1996 – DENALI ALASKA – Memories.

The Cemetery at Talkeetna a sombre place to visit.

Alaska  memories?

I naively asked  Paul Roderick why they call it “One Shot Pass” and got a laugh in response. It’s the best shot you have for flying a direct route to Kahiltna Base Camp. Our plane lifted up out of the cloud layer, and the three great peaks of the Alaska Range—Foraker, Hunter, and Denali—rose above the moon in full view.

The heritage of Talkeetna Air Taxi dates back to the early days of flying in Alaska. Today we continue to lead the way in exploring the Alaska Range and Denali National Park. We have expanded the meaning of expedition support for climbers to include logistical support, up-to-date route information and photos, unique base camp locations, mid-climb route checks, as well as remote and unclimbed peak information. Over the years we have worked with film crews and television networks such as National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, Mythbusters, and Surviving Alaska.

Several notable aviators have previously operated Talkeetna Air Taxi, including: Lowell Thomas Jr., former lieutenant governor of Alaska and son of the famous radio broadcaster.

Paul Roderick is the Director of Operations for TAT. Paul is an avid climber and skier with ascents on Denali and many other peaks in the region. Paul is a seasoned pilot who has been flying Denali National Park for over 25 years and has accrued many hours of flying in Alaska and a countless number of glacier landings.

Our pilot Paul  skirted over One Shot Pass, bringing the plane in low over the crevasse fields of the Kahiltna, the longest glacier in the Alaska Range. I was impressed by the crevasses that we flew over they were massive.  We were landing on a Cessna 185 on skis what a thought. We were waiting to land when the aircraft in front crashed on landing and Paul our pilot said we will go back the weather mainly the wind was too strong. All got out the aircraft that crashed and were shaken the aircraft was wrecked. We went back through the one shot pass again and back to Talkeetna. After a few hours we were back in the air and heading again for Kahiltna Base Camp. This time we landed   in the white powder snow and came to a stop before a snow hill cluttered with tents. Most climbers are on their way up the mountain; the others have returned from their attempts.

This was the start of an interesting trip to Alaska in 1996 – previous trips with friends had showed blue skies and great weather, incredible peaks and unlimited sun light! Unfortunately the never told us of the extreme cold, wild weather it seemed that our trip was not like this at all. The trip to Anchorage was fine and the drive to Talkeetna was fascinating where you await for the weather as you fly into Denali, landing on a glacier at 6200 feet!   Most people are aware I hate flying and flying in a little Cessna and landing on a Glacier was something I was not looking forward to at all.  To get to the mountain you have to fly from Talkeetna a wonderful Wild West town where you wait for the weather to allow you to fly in to the mountain. Packing and unpacking weighing gear, for a month on the hill taking stuff out, what an epic and the weight is incredible.  After 4 days waiting for the weather we were off, the weather cleared and we got the message in the pub that never closed. When the aircraft left Talkeetna is was packed with gear and had an epic taking off we had 3 on board and food and gear for a month. All this to be dragged by you on your sledge, sadly there are no porter in Alaska. In addition we had skis, yes skis for me as well but that was the plan. The flight in to the Base Camp takes about an hour is an incredible journey, mountains everywhere and the huge bulk of Denali just looks so massive and imposing. The flight takes you over high mountain passes and the famous “One shot Pass” is exciting as you pass the huge cliffs, Cornices and a wee gap in a ridge, iy gets closer and then you go for it, scary.

Not every landing is as expected landing on a glacier!



Our pilot Paul skirted over One Shot Pass, giving me a nonstop update of how close we were and we had got friendly over the days of waiting to go. He was bringing the plane in low over the crevasse fields of the Kahiltna, the longest glacier in the Alaska Range. The plane in front bumped along the glacier and then crashed, we flew over, they all got out, gave the thumbs up and we flew back to Talkeetna. It was too windy to land and Paul did not want to risk it, I was terrified and agreed with him. We went back the same way and a few hours later the aircraft had been moved and the wind had died down we were off again.   We landed on skis in the white powder snow and came to a stop before a snow hill cluttered with tents. Most climbers are on their way up the mountain; the others have returned from their attempts. So far this year, only 18 percent of Denali’s 600 climbers have made it to the summit, a very low number for a mountain that boasts a 50 percent chance of success.  We had landed and soon we were on the glacier and the wee plane lightened now took off over the glacier and was soon lost in the great peaks.

Once on the glacier it was surreal one minute you’re in a small plane and now 1 hour later in amongst these huge mountains. There is little time to look around  the Plane does not hang about and is gone as soon as we were off, now on the glacier a jumble of tents and gear.  “Base Camp Annie” met us and gave us a quick brief. She stays there throughout the season no one messes with her. Everything is carried with you and each night you break camp and move on or stay and move gear up. It was a wonderful place to be and soon the tent was up and we got organised. What hit you straight away was the cold once the sun dropped, it was so cold. We were sorted and were at last on the mountain, what a wild place with the great mountains all about. It was soon in the sleeping bags with a brew and hope sleep came. I was sharing with young Tim Sugars there were 8 of us on the trip. 6 had planned the normal route up the West Buttress and Dave Peel and his partner were going for the famous Cassin Ridge. I had never trained before for a trip but had worked hard to get fit we would see how it would go. I was amazed at the weight we had to pull on a plastic sledge and carry a huge bag and me on skis this was going to be some tripi


The only available guide devoted solely to the route used by 90 percent of all climbers who summit Denali * Historic aerial photos and introduction by one of the route’s pioneers — Bradford Washburn * Author Colby Coombs is a Denali climbing guide and a 12-year veteran of the route Denali’s massive West Buttress Route is one of the world’s most popular — and treacherous — climbs. Seasoned guide Colby Coombs and legendary mountaineering photographer Bradford Washburn teamed up to provide climbers with information devoted solely to this challenging route. Denali’s West Buttress: A Climber’s Guide gives the aspiring Denali climber the details required to efficiently plan and safely launch an expedition on the West Buttress. The climbing guidebook covers every aspect of climbing the route — from preparation to climbing strategy to step-by-step route instruction. Washburn’s magnificent photos — with route and milestones clearly delineated — paired with Coombs’ explicit text guide the climber from camp to camp to the summit and down again, outlining specific hazards and obstacles and offering techniques and instruction on how best to surmount them.

The book pays special attention to environmental considerations and presents low-impact methods for minimizing human and garbage waste on the route. This guide provides complete, detailed, first-hand, safety-conscious information on the West Buttress Route, serving as a much-needed resource and a grand tribute to this historic climb

to be continued.


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Alaska, Articles, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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