Alaska – Denali in winter and a few thoughts of those who wait at home.

Many who delve in this wee blog will know of Andy Kirkpatrick an incredible Mountaineer and his wife Venessa have just got to Base Camp from a winter attempt of the incredible Denali it’s a big wild mountain at 20320 feet (Mount McKinley) in Alaska.

In winter Alaska is one of the wildest, coldest places in the world. A book that explains what winter is like in the high mountains is You have to read this book minus 148 degrees This is about the first Winter Ascent in the 60’s with basic equipment of the time. It was an amazing incredible journey and one of legend.

We heard the great news yesterday they are both safe at Base Camp awaiting for the weather to clear to fly out. Those who pilot these tiny aircraft into these Alaskan mountains are some of the most incredible pilots in the world but that’s another story and one I have written about before.

I was lucky enough to climb on this mountain on an expedition many years ago. Its a great peak and unlike the Himalayas there are no porters or Sherpa’s. Once you are left at the Base camp where you fly into ( terrifying) landing near huge crevasse. It’s then you realise where you are from here you drag everything by sledge and rucksack. It helps if you ski but with a sledge and a huge bag I found it horrendous. You take 3 weeks food on the mountain and carry it all as you climb and move up moving your tent up the mountain. It’s a hard journey its just you and your companions.

Looking back it was the one of hardest three weeks of my life. I thought after over 20 winters I had seen most things but it was incredible at times what nature threw at you day after day.

We got hit by a bad storm heavy snow and wild wind my companion was sick we had two hellish night surviving in the tent with so much snow falling. The others were ahead of us as we had stopped due to his health . When the weather cleared up I making my way up to the next camp where the rest of the group were. I traveled unroped and I was lucky that the crevasses did not get me. That was summer it was an incredible trip.

This is the temperatures on Denali just now . Look at the temperatures.


The idea of trying to attempt to climb it in winter is incredible. The thought that even when I was on the mountain in Spring it was so bitter cold at night as soon as the sun went it was – 20 degrees. In winter the cold must be incredible and I read about the first ascent in winter when I was on the mountain. It is an mind blowing tale of extreme cold and suffering. I learned a lot on our trip moving your tent up the mountain and making sure it was ready for the storms that did come. In winter this would be a lot worse. I thought a lot of Andy and Venessa when the weather came in and Pete his Dad was worried about both of them.

Denali. The Route.

So when Pete put out on social media he was amazed at the response he got.

This was what he said  he knew that they were safe he like all parents was worried about them both. “Had a message from Andy Kirkpatrick and Vanessa that they are now at Denali Base camp. I was one relieved Dad and Father in law. However, the weather is bad and their next event needed is better weather so that they can be picked up at Base Camp. No departure lounge in that place.

Thanks everybody for that, in Pete White’s words, a tsunami of good will sent their way.” Great news for all.


These words are special by a guy like Pete. He has been a sound Mountaineer all his life and knows the ups and downs of this climbing game after many years of Mountain Rescue.

I know Pete Kirkpatrick very well we were Team Leaders together and he took over the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team from me in the early 90’s . He is such an unassuming man a great leader and a good pal. It was great to hear that Andy and Venessa are safe on such a wild mountain in winter and have only to let the weather clear for the plane to take them out and they will be safe in Talkettna after an hours flight.

This is especially true just now as after the big search has been called off on Nanga Parbat on a Winter Ascent of this great peak for Tom Ballard and his companion  Daniele Nardi , yet we and the family will never give up hope. They may be sadly gone taken by the mountain and yet another mountain tragedy that hit the headlines.

The mountains and nature are overwhelming at times especially in winter but it is amazing what folk are doing and have done to push the limits in this at times “risk free world”

Yet when we are away there are families, partners and friends who sit at home and worry about us as we chase our dreams.

It took me many years to realise this and what we put them through. Yet in my view we would not be the same person if we did not go out at whatever level and have a joust with nature?

After our storm in Alaska still alive – just.

I was oblivious to this for years but my Mum told me just before she passed away with Leukaemia that she worried about me every week especially on call outs in bad weather. This was very similar to  my step kids who wrote me little notes on my expeditions that made me think. They also worried so much and yet I hardly thought of it and the effect on them.

We are so lucky to have all these experiences and still have family who care about us.

Thanks to Pete Kirkpatrick for an insight into a small part of mountaineering the thoughts that few mention.

Andy is a world class Mountaineer and outstanding speaker well worth going to here him speak!

The Denali Band, thanks to Al Barnyard for the photo. Fun on the big hill!


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Alaska, Articles, Mountaineering, People, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Alaska – Denali in winter and a few thoughts of those who wait at home.

  1. pete kirkpatrick says:

    You captured many of my thought here Heavy, especially how the need for people to stretch themselves, how nature can humble the strongest and in the end, it’s all about relationships – with yourself, other people and this wonderful earth we live on.

    Liked by 1 person

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