The Denali Expedition in a nutshell — The First Expedition Update
by Rick Rochelle

During the expedition, Rick Rochelle from NOLS AK kept sending emails to the family members and close friends of the expedition members. I include all the emails here so that my dear readers can learn the whole expedition in a nutshell before I sort out my personal journal.

The First Update: (Date: 06/13/2007)


I have been in touch with the NOLS Denali Expedition. It has been a busy few days on the mountain! Unfortunately, this has included two expedition members leaving due to minor medical issues (sore hips and a 1″ long cut). Those two climbers have been in touch with their families, so if you are receiving this you can rest assured that your climber (child, spouse, or friend) is healthy!

My name is Rick Rochelle and I’m the Assistant Director of NOLS Alaska. We collected an email address or two from each participant of the expedition anticipating that we would hear from the expedition leaders occasionally. They carry a satellite phone (and walkie-talkies and a ground-to-air radio), primarily for emergency use, but also to call us for a few minutes every 7-10 days to let us know how things are going. From experience, we know that you care deeply about their progress!

They started at the Eielson Visitor Center which is here:
This is a great website you can use to follow their progress. You can change the scale and move around the map just by clicking on the map in the direction you want to go. If you want to download software, Google Earth is another good site.

They crossed the tundra to the south camping next to the Muldrow Glacier the first night in the field (6/3). (Their low point on the Thorofare River was 3000′ above sea level, heading towards the summit at 20,320′.) After 3.5 more days of hiking up the glacier to the south-southwest, they reached the cache of food and fuel about a mile up-valley from McGonagall Pass (6/7):

The cache is a story in itself. We took it by vehicle to Wonder Lake last September and then by dogsled from Wonder Lake to the Muldrow Glacier just southwest of McGonagall Pass in March. There was a feature article in Backpacker Magazine a year ago about the Yanuchi family that does this part of the expedition. The cache was nearly intact. Apparently ravens got through the kevlar and between the seams of aluminum sheeting on one bag and got about twenty pounds of food (out of nearly a thousand). The course has plenty of food and fuel for the next 22 days or so.

On 6/8, a young woman (Erin) who was quite sore from the trip up to the cache decided it was best to leave the mountain. So instructor Patrick Mettenbrink and students Jon, Geno, and Erin left to hike to Wonder Lake–a four-day round trip. (The expedition did not start at Wonder Lake because the road was not open yet.) Here is the Wonder Lake trailhead on the map:

On 6/9, the course ferried a load of food and fuel up the mountain. On their way back to camp, a mile and a half above the cache, a young man (Seth) tripped and cut his knee as he hit a rock. He sustained a 1″ wide laceration which necessitated evacuation. On the morning of 6/10, instructor Ben Krasnow and students Dan, Naomi and Seth departed for Wonder Lake. Also on 6/10, we at NOLS Alaska dispatched three instructors to the park (a 10-hour drive to Wonder Lake) to support the evacuation. On the evening of 6/10, Patrick’s team reach Wonder Lake and Erin arrived here in Palmer via NOLS vehicle on the evening of 6/11.

Patrick’s team (heading back to the mountain) and Ben’s team (heading to Wonder Lake) camped together at the confluence of Cache and Clearwater Creeks on the night of 6/11. At 11 am on 6/12, Ben’s team met with the NOLS Alaska evacuation support team near Turtle Hill (two miles south of the McKinley River) and passed Seth off to them. They made it to a medical facility at 11 pm last night (6/12). Seth received four stitches. He told me it was remarkably not painful and he is in good spirits.

By this evening, I suspect the remaining 13 expedition members will be nearly re-united. Remarkably, expedition leader Erica Lorenzen and seven students have been able to make progress up the mountain–to the point that they are on schedule. They camped at 10,500′ last night and will be traveling back down get more supplies today. Once the course is re-united, the standard pattern will be to ferry a load up the mountain and camp back down low one night, then move camp up the next day. Essentially, from 5,700′ to 17,000′ they will climb everything twice. The summit is about two maps away, but they will be measuring things more in elevation gained than in miles now.

I usually send an update when folks first get to the cache near McGonagall Pass, but with so much in flux we focused on supporting the evacuations rather than sending confusing emails mid-evacuation! We average about one evacuation per two expeditions, so to have two on one course is unusual. Since Denali is in a wilderness area, the park only allows helicopter evacuation for the most serious injuries.

The course leader said everyone else is healthy with only the normal soreness as folks get used to heavy loads and double-layered plastic boots. I’ll update you regularly from now on (about once a week).

Here are two final links:
Denali National Park mountaineering site:
Weather forecast for the mountain:

1 thought on “The Denali Expedition in a nutshell — The First Expedition Update <br> <small>by Rick Rochelle</small>”

  1. I’ve been trying to find a valid email address for Pat Mettenbrink who I went to high school and college with. I believe that he was one of the NOLS instructors. If you happen to have Pat’s email address, would you forward along my information and ask him to get in touch.

    Rex Spell

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