Denali Expedition • May 25 to June 10, 2006

I first met Miriam Richards, a deaf outdoorswoman and climber, in January of 1999, on an Aconcagua expedition which Mark and I guided for Aventuras Patagonicas. At that time, I had never met any deaf people, let alone guided them. I enjoyed the challenge and opportunity of learning to communicate with her by means of some basic ASL (American Sign Language), along with copious note-taking in the evenings for longer-term planning and briefing.

Since that climb, Miriam has been in touch occasionally, keeping me up-to-date on her project of climbing the 50 U.S. High Points. She had asked me at various times to guide her on one or more of the summits. Not having commercial permits to guide in the areas she was interested in, I was unable to help her. But when she contacted me about Denali, I agreed to see what, if anything, I could do. Complicating the issue somewhat was the fact that Miriam was recently diagnosed with M.S. So far she has managed very well with medication; still, we both knew this would likely be an issue on her climb. We were also both aware that Denali would be the hardest of all the summits she has tried up to now. I already knew her outstanding endurance and determination to persist in the face of great difficulty. She wanted an opportunity to see how she would do on Denali, get as far as she could safely go, with a team that could maximize her safety and chances of success. She really needed a custom, private trip, and wanted a guide she knew and trusted. I was flattered and honored that she would ask me to guide her.

We were most graciously hosted for this climb by the Alaska Mountaineering School.

Other Recent Trips

We met at her home in Corvallis in December to go over gear, logistics, training and preparation plans.
Then before we knew it, May was here, and we headed up to Talkeetna to meet and fly in to the mountain.


We were most fortunate to be joined on this trip by AMS guides Joel Geisendorfer (shown here indulging in a bit of well-deserved R and R)...


...and Mike Janes (practicing ASL for "WOW"!!!)


The flight in to the glacier is one of the most beautiful and unique parts of a Denali expedition. Miriam is excited and rarin' to go as we taxi for take-off at Talkeetna's airstrip.


Our first views of Denali, Hunter and Foraker on the flight in, are awe-inspiring in perfect, if slightly blustery, weather.


The morning after our flight in to the glacier, we began the long trek up the Kahiltna Glacier. Again, the weather was fine, if cold and windy. Winds higher on the mountain were fierce; here we had only minor chills.


This first day, we got acquainted with our "friends" the sleds. Big, fat, uncooperative at times, but still helpful and necessary, we learned their foibles quickly. Particularly key was devising a reliable method for strapping on the "CMC", our nuclear-spill-safe "potty in the hills". A fairly recent Park Service initiative, the CMC has helped greatly to keep the many busy camps on the mountain far more pristine than I had remembered from back in the early '90s, the last time I was on Denali.


After a two-day pause at the 11,000 foot camp to wait out a heavy snowstorm, we were able to reach 14,000 feet by day 9. Although still in good spirits and health, Miriam was developing a nagging cough in response to the altitude and cold, dry air, and seemed to be growing less strong. We took a couple of rest days, which we used to ferry loads up the fixed lines to the 16,200 foot level.

We also paid the obligatory visit to "the Edge of the World", to enjoy photo opportunities and the spectacular views there.


The following day, the bitter winds that had been blowing since our arrival at 14,000 feet calmed, and the entire camp emptied out, everyone taking advantage of the beautiful, relatively warm weather. The fixed lines were mobbed by eager climbers, ferrying loads and moving to the 17,000 foot camp. Miriam was nearing the limit of what her endurance and determination could do for her. Upon reaching 15,500 feet, it was clear that to move higher was not a safe or viable option. The decision to turn back, though hard, was necessary, and Miriam faced it serenely and stoically.


Miriam celebrates her latest "high point", 15,500 feet on Denali! (that would be more than 49 and 1/2 High Points...)


We made sure to enjoy the fine weather and views on our descent back to 14,000 foot camp, which was good as this was the last benign weather we were to see.


The following morning we started down in a gathering storm. First came gathering high and valley clouds, along with a swiftly strengthening cold wind...


... and later snow and thick fog. Nevertheless, after a night at 11,000 feet, we were able to descend to Base Camp and "Kahiltna International Airport" the following day.


We had an evening and morning to get "re-combobulated" in the Base Camp, then were fortunate enough to be one on of the last flights out to Talkeetna before worsening weather shut down air travel for several days.


It's always hard to break up a party after sharing so much time, effort, fun and challenges together, but in the end our team felt the satisfaction of having worked well and harmoniously together. As always, we hope our paths will cross again.

Miriam has written a book; "High Point of Persistence" chronicling her adventures, achievement, trials and tribulations, sales of which she hopes will help to off-set the considerable cost of her projects and climbs. Anyone interested in helping Miriam reach her goals, can get an autographed copy by going to


All images, layout and text ©2006 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved