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Denali for a novice?

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 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021

Not quite sure how this has come about but a young friend has been given the opportunity to join a commercial expedition to Denali in June. He's very fit but a complete Winter novice, let alone serious peaks. He asked my advice but this is well out of my experience (low grade British Winter stuff). 

I've told him to price up the expedition kit list and read Denali's Howl to give him an idea of what he's getting into. I'll take him out to practice axe arrests and crampon use this season (though this will be limited as he lives at the other end of the country), I've suggested a Conville course (it'd have to be a UK one due to the timings, so no crevasse training), buying 1001 climbing tips and doing a lot of hills with a heavy sac, but beyond this I'm at a loss.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

In reply to Stichtplate:

I'm sure there will be plenty of advice about prep coming, but I think first step is a background check on the expedition company to confirm they're reputable and competent.  Assuming they are, follow this up with a conversation with them in which he is completely honest about his lack of experience, hopefully leading into a conversation about what skills they see as a minimum for a successful and safe attempt.

Post edited at 12:24
 Rick Graham 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

As I understand it, the Conville course is designed to enlighten novice alpinists about how to conduct themselves unguided in the Alps.

Might be best to get himself booked in on a winter course in this country as a first stage.

 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Sam W:

He’s been told he needs to be able to self rescue from a crevasse and use a Z pulley system… not sure me showing him how to use prusik loops at our local wall will cut it and I’ve no idea about Z pulley systems.

I know a lot of commercial outfits will take the cash and worry about the details later but I’d rather he actually knew what he’s doing if he takes this on, just not sure how he should go about learning this stuff in a practical setting.

 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Rick Graham:

> As I understand it, the Conville course is designed to enlighten novice alpinists about how to conduct themselves unguided in the Alps.

> Might be best to get himself booked in on a winter course in this country as a first stage.

They do Convilles for British Winter novices too I think.

 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate: What Sam W said especially the bit about checking on the expedition company to confirm they're reputable and competent. If they are Id be surprised if they'll risk taking him with zero experience to Denali and if they do then they probably shouldn't.

If he does have a conversation with the company try to be with him so that he does clearly explain his total lack of experience and doesn't feel obliged to testosterone bullshit his capabilities to the provider.

Post edited at 12:53
 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021
In reply to L.A.:

> What Sam W said especially the bit about checking on the expedition company to confirm they're reputable and competent. If they are Id be surprised if they'll risk taking him with zero experience. ( Is the company hes got the opportunity to go with one that was mentioned negatively on here recently regarding their prizes by any chance ?

The invites come through an old friend of his Father’s who’s going, not quite sure what the deal is really as this was a snatched 30 minute phone conversation prior to me starting a night shift. Might be Adventure Consultants?

> If he does have a conversation with the company try to be with him so that he does clearly explain his total lack of experience and doesnt feel obliged to testosterone bullshit his capabilities to the provider.

Highly unlikely I’ll be with him as he lives down near Bristol. I’ve already advised him to be totally open about his experience level but he’s a sensible lad and not the sort to try and bullshit.

 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate: If it is Adventure Consultants then they do a Pre Denali course of 10 days to help prepare which he probably should do but like the trip itself it will be very very expensive

 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021
In reply to L.A.:

> If it is Adventure Consultants then they do a Pre Denali course of 10 days to help prepare which he probably should do but like the trip itself it will be very very expensive

so Some clarification: the company is AMS and they’ve offered to provide crevasse rescue training AND axe arrest training, so sounds like they’re used to taking people with a very low level of experience?

Post edited at 14:17
 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate: 

https://climbalaska.org/

Experience reqd for West Buttress  

https://climbalaska.org/climbs-denali-more/ams-denali-expeditions/denali-west-buttress/

Basically he fits none of those requirements especially the last sentence although they do also offer a prep course

https://climbalaska.org/courses/mountaineering-courses/kahiltna-dome-denali-prep-course/

Post edited at 14:23
 tjdodd 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

Experience requirements here

https://climbalaska.org/climbs-denali-more/ams-denali-expeditions/denali-west-buttress/

or

https://www.jagged-globe.co.uk/climb/exp/i/denali.html#overview

Sounds like a winter skills course will cover the technical side but they talk about a year of training prior to the trip (on the AMS site).  Of course, it is one thing having covered the technical skills on a course and another to be able to use those skills effectively on a trip where you are likely to be expected to be pretty independent (if you've got two left feet when using crampons it is not going to end well).

I suspect that it will be the ability (physically and mentally) to spend an extended period of time in tough, cold, conditions that is more important than technical ability.  I have been on trips with people who have been.  They said it was not technically difficult but there is a lot of load carrying and the potential to be stuck in camp for a long time.

If it was me I would want to do some easier trips first to get a feel for whether I want to endure such a trip (that is going to cost £10k+) and to be confident in my skills so that I am not having to focus too hard on basic crampon and axe work.

 VictorM 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

If I were him I would say thanks for the invite but I'll first cut my teeth in the Alps and/or Scottish winter to learn the basics of glacier, snow and ice climbing AND to experience altitude. 

Would he not enjoy the trip a lot more with some baggage and experience? Also, when is this trip? May 22 or 23? 

 tjdodd 20 Nov 2021
In reply to VictorM:

Good point on altitude.  I have never been great with altitude but endured it as the overall experience has been worth the pain.  However, spending a lot of money a few years ago to climb Peak Lenin, getting (mildish) altitude sickness at base camp, spending days in camp being violently ill and then most of the rest of the trip in a hotel being similarly ill was not a great experience.  

If you've never experienced that sort of altitude before you don't know how you will react and to just get on with minor changes of discomfort.

 profitofdoom 20 Nov 2021
In reply to VictorM:

> If I were him I would say thanks for the invite but I'll first cut my teeth in the Alps and/or Scottish winter to learn the basics of glacier, snow and ice climbing AND to experience altitude. 

