Denali Prep Course

Overview

AAI Guide Matt Anderson leads a team on the fixed lines above 14 Camp on Denali.

AAI Guide Matt Anderson leads a team on the fixed lines above 14 Camp on Denali.  AAI Collection

Denali is home to some of the most severe weather and climbing conditions on the planet, so climbers looking to have a safe and successful climb on the mountain need to do an excellent job of preparing both mentally and physically for an expedition. The American Alpine Institute has over thirty years of guiding experience on Denali and we have used our experience to tailor a program in the Cascades that will help prepare you for the challenges of climbing North America's highest peak.

Course Highlights

  • Learn Denali-specific skills on an expedition style course
  • Practice sled rigging, fixed line use and cold weather camping techniques
  • Review glacial travel, rope team travel and crevasse rescue techniques

 

Prerequisites and Recommendations

  • Overnight backpacking experience
  • Excellent physical condition
  • Previous glacier travel experience is helpful, but not required
  • We recommend that climbers complete at least one previous mountaineering objective that includes cold weather, altitude, or skill instruction.
  • We recommend that climbers take this course during the winter or spring before their Denali trip so that skills and training are still fresh upon arrival in Alaska.

Denali Prep Course

Curriculum

A group practicing sled hauling at the Mt. Baker Ski area.

A group practicing sled hauling at the Mt. Baker Ski area. 
Stacey Kurtz

Climbing Skills

  • Selection and use of personal equipment, ropes, knots, and harnesses
  • Design concepts and selection of ice axes and ice tools
  • Proper choice and application of the primary ice axe positions; piolet canne, panne, manche, poignard, ramasse, rampe, ancre, and traction
  • Choice between and application of French, German, and American cramponing techniques
  • Belays on snow and ice
  • Selection and placement of snow flukes and pickets, ice screws for belays and protection
  • The uses of mechanical belaying devices in alpine climbing
  • Free climbing technique on steep snow and ice
  • The integration of specific skills with the goals of efficient and safe climbing

 

Glacier Travel, Rescue, and Living Skills

  • An introduction to glacial structures and movement: how to use large external land forms to predict inner glacial structures and hence the difficulties and hazards of a potential route
  • Principles of glacier travel while climbing and skiing
  • Individual and team crevasse rescue
  • Route finding and marking in low visibility
  • Snow cave and igloo construction and living
  • Leave No Trace principles of climbing, traveling, and living in the alpine environment

 

Participants practice crevasse rescue one a wild Alaskan Glacier.

Participants practice crevasse rescue on a wild Alaskan Glacier. 
AAI Collection 

Expedition Skills

  • Discussion of Himalayan, Alaskan and alpine expedition climbing styles with comparisons of inherent advantages, limitations, and requirements associated with each style
  • Expedition processes in icefalls and the establishment and ascension of fixed lines
  • Techniques for roped use of sleds for transporting gear

 

Physics, Physiology, and Medicine of Cold Weather and Altitude

  • An introduction to human physiology in cold weather
  • Preventing and treating cold weather injuries
  • An introduction to human physiology at high altitude
  • Preventing and treating high altitude illnesses

 

Other Denali Prep Programs

We offer specialized Denali Prep programs in many exciting locations! Check out the five-day Winter Mountaineering Program held in California's Sierra Nevada Range, the ten-day Alaska Mountaineering Course held in the heart of the Alaska Range, or the St. Elias Skills Expedition in Alaska's St. Elias Range.

Denali Prep Course

Course Goals

This winter mountaineering and Denali preparation program is geared for folks with a basic to intermediate level of mountaineering skill and experience who are looking to prepare for and climb Denali in the near future. This program is set-up to be a mini-Denali expedition on which we will employ and use every skill and technique that climbers would expect to use on Denali. This will include the use of sleds, snowshoes, cook tents, and the use of fixed lines as well as a review of glacier travel,rope team, and crevasse rescue techniques.

Each course is led by at least one (depending on the number of climbers) of AAI's lead Denali guides, and participants will have the unique opportunity of getting direct feedback as to their level of preparedness and areas of training including physical conditioning and technical skill. Our hope is that by offering a prep program several months before the Denali expedition, we can help climbers round out the final pieces of their technical and physical training before heading to Alaska.

A detailed daily itineray can be downloaded under 'Course Downloads' to the right.

Approaching Denali on the Kahiltna Glacier

Approaching Denali on the Kahiltna Glacier. AAI Collection.

