By – Bill Urbanski
All teams on Denali are required to register their team names with the National Park Service. Stickers are provided to identify gear caches on the mountain. Our team name was TZT2 (“To Zee Top 2” – the first TZT team made an unsuccessful summit bid in 2007). TZT2 consisted of 7 members: Dave (team leader) – Evergreen, CO; Rob and Kenny, both of Denver, CO; Joe – San Francisco, CA; Chris – Boston, MA; Stony – Rochester, NH; and Bill – Kingston, PA.
TZT2 climbed the West Buttress Route, which is climbed by most attempting to summit Denali. The route begins at Base Camp on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7200 feet. The average successful summit takes eleven days, round trip. At 20,320 feet, Denali is the highest mountain in the United States and on the North American Continent.
Sunday, May 30, 2010 –
Breakfast at Anchorage hotel at 6:00 AM. Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) shuttle arrives at 7:30 AM to transport TZT2 to Talkeetna.
Final food stop in Wasilla at Carr’s supermarket. Arrive at TAT hanger at 11:00 AM and start weighing gear for aircraft. 800 pounds of gear plus 1200 pounds of body weight. All in one plane with 3200 pound capacity.
Roasted in shorts and t-shirt while organizing gear in hanger.
Required briefing with National Park Service (Parkies). Picked up three Clean Mountain Cans (CMC). Provided Parkies with our emergency contact info, plus info on our tents, stoves, gas, radios, etc. Back to hanger. Final gear check. Street clothes left behind in trailer at TAT. Load van with mountain gear, hit tarmac at 3:00 PM.
Pilot advises us that we have to wait. Weather is sketchy heading into base camp.
We load all TZT2 gear plus some re-supply bags for another team then walk back to TAT porch and wait. Ten minutes later, pilot announces it is go time.
We board the plane. Dave allows first timers to shoot for shotgun seat. Stony wins. Kenny and I get first two seats behind pilot.
Flight of approximately forty-five minutes takes us over lush green pine forests, cut with glacial runoff streams and rivers. Then after passing through “The Little Alps” we are above the Kahiltna Glacier. Visibility not great, but soon Base Camp is in view.
Landing a little bumpy, but not half as rough as I expected, and surprisingly short. Watching later landings and take-offs, I am amazed how little runway is actually needed.
On the glacier, we unload gear and are welcomed to Base Camp by the Parkies. We are at 7200 feet. Temps are mild – 50’s maybe even 60 with full sun and reflective heat. Parkies advise that low at base camp last night was 34 degrees.
Team sorts gear and selects a camp site after collecting our pre-ordered white gas from the Parkies. Snow is collected for melting. A cache site is selected and dug, into which goes 2-3 days of food, one CMC and two cases of beer. Cache buried and wanded with TZT2 Team sticker.
After food is had by all, Kenny and Dave brief team on roped glacier travel and crevasse rescue technique. No time for demo, just lecture.
Sleds are assembled (with patented Covill Technology – PVC tubing tows to better control sleds on side slopes and on descent). Rope teams are chosen. Chris will lead team with Kenny and Joe. Stony will lead team with the rest. Butterfly knots are tied. Ropes laid out, gear packed and we go to bed to stunning views of Mt. Foraker looming 10,000 feet above us.