From Vail to Denali |

From Vail to Denali

Mary Kelley Zeleskey
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily

Have you ever wanted to know what it is like to climb Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain?

Two Vail locals recently climbed the frigid mountain with flying colors. Another name for Mount McKinley is summit of Denali, meaning “the high one.”

Although it was not easy, Jeremy Aschenbach and Adam Bartlett were the first people to summit Denali this season.

“Denali stands out because there is no other 20,000-foot mountain in the U.S.,” said Aschenbach. “It is 200 miles within the Arctic Circle so the temperature and weather is absolutely ridiculous.”

Most people that climb Mount McKinley choose to summit in June, but Aschenbach and Bartlett began their trip in April, which made it even more difficult.

“Being that we were the first ones to summit (this year), we were extremely early in the climbing season,” said Aschenbach.

The effort paid off, though. All the work that went into getting there couldn’t have prepared them for what they felt when they reached the top.

“It is amazing to look down knowing you cannot go any higher and everything you prepared for paid off,” said Bartlett. “The wind was blowing and it was cloudy but the views were still amazing.”

Due to cold and ferocious winds, the summit of Denali is known for having a low success rate for mountaineers.

“For someone that wants to climb it, my advice would be to bring the warmest clothing that you own,” Aschenbach said, laughing.

Once they had finished the climb, the team then skied down from to the top in what was basically a storm.

“It is not an easy task,” said Aschenbach. “The whole experience and being on that mountain once you get that summit makes the whole trip worth while. It is a big accomplishment.”

Aschenbach and Bartlett have been climbing different mountains for 15 years and have a lot of experience under their belts. That being said, Denali is a huge undertaking.

“Preparing for Denali is a big deal,” said Bartlett. “You have to train hard physically and mentally for all that might come up on a mountain that far north.”

Both of them ran everyday and did the best they could to get their body adjusted to being in such cold weather.

As important as training is in order to accomplish such a strenuous climb, the team would not have been able to summit without the proper gear.

Luckily both teammates already owned a lot of the necessary equipment, but they still had to purchase other items before the climb began.

They have both climbed mountains in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico and more. The weather conditions at those other locations were no match for the extreme weather at Denali, though.

“When we summited, it was probably 35 degrees below zero and then we had 50- to 60 mile-an-hour winds,” Aschenbach said.

They flew to the glacier via Talkeetna Air Taxi in late April and summited on May 5 after staying at base camp for 10 days.

Before their climb began, they were told that about 10 climbers were ahead of them on the mountain. However, they ended up passing all of the other climbers, making them the first people to summit Denali this year.

Usually, it takes about 12 to 15 hours for guided groups to summit and smaller groups take around 8 hours. As a team, Aschenbach and Bartlett summited in only 4 1/2 hours.

Mary Kelley Zeleskey is an intern at the Vail Daily and can be reached at 970-777-3120.

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