> Would he not enjoy the trip a lot more with some baggage and experience? Also, when is this trip? May 22 or 23? 

A different peak, and absolutely no judgement from me, but I am always amazed to hear of people with NO mountaineering experience going to attempt to summit Everest (yes, it has happened), and here's the relevance to this thread, Denali is also a high, serious peak

 Stichtplate 20 Nov 2021
In reply to The Thread

Cheers for the advice.

His Dad’s friend has contacted the company detailing his low level of experience and training plans (not much time to play with as this is June 22). Guess I’ll wait and see what they come back with.

 profitofdoom 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

> His Dad’s friend has contacted the company detailing his low level of experience and training plans (not much time to play with as this is June 22). Guess I’ll wait and see what they come back with.

A really wise move, I hope they get get good and helpful advice from the company, and that they take it into account, whatever it is

 veteye 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

I agree with all above about having more experience. You especially need to have a freedom in use of crampons and ice-axe coming from experience, such that they are just like wearing your shoes down the high street. There is an emphasis across a group when on Denali, for an ability to totally self-rescue.

You need to be fit, so I spent a lot of time carrying a heavy rucksack doing the Munros in the May before I went to Alaska in June. That was following consistently doing more running every week for 9 months prior. I also hired a guide in the Cascade mountains for a couple of days, to review my crevasse rescue mentality, which needs to be, in good part, imprinted in your mind. Part of that was being lowered into a crevasse, and the experience of immediately feeling the large change in temperature in that environment, along with the walls which cannot be breached, or have a mark made on them by any man-made tools, emphasised the great need to know how to do crevasse rescue. 

One party were stuck at the top camp on the West Buttress, a few weeks before us, for about a fortnight, and never got to the top. We got there, intending to spend another day acclimatising, but due to the weather patterns, we ended up going the next morning, and all of us found the beginnings of altitude illness impinging on us, mainly in the head region, rather than pulmonary signs. i.e. we had heavy pressure headaches beginning at that height. A couple of people had to be short-roped, and were given medication. So the pattern of approach to the summit can be very variable, dependent on the weather.

Denali's West Buttress by Colby Coombs, and 

Surviving Denali by Jonathan Waterman are worth reading.

The latter is out of print. Even in 2005, I had to buy it 2nd hand. He effectively committed suicide by attempting an ascent of the mountain solo, and failing.

Denali is larger in height and bulk than Everest, when measured in comparison to the surrounding area, so it is not to be seen as that much different, though lower (yet being further geographically north it has altitude effects that would only be met on higher Himalayan mountains).

I would only go after getting some experience in Scottish winters, and doing Alpine mountaineering. (I had to submit a climbing experience CV to the company, that was run by Colby Coombes and his wife.)

 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to veteye: Sorry but just to be pedantic, the Jonathan Waterman that wrote Surviving Denali, High Alaska and many other Denali books is still alive and is not the John M. Waterman that went missing in a crevassed area on a solo east buttress attempt on Denali in1981 after his incredible 145 day solo ascent of Mt Hunter

Post edited at 15:39
 Will_he_fall 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Sam W:

The guiding scene on denali is highly regulated by the national park, with only a small number (6?) Of companies granted a permit. These all seem to be highly professional outfits who specialise on the mountain, with a good safety track record. 

 veteye 20 Nov 2021
In reply to L.A.:

Quite right to be correct and exact, and I stand corrected. In which case, I learned of the fact from someone else, who also was mistaken as to the identity of each of the two that are in your reply.

Sorry to others, and to Jonathan Waterman; and certainly his books are very much worthwhile to read prior to going to Alaska. 

If I got fit enough again, and technically out of the Corona virus slough, and the recovery from my broken lateral Malleolus, then I would love to go back and do the Cassin Ridge, or possibly Sultana ridge across the way, or even both of them.  It's just an amazing entrancing, but dangerous place (if you don't show full respect).

 Moacs 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18331224/

Death rate higher than i'd want to take on with no experience.

 Will_he_fall 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Stichtplate:

I'd say that much of the advice above is good, but that on a positive note if he's young, strong, motivated, well organised and picks things up fast he could have a great trip, learning loads along the way.

The guiding ratio (1:2?) is small enough for him to be well looked after from a safety point of view, as well as to develop skills along the way. I've watched guided groups being trained at denali base camp, and chatted to people who work on the mountain. Clients aren't expected to be super independent, to the point where it's pretty normal for guides to cook and melt snow for their clients!

As others have said, with the right training in the UK,  such as a week long mountaineering course followed by some personal time out with experienced peers, he could be ready for a well supervised guided trip.

 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to veteye: Re John Mallon Waterman. Never ever feel that you're taking a long time on a route  http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12197909100/Mount-Hunter-Traversed-Solo

 Will_he_fall 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Moacs:

A good summary of accidents, rescues, along with lots of stats by year is available from the National park service:

https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/mountaineering-summary-reports.htm

In reply to Stichtplate:

On top of the above, without stating the obvious it's bloody cold at times. He needs perfect admin and discipline, need to drink lots, avoid sweating, be able to do everything with gloves on etc... I'm sure they'll be advised and so on, but it's a serious place and not an ideal location for a winter bigger peak novice, compared to say South America.  

 Will_he_fall 20 Nov 2021
In reply to L.A.:

That solo traverse is the maddest trip report I've ever read! Brutal.

 veteye 20 Nov 2021
In reply to Will_he_fall:

Agreed. Talk about a solitary existence, in hard conditions.

 L.A. 20 Nov 2021
In reply to veteye: Not really solo though He had lots of lice for company.


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