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On June 3, 2011, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Lucas DeBari joined a crack team of mountaineers to tackle Alaska's Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. This team, assembled from some of the finest athletes and filmmakers in The North Face camp, made the video you see above, "The Denali Experiment," which has already been viewed 20,000 times in just over a week.
Cattabriga-Alosa and DeBari were joined by Hilaree O'Neill, Conrad Anker, Jim Zellers, Emilio Previtali, Giulia Monego, and Ingrid Backstrom (read Backstrom's account of the trip here.) We caught up with Cattabriga-Alosa, 31, and DeBari, 23, to dig a little deeper on this life-changing "experiment" on North America's heaviest chunk of snow and ice.
How did this "experiment" come about? One doesn't just get a text from their team manager saying, "Hey, let's climb and ride Denali tomorrow!"
Cattabriga-Alosa: For years Conrad [Anker] has brought up the idea of climbing/skiing Denali together. I've always known that it was an opportunity not to pass up, but I wasn't exactly proactive in making it a reality. Finally, last year around this time, we were at a TNF team meeting discussing future expeditions when it became a reality. I agreed to be a part of the team on that day, and then basically forgot about it.
DeBari: The idea has been going around TNF since before I was involved... All it took was a little bit of enthusiasm and all the climbers involved were stoked. It wasn't until last fall that we started planning for the expedition. Everyone involved was hyped about going on the adventure.
Did you have any fears about saying yes?
Cattabriga-Alosa: I was always secretly wishing that the trip wouldn't happen -- fear of the unknown, you know... But, once we had the meeting, I was like, 'Okay, here we go!' Embarking on a new challenge and aspect of skiing that I hadn't experienced was a bit scary but the crew on the trip was so solid that I knew everything would be okay. I was also nervous that I wouldn't be ready physically.
DeBari: There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was going to be on this trip. As soon as we got the green light I was committed. I knew it would be unlike anything I had previously done, but that unknown is probably what drew me to it initially anyway.
What was the highest you'd ever been before Denali? How did the mission compare in terms of altitude, exposure, and mental challenges?
Cattabriga-Alosa: The highest I had ever been before was around 14k, hiking in the summer, and on skis a few times. I ski in Utah so we tromp around near 12k quite often. I figured that that might help, but for the two months leading up to the expedition I was living at sea level. So that made the challenge of altitude quite relevant.
DeBari: The previous summer I had climbed a few different routes on Mt. Whitney in the Sierras [at] 14,500 feet. Going into the trip I was scared about climbing on ice and exposure. That was all pretty mellow for me, but the altitude was a different story. I have never been so mentally beat down as I was on the last few hundred feet to the summit.
What's next for each of you and how will this successful Denali trip inform your approach to big mountain riding going forward?
Cattabriga-Alosa: The experience was amazing and left me with a taste for what the ski mountaineering world is like. Next for me is a trip with Ian McIntosh, Debari, and a fourth athlete where we will be camping and hiking some big lines, "Deeper" style. But I don't have any other mountain climbing trips planned yet.
DeBari: As we were flying home from AK last summer I remember thinking, I am going to do at least one trip like this every year. This next year I am planning to end the filming season with over a month of snow camping in the St. Elias range of Alaska.