pullovers (6.5 ounces, 184 grams), Intuition Denali Liners (8.5 ounces, 241 grams), Patagonia Micro Puff Pullovers (12 ounces, 340 grams), and MontBell Ventisca down parkas (26.5 ounces, 751 grams). The Intuition Denali Liners are half the weight of standard double boot liners and thus dry quickly. This is important because you want your sweat-soaked liners to dry and not freeze overnight. The Patagonia Specter pullover was light and worked well for protection against any precipitation or wind. Finally, a down parka with a hood that you can throw on over all your layers when things turn for the worst is crucial, and the MontBell proved to be a good choice.

The Regrets

In the end, the only item we wished we had carried was a full-size snow shovel. The Snowclaw shovels are light and useful but when we could not poach a prefabricated tent site, building snow walls and digging out a site through hard ice layers was strenuous and back-breaking.

Conclusion

Slow and light is the only way I go anymore for mountaineering expeditions; not that I know any other way. It just seems like an unnecessary burden to carry a monster load when you can do it just as well carrying half the weight. Hopefully, all of you will find some ways to lighten up on your next mountaineering expedition.

Gear Lists

Agnes’ Gear List
FunctionItemWeight
Clothing wornouncesgrams
Patagonia Tights6.6187.11
Patagonia Capilene 2 Zip Neck5.0141.75
Patagonia MW Capilene Tee3.496.39
MH Windstopper Fleece20.0567
Patagonia Spector pullover6.2175.77
Patagonia Dimension pants20.2572.67
Koflach Degres boots60.61718.01
Intuition Denali Liners7.6215.46
OR Expedition Gaiters9.6272.16
Smartwool liner socks2.673.71
Smartwool socks3.290.72
Smartwool hat2.468.04
Patagonia Liner Gloves1.234.02
BD Shell Gloves3.496.39
Smith Empire sunglasses w/ case 2.673.71
Clothing Worn Total Weight154.64382.91
Other Clothingouncesgrams
Patagonia MW Capilene Tights (2)9.0255.15
Under Armour Long Sleeve6.0170.1
Patagonia Capilene MW Long Sleeve6.0170.1
Patagonia Micro Puff pullover10.8306.18
Montbelll UL Inner Down Pants5.8164.43
Montbell Ventisca Down Parka26.8759.78
Seirus Balaclava2.673.71
Comfort Skins Neck Gaiter1.234.02
Camp Booties14.8419.58
Integral Vapor Barrier Socks2.468.04
Bolle Goggles52
MH Subzero Down Mittens11.0311.85
Patagonia Liner Gloves1.234.02
Smartwool liner socks2.673.71
Smartwool socks3.290.72
Other Clothing Total Weight103.42931.39
Sleeping Systemouncesgrams
REI -20 Sub Kilo Short57.01615.95
Thermarest 3/4 UL 15.4436.59
Blue Foam Pad7.8221.13
Sleeping System Total Weight80.22273.67
Shelterouncesgrams
Stephenson Warmlite 2RL (shared)--
Integral Design Siltarp16.0453.6
Snow Stacks (7)9.0255.15
Snowclaw6.2175.77
Mammut Probe (shared)--
Shelter Total Weight31.2884.52
Cooking Systemouncesgrams
MSR SGK w/ Kit20.0567
OR Bottle Parka (2)18.4521.64
Nalgene (2)13.6385.56
33 oz MSR Fuel Bottle15.6442.26
Open Country 4L11.4323.19
Utensils2.570.88
Cooking System Total Weight81.52310.53
Packing Systemouncesgrams
Golite Gust w/ straps (S)20.0567
Paris Expedition sled (modified)24.0680
Packing System Total Weight44.01247
Technical Gearouncesgrams
BD Whippet20.6584.01
Camp USA XLA 210 (60cm)8.8249.48
BD Sabretooth Crampons36.21026.27
BD Bod17.8504.63
Camp Nano Carabiners (6)7.2204.12
Petzel Tibloc (2)2.879.38
Mammut Spector Slings (2)1.336.86
BD Express Screw 45.6158.76