Course Location and Conditions

This course is held in either two locations, on Mount Rainier's Nisqually Glacier or on the north side of Mount Baker on the Coleman and Deming glaciers. In March and April, both Rainier and Baker are still in winter condition and the weather can be challenging. Temperatures may dip as low as the single digits at night and the winds can be relentless. Heavy snowfall is not uncommon and you will more than likely encounter whiteout conditions for at least part, if not all, of this trip. In other words, the Cascades in the winter are the perfect training ground for Denali!

Because of the cold weather and harsh environment, climbers should plan on bringing all of the equipment required for a Denali Expedition, including their overboots and warm sleeping bags. Although these might not be required and/or used extensively on the program, making sure that all of your gear fits, works, and is up for the challenge is essential in preparing for Denali. The equipment list for this course and our Denali expedition maybe be downloaded under 'Course Downloads' to the right.

Denali Prep Course

Dates and Details

Cost - $1590 (includes food)

Max Ratio - 4:1 (Climbers:Guide)

Capacity - 9 climbers

Duration - 6 days

2017 Dates

  • April 10 - 15, 2017 (Mt. Rainier) FULL
  •  
On Mount Baker's Coleman Glacier in winter.

On Mount Baker's Coleman Glacier in winter.
AAI Collection

Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions: AAI plans and packs the food for all Denali Expeditions. We will introduce expedition food systems and cooking styles on this course.

  • AAI Mountain Guide services, leadership and instruction
  • Tents and group cooking equipment
  • Group climbing equipment
  • Mechanical ascenders for fixed lines
  • Custom Expedition Sleds
  • Meals while in the mountains
  • Transportation between Bellingham and the trailhead

 

Exclusions: Transportation to/from Bellingham (airfare and shuttle, if necessary); accommodations in town; personal equipment; travel and personal insurance; gratuities to guides.

Travel and Lodging

We will take a few hours to discuss expedition-related gear and to check everyone's personal equipment and cold weather gear. Before leaving we will establish a formal trip plan as a group and discuss things like time, mileage, camp locations, and general strategy for the coming days as a group would on an expedition climb.

From either starting point, the drive to the trailhead will take about two hours. The roads that accesses the summer trailheads may be snowed in anywhere from one to four miles from the trailhead, so the approach time and distance can vary quite a bit.

Travel to Bellingham

Participants should plan on arriving in Bellingham on the day before the program is scheduled to begin. Arriving in the late afternoon or evening is ideal, but anytime on the day before will work.

In Bellingham, we work with the Best Western Heritage Inn and AAI climbers receive a discount off of the standard rates at the hotel.

From Seattle, you will have two options for continuing to Bellingham, which is about an hour and a half (90 miles) north of Seattle. The first option is to continue flying by catching a connecting flight to the Bellingham Airport (BLI). Airfare changes throughout the year, so check rates ahead of time to see if they're reasonable. The second option, and what most folks do, is to take a ground shuttle from Seattle to the airport here in Bellingham. The cost for this shuttle is about $38 for a one-way ride and $65 round-trip. Once at the airport, the Best Western Heritage Inn will pick you up. If you are participating in one of our scheduled programs (not a private trip), such as the Cascades Denali Prep Course, we will pick you up from the hotel on the first morning of your course and bring you back when the course is finished.

Denali Prep Course

Testimonials

Mt. Baker in the moonlight during an early season Denali Prep course.

Mt. Baker in the moonlight during an early season Denali Prep course.  Alasdair Turner

"I would recommend this course for anyone preparing for a Denali expedition. I also would HIGHLY recommend AAI and especially my guide. He was absolutely aware, skilled, well versed, chilled back just enough to be personable and smart (former Microsoft software engineer)!

For Denali hopefuls like me, whether or not one holds an extensive climbing resume, the prep course is invaluable. You learn how to deal with staying clean for 6 days, unforeseeable circumstances, expedition type lifestyle, getting along with strangers, and working together as a team. Not to mention skills that don't usually get used in general mountaineering like fixed lines, sled pulling, and rope team travel. I worry about team members that haven't had some type of course like this. The course also lets you and the guides know whether or not you are even ready for Denali. I'd hate to find that out in Alaska and lose a lot more time and money. All and all, amazing folks and an amazing mountain! I certainly cannot wait for Denali in June."
Tina T., Huntington Beach, CA

Denali Prep Course

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