This expedition was extremely challenging, and it really put my physical and mental fitness to the test. At the same time, it was if not the most rewarding and memorable expedition I’ve been on so far. I enjoyed every single moment on the trip – the amount of planning, investment, and care was clearly evident in all aspects.
While the equipment and other necessities such as food were extremely important vehicles for success/ the overall experience on this expedition and definitely contributed to the overall quality, what really made this trip shine were the guides. I really think that you could have stuck me in a plastic tarp with a bag of stale animal crackers and I would still have rated this a high quality expedition with the same guides.
Off the bat, I want to say that all the guides demonstrated exceptional leadership and decision making skills, especially given the set of circumstances that happened with this particular group. They made it very clear that while their desires to get us to the summit were high, the safety of the climbers trumped everything else.
Prior to this trip, I have gone on climbs with different companies and I have to say that David, Pasang, and Aili were the hands down the best guides. They were all very personable and approachable, so I always felt comfortable asking them about anything, not matter how silly the question was. While having the opportunity to climb Denali itself was the crowning highlight of this trip, some of the most enjoyable times were just hanging out in the cook tent with the guides and having great conversation.
In regards to David, what can I say? I’ve had the privilege of having him as a guide on the Denali prep course earlier this year and he was the main reason why I decided to climb Denali with AAI. I call him my mountaineering sensei – not only is he extremely generous with sharing his knowledge and experience, he also teaches by example and was more than willing to show how things were done in action. If AAI started to offer trips down to the seventh circle of hell, I’d sign up if he was the lead guide on it.
A major strength of the program is definitely the personnel involved in it – the guides, office administration, and the supporting staff. The itinerary was also a strong point, it was well planned out and allowed for ample time to climb at a comfortable pace.
Personally it’s a little tricky to provide concise feedback on this particular trip, given that Denali is a little unique in comparison to other climbs that I’ve done. This sounds like a cop out, but I can’t think of any glaring weakness of the trip, other than elements outside of human control.