Rope48.01360.8
Snow Picket 2'14.0396.9
Northern Lites Snowshoes43.01219.05
Technical Gear Total Weight205.35820.26
Other Essentialsouncesgrams
First Aid Kit4.0113.4
Toiletries6.0170.1
Repair Kit (shared)--
Freshetta1.028.35
Reading Book2.056.7
Other Essentials Total Weight13.0368.55
Consumablesouncesgrams
Food411.911677.37
Fuel128.03628.8
Water (1 liter)32.0907.2
Consumables Total Weight571.916213.37
Matt’s Gear List
FunctionItemWeight
Clothing wornouncesgrams
Patagonia Activist Tights8.6243.81
Patagonia Capilene 1 Tee4.5127.58
Lowe Alpine Midweight Top8.4238.14
MH Windstopper Fleece23.0652.05
Patagonia Spector Pullover6.8192.78
Marmot Precip10.4294.84
Lowa Denali Plastic Boots65.21848.42
Intuition Denali Liners10.8306.18
OR Expedition Gaiters12.2345.87
Smartwool Liner Socks3.599.23
Smartwool Socks4.0113.4
Wigwam Stocking Hat2.056.7
Patagonia Liner Gloves1.234.02
BD Shell Gloves3.496.39
REI Glacier Glasses w/ case4.6130.41
Clothing Worn Total Weight168.64779.81
Other Clothingouncesgrams
Patagonia Tights8.6243.81
Under Armour Long Sleeve7.8221.13
Patagonia Capilene MW Long Sleeve7.2204.12
Patagonia Micro Puff Pullover12.0340.2
Montbelll UL Inner Down Pants7.2204.12
Sierra Design Down Parka27.0765.45
MH Balaclava1.439.69
Columbia Neck Gaiter1.542.53
OR Camp Mukluks15.2430.92
Integral Vapor Barrier Socks2.468.04
Uvex Goggles6.0170.1
OR Mittens10.2289.17
BD Liner Gloves2.262.37
Smartwool Liner Socks3.599.23
Smartwool Socks4.0113.4
Other Clothing Total Weight116.23294.27
Sleeping Systemouncesgrams
REI -20 Sub Kilo Regular60.01701
Thermarest 3/4 UL 15.4436.59
Blue Foam Pad8.4238.14
Sleeping System Total Weight83.82375.73
Shelterouncesgrams
Stephenson Warmlite 2RL44.21253.07
Integral Design Siltarp (shared)--
Snow Stacks (shared)--
Snowclaw12.0340.2
Mammut Probe7.0198.45
Shelter Total Weight63.21791.72
Cooking Systemouncesgrams
MSR SGK w/ Kit (shared)--
OR Bottle Parka (2)18.4521.64
Nalgene (2)13.6385.56
33 oz MSR Fuel Bottle15.6442.26
Open Country 4L (shared)--
Utensils2.570.88
Cooking System Total Weight50.11420.34
Packing Systemouncesgrams
Golite Gust Pack (M)20.0567
Paris Expedition sled (modified)24.0680
Packing System Total Weight44.01247
Technical Gearouncesgrams
BD Whippet20.6584.01
Camp USA XLA 210 (70cm)10.0283.5
BD Sabretooth Crampons33.8958.23
BD Alpine Bod Harness14.0396.9
Camp Nano Carabiners (6)7.2204.12
Petzel Tibloc (2)2.879.38
Mammut Spector Slings (2)1.336.86
BD Express Screw (2)5.6158.76
Rope48.01360.8
Snow Picket 2'14.0396.9
Northern Lites Snowshoes43.01219.05
Technical Gear Total Weight200.35678.51
Other Essentialsouncesgrams
First Aid Kit-0
Toiletries-0
Repair Kit6.0170.1
Pee Bottle2.262.37
Reading Book2.056.7
Other Essentials Total Weight10.2289.17
Consumablesouncesgrams
Food411.911677.37
Fuel128.03628.8
Water (1 liter)32.0907.2
Consumables Total Weight571.916213.37
Weight Summary of Matt’s Gear
Total Weightounceskilogramspounds
Total Weight (Worn/Carried)359.910.222.5
Total Base Pack Weight329.39.3420.6
Total Weight Consumables (Sled)571.916.2135.7
Total Initial Weight (Pack + Sled)901.225.5556.3
Full Skin Out Weight1261.135.7578.8
Weight Summary of Agnes’ Gear
Total WeightounceskilogramsPounds
Total Weight (Worn/Carried)368.910.4623.1
Total Base Pack Weight343.59.7421.5
Total Weight Consumables (Sled)571.916.2135.7
Total Initial Weight (Pack + Sled)915.425.9557.2
Full Skin Out Weight1284.336.4180.3


