The Line Between Disorder and Order

A lot of things about climbing can be viewed as walking a “line between disorder and order.”

Members of the Denali team down climbing into the saddle between Apache Peak (13,441’) and Navajo Peak (13,409’): (from left to right) Chris Schuhmann, Sally Wier, Aaron Sallade, Jim Berryhill, Patrick Hutchinson, September 14, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jason Kolaczkowski.
Members of the Denali team down climbing into the saddle between Apache Peak (13,441’) and Navajo Peak (13,409’): (from left to right) Chris Schuhmann, Sally Wier, Aaron Sallade, Jim Berryhill, Patrick Hutchinson, September 14, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jason Kolaczkowski.

Admittedly, quite a bit of what we do is a bit out on the edge. That being said, for me personally, climbing is about mitigating risk, not about seeking risk.

I’ve written about training as a key component of mitigating risk: making sure you body is prepared and capable of carrying out whatever plan you put in place. But what about the act of making the plan itself. Sun Tzu wrote, “The line between order and disorder lies in logistics.” We need to take that seriously; quite literally our lives are depending on it.

Just over a week ago, we managed to get almost the entire Denali team together in one place for a spicy training climb as well as our first big meeting on logistics and planning (one member was sick and couldn’t make it).

We had met all together once before. That first meeting was mostly about getting to know each other and setting expectations by discussing our goals, fears, risk tolerance, and climbing histories. The next meeting – now only eight and a half months out from the expedition – needed to get down to business. There is a lot of work that needs to get done between now and our June 6th flight to Anchorage.

For those of you interested in planning your own big expeditions, maybe you’ll find this post useful, as I will share some of the specifics about how we are dividing up the planning work. But, to be honest, it’s a bit dry.

So, for those of you who don’t care about such topics, check out the video of our training climb. It instantly became an all-time favorite of mine, and it is right here in out backyard!

Just a few notes about the climb: we wanted some exposure and some rock (elements we’ll find on our Upper West Rib Denali route). Mostly, this is just to get us comfortable with each others’ climbing styles and so we can build trust in one another. Also, it was just a blast! Snow, knife edges, sustained 4th to 5th class alpine climbing, solid rock… really a good day out.

There is a longer video on my personal YouTube channel, if you are so inclined:

For the rest of you, read on…

After our inspiring climb, we headed out to dinner to discuss preparations for Denali. We divided our planning up into twelve work streams, the last of which we took care of in that very meeting:

1)      On-mountain route planning and itinerary – planning camp and cache locations, rest days, load carrying, etc.

2)      Training climbs: considering the need to practice with sleds, heavy weight, vertical gain, mileage, technical moves, altitude, and winter camping systems

3)      Food, fuel and stoves – ensure we have enough food and fuel, the right nutrition, and enough BTUs to make it all work

4)      Weather Service, Communications, and Technology – We’ll be using a satellite phone to stay in contact with the outside world (including getting dedicated weather forecasts), sending dispatches back to our friends and family, and using walkie-talkies to stay in touch with each other and the rangers

5)      Technical gear, backups, and repairs – Given our route choices, what technical gear will we need? What repair capabilities? What backup/replacement equipment?

6)      Camping gear – We’ll actually spend more time camping than moving; ensure we have all that we need including tents, pads, bags, snow saws, shovels, etc.

7)      Travel logistics – Getting ourselves and our equipment from Denver to the mountain and back

8)      Public relations – Being a part of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Year of the Mountaineer, we have some responsibilities to ensure we are doing our part to publicize the climb

9)      Team coordination (Google docs, etc) – Ensuring shared documents and spreadsheets are available and used by the team as we plan

10)   Medical and emergency (planning, practice, and equipment) – Having the right plan and equipment available in case of injury or other medical situation

11)   Finance – Keeping a transparent accounting of monies in and out related to the expedition

12)   Roles and responsibilities – naming key players in the expedition

  1. Expedition lead – big picture, ensuring all the parts are working together
  2. Climbing lead(s) – lead technical climber(s) and final arbiter of route finding decisions
  3. Incident commander – manages medical or accident incidents
  4. Logistics manager – ensures the right gear is carried to the right cache or camp at the right time by the right person

We assigned a primary and a secondary person to be in charge of each work stream, ensuring that at least two sets of eyes covered each topic. We also are sharing our thinking and development of our work streams with the whole group as we go; people are free to weigh in if they choose to.

We’ve divided to conquer the work. Of course, that also means that – while labor gets spread out and therefore easier for any one team member – the coordination of all of this gets harder. Ultimately, that’s my responsibility: make sure it all comes together into a coherent plan.

So, hopefully some you find this bit of babbling regarding planning and management useful. Not everything about an expedition is fun and games. If you want to learn more about expedition preparation, I recommend “Mountaineering Training and Preparation” by Carlton Cooke, Dave Bunting, and John O’Hara.

If you don’t want to learn any more, go back and click on that video link again. It really was an awesome climb!


Until next time, climb high and climb safely,


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