The draw of the distant and inhospitable peaks of this world is in my blood. My father Alex Lowe and now stepfather Conrad Anker have enough first accents, daring rescues, and cardinal accomplishments in the high mountains all over the world to outdo most anyone in the history of the climbing. For a young man trying to carve his own place in the world of outdoor adventure, this is quite the act to follow. Last spring Conrad summited Mount Everest without oxygen after spending three nights in the death zone. Among other far-flung and high-topped peaks, Conrad has also summited Mount McKinley or Denali five times over the last 25 years of his life, the first being when he was 24, the same age as me this year. Now it’s time for me to step up.
On Saturday June 8, myself and a team of friends and credentialed mountain madmen and women will depart civilization to pass into the wild as the wheels of our Twin Otter leave the runway of Talkeetna, Alaska. Our goal is to gain the summit of the highest peak in North America, Denali, and then descend from its four-mile-high icy and snow-covered massif via skis.
Rising to the challenge of high-altitude mountaineering seems like the natural progression for someone in my family, but I like to think this is not the whole truth. Although it is an honor and a dream to take to the high mountains with Conrad and in knowing that Alex would be beaming with pride at my choice to follow in his footsteps, this is a choice of my own. As I have grown as a photographer and writer by my own means and with the help of so many, I feel I have gained an independent impetus to capture a story through the lens of my camera and with the ink of my pen.
As humans we crave the romantic allure of what lies beyond. It’s a privilege to be the one who goes around the bend and back, and then tells the story. Denali represents new ground in my aspirations as a journalist and the allure of going into this realm of ice and snow presents a formidable setting for a spectacular narrative. I must admit on the slopes of Denali, I feel that I may find some serenity in my connection to world of my fathers, but to tell the story is what really inspires me.
Forging into the cold heights of Denali requires more than just a willing spirit though. The summit of the peak sits at 20,328 feet and about 50 miles from the coast making it extremely prone to very sudden and extreme weather. And with an average of 20 days needed spent on the mountain to gain the summit and return to the airstrip at base camp, you must be both physically and mentally prepared for the challenge as well as outfitted with proper gear and provisions.
In preparation for Denali, it is strongly recommended to be well-versed in mountain-faring knowledge and snow safety. General physical fitness is the base for being prepared for this endeavor, as every climber has to hike daily with a 70-pound pack as well as a sled in tow. In my personal training regime over the last few months, I have been continuing to backcountry ski among the receding snow of the mountains of Montana, running to maintain my cardio health, as well as hiking with heavily laden packs so as to prepare myself for the heavy loads on the glacier. Unlike many other mountain accents where technical skill and tactful strength is what brings you to the summit, climbing on Denali is a slog of endurance and fortitude.
With roughly 80 pounds of gear on your person, in your pack, and riding in your sled as you walk across the glacial landscape, every individual scaling Denali must have an exact collection of items to survive in this harsh environment. Proper layering being the first, starting with synthetic base layers and going out to heavy down parkas and pants, each piece of clothing plays an integral roll in preventing chills and frostbite. Most climbers heading up Denali do so just to climb and walk back down. Our team plans to ski from the summit, which demands a whole added collection of equipment.
On top of heavy gear, the amount of food that 14 people eat over a two-week period in high-energy spending conditions is substantial. From smoked salmon and pre-cooked bacon to mass amounts of oatmeal and ramen, the spectrum of food is wide, but all packable and travelable.
Below is a short list of the some of the items that make going into these highs and extremes possible, as well as some of the things that allow me to work shooting photos and functioning as a journalist in remote and removed places.
Dynafit Mercury Boot – warm and solid alpine touring ski boots that are light yet still extremely stable for ski descents
The North Face Vengeance Mitt – heavy down mittens needed to keep hands functioning at sub-zero temperatures
TREW Gear Pow Funk Shell – a wind proof shell layer meant to be worn over insulating and down layers to hold in warmth and keep out moisture
Goal Zero Nomad 7 – a portable and lightweight solar charging unit to charge anything from an iPhone, to a GoPro, to camera batteries
Manfrotto BeFree – a super lightweight and travelable camera tripod, which maintains premier functionality with great portability
Boombot REX – a small portable speaker unit that has amazing sound quality but is also water resistant and shock proof. Entertainment is just as important to maintain sanity on the glacier as anything else
Voke Tabs – small energy chewable that are the equivalent of a Red Bull or cup of coffee each, yet are actually portable, healthy and great for the go
GoPro Hero 3 Black – small and extremely versatile with its HD quality imaging, the GoPro Hero 3 Black is not a substitute for a pro-level camera, but is a must have when delving into any extreme activity to bring the life of the action to the screen
When it comes down to it, one can be completely prepared for an expedition of this magnitude physically, gear wise, and prepped with all the food you could eat, but you wouldn’t make it to the summit if you didn’t have a solid team. A framework of great friends and fellow adventurers is essential to pushing beyond your boundaries. Every time I embark on an adventure and start making the rounds of preparation with my fellows, it becomes so clear that standing alone against great summons is seemingly impossible without a trustworthy and skilled team.
I don’t know if I will make it to the summit of Denali. I am sure though that I will go hard. I will take away a lifelong experience from this trip, and I know that the team I go with will become my close friends, and the story I take away from our shared endeavor will be pure. Bring the cold and bring the climb.