What to Expect: Denali Expeditions

Tents near Denali Base Camp.

In this series, we break down what to expect at the start of our expeditions. Where will you stay? Are there any tips or tricks to make the trip begin more smoothly?

Though a Denali expedition can last 20+ days, the first two days can set the tone for the rest of the journey. While you can’t control the severe weather and changing conditions of the Alaska Range, you can set yourself up for success by controlling your own preparations. If you arrive to the first few days of your trip organized and ready to be flexible, you’ll start your trip in a calm and relaxed state of mind. Here we expand on our general itinerary and give a few pro tips so you know what to expect.

Day 0: Arrival to Alaska

Arrive at the Anchorage airport. Since you will have already booked a shuttle through Go Purple Shuttle or another local service, link up with your driver for the 2-2.5 hour ride to Talkeetna. Drivers are happy to make a stop at a local grocery store – note that Talkeetna is a tiny town with limited grocery options! It’s important that you have your supplementary lunch/snack foods purchased before you tuck into the lodge for the night. That night, dinner is included at the lodge. Relax, leave your gear in its duffel bag, and enjoy a quiet evening.

Day One: Morning

Gear check in the AAI hangar.The next morning, breakfast is also included at the lodge. After breakfast, around 7:45am, we will pick you and all of your gear up and head to our Alaska HQ (a converted bush plane hangar) for introductions, a thorough gear check, and a group packing extravaganza. Since we start the gear check by asking you to “explode” your gear in front of you and go through each item, you do not need to arrive with each item carefully folded or organized.

Next, we start organizing our kit for the rest of the day. Here’s how we separate our gear:

  1. Stay in the street clothes you wore to the gear check. You’ll wear these until just before your flight onto the glacier. It’s nice to have a small backpack with you – see more on this later.
  2. Make a pile of your “first footsteps on the mountain” kit. This will include your expedition boots, glacier glasses, and big warm layers for the uninsulated plane flight into the cold Alaska Range. We’ll give you exact directions to match the actual conditions.
  3. Make a pile of items you won’t need again until your expedition is over. We’ll stash these items inside the small duffel we recommend on your gear list.
  4. Pack up the rest of your personal gear, plus the food & equipment you’ll receive during the gear check, into your expedition backpack and expedition duffel.

Day One: Afternoon

Then, wearing street clothes, we head into town to complete our pre-trip briefing. Hungry from the morning’s activities, we’ll then eat lunch at one of the restaurants. After that, we’ll head to the Talkeetna Air Taxi office and airstrip and get a weather report. If weather will allow us to fly, we’ll do this:

  1. Change out of our street clothes and into our mountain kit. We can leave these items in the small duffel and/or small backpack until we come off of the mountain.
  2. We’ll weigh and check in our expedition backpacks and expedition sleds, and then put them in Twin Otter planes.
  3. We then climb aboard, ready for the stunning flight over jagged, glacier-covered peaks to Denali Base Camp on the Lower Kahiltna Glacier.

If weather isn’t going to allow us to fly onto the glacier, our Alaska Ops staff will have already assisted you in booking rooms for the night in an available hotel. You’ll take your mountain clothes and small duffel with you, leaving behind your expedition duffel and expedition backpack. Flight delays due to weather don’t always happen, but when they do it’s best to have your belongings organized. We strongly recommend that you keep a second set of your toiletries packed in your small duffel in case this happens!

Post-Expedition

As your expedition comes to a close, you’ll make your way back to Denali Base Camp. There, you’ll await your flight out to Talkeetna. Getting the first flights out is a game of being organized, tight, and prepared – so be prepared to move quickly and listen well to your guides’ instructions. Trust me – after weeks on Denali, you’ll be thrilled about catching the soonest flight out!

Once you arrive back in Talkeetna, time of day will dictate what’s next. Some teams head straight to the Alpine Ascents HQ to de-issue rentals and group gear like tents and sleds. Other teams head straight into town for breakfast, handling the gear de-issue later. At some point, though, you’ll be reunited with your small duffel and have the chance to check into your hotel, change, and take a well-deserved shower.

Still have questions about how things will work for your Denali expedition? Call or email and we’ll be happy to help.

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