Like most of you, 2020 derailed my plans – specifically with climbing, my Seven Summits initiative, and most things TKEF related. Also, like most of you, I’m extremely relieved to see our country making some progress in getting back to “normal.” I didn’t want to get my hopes up back in January, when I was told that the National Park Service was giving us the thumbs up for my Denali expedition, but sure enough, it’s now April and I’m 50 days out from flying out to Alaska.
For those of you who don’t know, Denali is the highest point in North America sitting at 20,310 in the Alaska Range. I attempted Denali back in 2018, but was forced to turn around due to inclement weather. I guess being pinned for 17 days at 14,000 feet should have been a good indicator that it probably wasn’t going to happen, but we gave her Hell up until 18,300 feet anyway. Today, I am no stranger to turning around and know that the best mountaineer is also the one that can make the call to turn around when necessary. That said, I was PISSED off when we had to turn around and I am so looking forward to my redemption round on Denali this year.
To be transparent, I am a bit nervous. My last big expeditions all took place in 2019: Aconcagua, Everest, and Cotopaxi. So, I’ve been out of the game a little bit, but still beyond eager to grind this one out. If you’re like me, one of my favorite parts is gear. Maybe it’s the Marine Corps in me, but I love a gear check, and then another one, and then another one. Or it could just be I really love to buy gear, so I’m always looking for something missing. As I start to slowly run through my prep, I thought I’d share my thoughts on gear and the must haves for this expedition. I’ll be sure to share more, but these are at the top of my list:
Hard Shell Jacket: Burton AK Kimmy Gore-Tex 3L
My choice usually surprises people; most of my choices usually do, considering they don’t fall directly in line with the standard mountaineering or expedition “go to” list. But I’m not here to make money. I’m here to tell you what works for me and what I suggest. There’s no paid promo here. This jacket is unreal, and really pricey ($549), but SO worth it. It’s not too tight, but it also doesn’t have material flopping around, so it’s perfect as an over layer and to go underneath your harness. I guarantee the material will keep you dry and protected from the elements, and if you get too hot, there’s vents. My favorite feature is the abundance of pockets – a must on the mountain. When you’re out there, you need quick access, and this hard shell gives you plenty of options.
Sun Shirt: Patagonia SunShade Hoody
I learned my lesson the hard way with this one on my first attempt of Denali. So many people think that it’s going to be freezing temperatures the whole time… but I spent just as much time in a long sleeve shirt and a hat as I did in a parka and a beanie. Needless to say, I didn’t have this on my 2018 attempt, but I’ve always had one on EVERY expedition since. The sun will blister you well before you get frost bite, when it comes to glacier travel.
Base Layer: Curves N Combatboots Double Brushed Leggings
That’s right. I’ve ditched your typical base layer bottoms. I was die hard loyal to Patagonia for base layers in the past, but after putting these to the test on Everest and several other adventures, I am sticking to my guns on these. The double brushed material is super soft, yet is still sweat wicking and durable (and again, pockets… need I say more). Don’t judge my leopard print embossed pattern – everyone needs a pick me up on the mountain.
Insulated Pants: Feathered Friends Volant Down Pants
If you’ve kept up with my climbs in the past, then you know I run HOT… HELLA HOT. But I tell you what, there’s nothing like being able to walk around in a sleeping bag when its frigid or when you’re stuck digging your tent out.
Mountaineering Boots: La Sportiva G2 SM
This, I will never lead you astray on. I’ve got one foot… I have to protect it at all costs and by all means necessary. The straightforward design prevents any hiccups or hang ups when putting on the boot, and the BOA system internally allows you to adjust the boot to your comfort while maintaining an optimal responsiveness. Again, these boots have been around the world with me climbing at a broad spectrum of altitudes and climates, and I won’t climb without them.
Sock(s): Darn Tough Mountaineering Over-The-Calf
I personally think the name speaks for itself… but I’ve been using the same 4 pairs of socks for years now and the quality remains the same (never mind the fact that I get 8 uses out of 4 pairs). Seriously though, the design is simple so there’s no slipping and the extra cushion is great for long days. Again, I have to protect the only foot I have with the best – blisters or cold injuries would end anyone’s expedition, but especially mine. I only trust these socks for expeditions.
Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering Bison GWS
I’ve said it before… probably in every single blog since Aconcagua, that this is the sleeping bag if you plan to take your sport to the extreme. Its heavy at nearly 5 pounds, but I promise you, you will not be the one complaining about being cold and the extra weight (and money spent, $1,150) is worth it.
Duffel Bag: LEER GEAR DUFFEL
Won’t lie, at first I was skeptical of the 80-120 liter duffel bag concept, but LEER has outdone themselves with this design. It’s super lightweight, but maintained its weather resistance and quality zippers. While it was intended for watersports, it is also perfect for long hauls with lots of travel and will be the perfect sled bag ready for the elements.
Body Wipes: Bravo Sierra Body Wipes
Ya’ll, mountaineering is a nasty sport and lifestyle. I’ll be honest… I’m about to climb for three weeks with no shower. I really don’t need to say more, but I’ll keep entertaining you. Denali is a “Leave No Trace” mountain. In other words, what you carry in and what you “create”, you’re also carrying out. If I’m going to spend my time toting around a green bucket of frozen waste anyways, it will also carry quality products that keep all of my bits, bobs, and parts clean.
Watch: Ironman Essential
Watch out folks, big spender over here… to be honest, I actually bought mine on clearance for $9.88 and it’s been the most durable watch with the most obnoxious alarm (crucial for on the mountain). I’ve been the one to spend $4/500 on a Garmin and other fancy know it all watches, but this one has yet to fail me. If I’m already going to be carrying a GPS/Comms device, I couldn’t care less about any other bells and whistles.
Sunglasses: Julbo Shield M
If you’ve seen the photos of me coming off Everest, you won’t ask any questions… these sunglasses kept the skin they covered and my eyes protected from the sun, any reflections off of the snow, and the wind. These are flattering, comfortable, and most importantly have lenses that adapt to your environment.
Backpack: Patagonia Ascensionist Pack 55L
I’m already an anomaly on the mountain, but I whole heartedly believe in figuring out what works best for you and what allows you to give your best effort to your team and the mountain. While this may not make sense for most, this is the go-to backpack for me… it is flimsy for most on big expeditions, but I can cinch it down and manipulate it so that it doesn’t put any pressure on the top of my prosthetic – causing me to lose suction and ultimately, my leg. This is definitely a situation of putting 30 pounds of shit in a 5-pound sack.
Lip Balm: Dermatone
I said it earlier, people always underestimate the heat and the sun on expeditions. My first experience with glacier travel was on the Ruth’s Glacier during a mountaineering course in 2017 and I learned the hard way, that the sun can and will blister your lips, the roof of your mouth, inside your nose, and any exposed skin. Trust me, having your lips feel like sand paper is not the way to go. Dermatone is the only lip balm and skin protection I will use in the backcountry and in the elements.