Citation

"Doing Denali Light: Post-Trip Report and Gearlist," by Agnes Stowe with Matt Hage. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/hage_stowe_denali_light_post_expedition.html, 2007-08-29 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Doing Denali Light: Post-Trip Report and Gearlist


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Matt Hage
(mattagnes)

Locale: Alaska
Re: Overboots on 09/04/2007 17:44:34 MDT Print View

Hey Robert

That’s the great challenge of the alpine game; there is no right or wrong answers. Only decisions. And every alpinist must solely live or die by their own decision. Everyone must know their own capabilities and limits; both physical and mental. And every team is responsible for their own exit strategy. Our trip on the West Buttress this season was about finding areas where we could go without. Overboots were actually an easy choice to cut for us. Our feet stay warm in our chosen boots in some pretty brutal conditions. It may be having a lifetime of Fairbanks winters in my blood. Agnes and I are pretty used to BC skiing, mountaineering and ice climbing in below zero conditions. My feet are usually too warm in my current boot system and I’m not looking for anything warmer for spring/summer/fall trips in the Alaska Range. I do take overboots (40 below neoprene) on winter trips. The VB liners are our extra bit of foot insurance.

Others take overboots for summit day and some wear them everyday on the route. Frostbite happens with or without them. A boot tied too tight in the morning. A bonked or dehydrated climber above 18K can start to feel cold even in a down suit. Know your body and how it performs in harsh environments. Then make your equipment/clothing decisions. First time to Denali? You probably want to pack overboots as it can be a very cold mountain. I would certainly pack overboots on my first trip to some of the other great ranges.

But c’mon people, ditching overboots wasn’t that big a deal when you consider we took a 2.5 lb tent that doesn’t have a single guy line. That was spooky!

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Re:Re: Overboots on 09/04/2007 20:02:45 MDT Print View

Matt: You have more experience than I on Denali, and I'm not putting you down, just asking questions. Regarding that Stephenson Warmlite tent, since it has been around for decades, why is it not more popular on the big mountains. In videos of the South Col of Everest I see VE-25s and MH tents, but never a Stephenson Warmlite tent. Is it limited to places with lots of tie-out possibilites? Does it handle heavy snow loads?

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Nosce te ipsum on 01/24/2008 11:36:03 MST Print View

I've always found foot warmth to be as subjective as diet: one person's requirements can be wildly different from another's in the same conditions.

I know this because I am probably among the luckiest humans alive for foot warmth. My feet are hot in almost anything, and I have to work hard to manage heat and sweat. In the summer, I delight in the day's first tramp through an icy creek -- because I know my feet will be pleasantly cooled for the rest of the day.

I once misguidedly applied what works for *me* to my girlfriend: I suggested that gore-tex shoes would repel occasional splashes of water but create and then trap torrents of sweat, leading to wet and miserable feet. As most women reading this have guessed, she wound up with permanently-chilled feet and ultimately a bladder infection. We quickly exchanged her breathable trail runners for sealed-up gore-tex light hikers, and she's been comfortable ever since.

I feel that winter and high-altitude pursuits are where it's most critical to "know thyself". You need to know when and how *you* need to be fed, when *you* are ready to really giv'er, (or when *you* are spent,) and very importantly how each part of *you* needs to be insulated or ventilated.

Another climber looks at this list and says "yikes cold feet!", whereas the author might look at that climber's list and say "I would starve eating all that starch and candy" or "how are you going to stay warm at night in that bag?"

Nosce te ipsum.

nanook ofthenorth
(nanookofthenorth) - MLife
Micropuff AND Parka on 03/13/2009 22:25:29 MDT Print View

Not sure if anyone is still reading/replying to this gearlist, but I was wondering about the decision to bring a 25oz parka and micropuff pullovers. In your experice are both nessecery?
Were starting to put together our gear for the West Butress and are trying to decide on parkas...

Matt Hage
(mattagnes)

Locale: Alaska
Re: Micropuff AND Parka on 04/08/2009 13:00:33 MDT Print View

Hey Robert

You might be able to get away with just the MontBell parka (or similar). The micropuff pullover is to be used under the spectre jacket on days climbing. Added insulation for up high and on cold, windy days. Need synthetic layer there or else just gets soaked.

Good luck and have fun up there!