First, results: no summit this time, we turned around at the 14,000 foot camp when one of our three team members couldn't shake a bout of altitude sickness. Bummer, but still, as always, a great experience. What was different this year? The weather, holy smokes it was hot. Like heatstroke hot, just nuts, and thank god for my Ex Officio sun hat and Jack Black sunscreen. The warm weather and overall great conditions propelled the summit rate to over 80 percent at one point.
On the minus side, bad behavior - and I'm sorry to say, predominantly by non-American climbers - is still way too common. In particular, descending parties seemed determined to pass above ascending parties on sideways sloping portions of the trail. This despite clear warnings from rangers during the mandatory briefings. Other poor choices included crampon-equipped climbers crossing over other parties' ropes, solo climbers (arguably a judgment call), and climbers moving on steep terrain with no arrest tools in hand. I was continually amazed at the size of the loads people were hauling in their sleds. Massive sled bags with gear still in the original packaging, shopping bags, you name it. All in all I find it a constant source of amazement that more people don't die on Denali every year.
But enough of that, let's talk about gear, almost all of which performed with a monotonous perfection: since the other climbers on the team were supposedly married - hey, I never saw the certificate - your intrepid editor slept solo in the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent. Conditions nevery got remotely nasty enough for an end-of-the-world test, but after spending nine days living in the Direkt I truly appreciated its quick and simple setup/takedown. Not to mention its ridiculously light weight and tiny package, rounded out with mixed REI and MSR snow stakes that both worked flawlessly.
Inside the tent were a Thermarest Z-lite Sol and XTherm inflatable mattress, topped by a Feathered Friends Ptarmigan -25F bag. Delightful, with extra points to the XTherm for the double-duty stuff sack/inflator. An MSR Twin Sisters floorless shelter was available for cook tent duty, but it never made it out of the bag the weather was too nice.
I pretty much lived in a custom Mchale Super SARC pack, La Sportiva Olympus Mons boots, Arc'Teryx Alpha LT jacket and bibs, REI Lightweight Polartec Half zip shirt, and Black Diamond Whippet and Mountain Carbon trekking poles. Outdoor Research Gripper gloves were almost always on hand, and although I love their performance and fit the seams on the inside of the thumb and forefinger did chew up my delicate little fingertips pretty good.
Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlocks are awesome alpine locking biners. My safety setup consisted of a Bluewater Ice Floss 8.1mm rope (older model, newer one is 7.?mm), 5mm PMI prusik cords, DMM Revolver pulley biners, Yates pickets, Black Diamond 16cm screws, and a DMM Bugette belay device. Lots of CAMP USA Nano biners for various uses, and did I mention I absolutely love the CAMP Tour 350 aluminum crampons, automatic flavor?
MSR rules the alpine cooking roost with the XGK stove, Titan pots, Trillium stove base and assorted accessories. Starbucks Via and Gu Chocolate Recovery Smoothie made a great morning mocha (made the night before and kept perfectly hot in a Thermos Element 5 vacuum bottle), while Gu Electrolyte Brew kept me going all day - love the orange flavor, not too sweet so I never got tired of it - and Mountain House Pro Paks were tasty in the evening.
A Sony DSC-HX30V 18MP 20x optical zoom compact camera shot beautiful stills and unbelievable full HD video, and it kept going even when a pair of Olympus so-called "tough" cameras both quit on us. Anyway, that's all that's top-of-mind, as promised there will be mucho more-o later.