WK: What kind of instructions would a climber expect to get from a guide during a period leading up to an expedition?
CN: Climbers who have just come off of Denali or Everest where the seasons end in about mid July just need to make sure they maintain a high level of fitness if they plan to go on an expedition to the Antarctic. Those expeditions begin in 4 or 5 months—during the summer months down there.
Everest and Denali season overlap...Some people do Everest in our fall. If they've just come off Everest, obviously they're going to be in good shape. Most of the folks interested in doing Vinson are on the Seven Summits Circuit—trying to do the highest peak on each continent.
WK: What should a climber expect regarding travel to an expedition location, and what do they need to pack?
CN: Clients should expect to be responsible for their own transportation to a location as near as possible to the expedition point. They are also responsible for the personal clothing that they will wear when climbing.
WK: Food is always an important issue—what should a climber expect to eat on a mountaineering expedition?
CN: Most guides will try to take real food, but weight becomes an issue on longer and higher expeditions. Between altitude and the cold, people are usually quite affected, so it is important to try to keep the weights as low as possible and use dehydrated food whenever applicable.
WK: How long would a climber expect it to take from the beginning of the climb to try for the summit?
CN: It depends on the weather. One thing that is unpredictable about mountains in general but especially for mountains that are close to the poles like Vinson and Denali: their weather systems are very violent and erratic. I can probably get most of my clients up and down a mountain in a week, but there have been times I have been stuck at various camps waiting for a weather window for weeks.
WK: Can you give a rundown of peaks in this hemisphere that should be on climber's lists?
CN: Denali, of course, is really important; however, it is more advanced. Denali generally requires a guide, and it does take more time—the average expedition time is 24 to 28 days. Rainier is easier than Denali, but it's a really similar style. It's like a mini version of Denali and of Vinson. Denali is 20,320 feet and Rainier is 14,500 feet.
For a person interested in climbing but is not a professional climber, the big precursor peaks in North America would be the peaks in the Cascades, which are Rainier, Baker and Adams. In California, it would be Whitney and Shasta.
If you are not talking about mountaineering (rope teams, crampons, ice axes, etc.) but you are talking about technical rock climbing or alpine climbing, the Grand Teton is a great mountain and a really great alpine challenge. You are moving to a high elevation and gaining ground quickly, but you are climbing on rock and maybe some snow—mixed terrain—but you don't need crampons and ice axes on these types of ascents.