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Mission: Denali 2008


Reported by Charleton Churchill
Expedition Leader

Written by Gary Fallesen
President, Climbing For Christ

Saturday, June 7 (2 p.m. Talkeetna, AK time)

This just in ... the last two Mission: Denali team members have safely returned from the mountain!

“I just talked to Hudson Air — DK (Daniel Karlsen) and Cristina are off the mountain and in Talkeenta,” Charleton reported from his home in California. “Hudson and others reported really bad weather, winds 150 mph and up at 17,000-foot Camp.

“Praise God they are off the mountain. They are staying at the hostel tonight, and are probably sleeping right now as we speak.”


Denali 2008 team

Denali 2008 team with Lucas, in front in black. (Jim Moore is missing from photo.)

Wednesday, May 28 (noon local time)

All eight of the 10 had breakfast together at the Backroads in Talkeetna on Tuesday before leaving for Anchorage with Carol Sheridan, who kindly drove back to pick us up. That was a 2½-hour drive. Jack from the Chapel by the Sea Church allowed us to use their home (The Haven) again in Anchorage to regroup and reorganize gear. The team was busy rescheduling flights. Later, we picked up Lucas from his hotel in Anchorage and brought him back to the home with us. 
In Talkeetna, Jim and TJ were discussing Christ and His love with these two guys in the park there that were travelers. One of the guys had a vow of silence because he said he talked too much. Both were sincere and listened to what both TJ and Jim had to say. They were genuine guys who believed in God, and they hoped to keep in touch and check out Climbing For Christ.
We were not able to summit because of the hard winds and weather, so we only have pictures up until 14,200-foot camp.

Karim was supposed to stay on the mountain and try, but the day we left down to Base Camp, he went up to 17,200-foot camp to attempt the summit. Winds and cold weather forced him and all other climbers down, so he returned to base camp soon after we did to fly out with us. We have a few pictures from him at 17 Camp. 
This team was perfectly capable of reaching the summit, and they understand that even the best climbers dare not attempt the summit when horrible weather lingers. Their desire was to reach people and serve on the mountain in whatever capacity God gave them.  When we thought we might take a climber down, Jim Moore was the first to say, “I’m here to serve” and was willing to take them down — even though he kept talking about the summit and skiing down the Messner Col. Most of the team echoed the same desire to serve. The team was strong and interacted with other climbers much of the time when weather allowed. We realize that ministry on the mountain is subject to weather.
Today, Karim, Cameron, TJ, Rod, Jim, and I fly out to our homes to be with our families, while Dan is flying out Thursday. Tim Hall will fly out sometime next week. Dan Karlsen and Cristina are with other climbers on the mountain. They were given the rest of the food and fuel, plus other food given by other homeward-bound climbers to last a few weeks. If weather doesn’t change by June 7, their plan is to turn around and head home. Keep praying for their safety, good weather, and opportunities to help others.
Lastly, we are collaborating as a team to discuss what things happened that we weren’t able to express on satellite phone. So many things happened that we haven’t reported, and we’ll get that information soon enough. Thank you for all the prayers. We felt them most days.  Other days, we knew God was working, even when stuck in our tents.  More to come.

Monday, May 26 (11 a.m. local time)

Eight of the 10 – plus one – have landed in Talkeetna!

We landed in Talkeetna just now. We went down from 14 Camp yesterday and arrived in Base camp at midnight last night. Lucas (the Brazilian solo climber who accepted Christ) stayed with us, and will be at dinner with us tonight at the West Rib Cafe. We fed him and took care of him when he came into camp. He is one of us now. 

Windy Corner was harsh, and almost wiped us out trying to get down. Winds were taking stuff out of our sleds and over the cliffs. My $70 Thermarest is sitting somewhere at the bottom of the cliff it fell over. Pot lids flew like flying ninja stars. We had to set up a running belay right around Squirrel Point and Motorcycle Hill, where our sleds pulled on us. The blue ice, cliffs, and steep hill made us pray harder than ever. We were yelling at each other because we couldn't hear what each of us was saying. Trying to control your heavy sled attached to your harness, with the strong wind, treading on blue ice was enough for all of us think twice about priorities. Our sleds kept tipping, items were coming out.

Dan Karlsen and Cristina are the only ones on the mountain, and they are going to wait as long as the weather allows them to summit. Both will change their flights. Many people headed down today to Base Camp and were flying out because of the expected weather patterns. Those that try to summit are getting frostbite and/or are being forced to turn around. There were teams stuck at 17 Camp that couldn't get down. There is a Korean team that is lost on the Cassin and cannot be found. Planes were searching yesterday to find them, but cannot.

Sunday, May 25 (9:30 a.m. local time)

We came down this morning to 78 Camp because of especially bad winds up above. We didn’t want to spend the week pinned in our tents. Karim, Cristina and Dan Karlsen stayed at 14,000 feet to hook up with other groups. We’re going to go to Talkeetna as well as around the Base Camp and see how God uses us. We didn’t think it would be wise staying at 14 Camp not able to do the ministry.

Saturday, May 24 (11:30 p.m. local time)

They are forecasting 90 mph winds the whole week, and teams are not expected to be able to summit until Monday, June 2 or Tuesday, June 3. Most of our team is going to go down. Three or four members want to stay here. We had a good discussion about this as a team. We’re talking to the National Park Service about extending the permits for those who still want to try to summit. But right now we’re pinned in our tents. The storm is going to hold out until Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It’s really icy on the Denali pass and headwall. Most of us do not have enough time to wait out the weather.

Saturday, May 24 (1 p.m. local time)

We’re stuck in our tents at 14 Camp, where 60-100 mph winds have everyone pinned down. We are all in good health, but we will have to stay where we are. The winds are expected to last until Wednesday, so pray for good weather — that the winds would die down, otherwise we will run out of time to climb any higher on the mountain before we are scheduled to leave.

There is a high wind warning today through Sunday, but winds above 14,000 feet are forecast to stay 40-60 mph on Monday and 60-90 mph on Tuesday and Wednesday. Bad weather also means most people are stuck in their tents so there are not as many ministry opportunities. Pray for a change in the weather.

Lucas, the solo climber from Brazil who accepted Jesus yesterday, is hanging out with us. We’re all sitting in our tents because it’s too cold to go outside. We’re doing our devotions and prayers.

Friday, May 23 (10 a.m. local time)

It’s snowing here. There are supposed to be 65 mph winds the next few days. A lot of people are hunkering down to wait out the weather. Teams started coming down from 17 Camp yesterday. There was a bottleneck coming down the fixed lines. Now everyone is at 14,000 feet. They’ll all be going back to 17,000 feet on Sunday or Monday when it clears. There will be huge lines to the top with all these people.

Last night it was really warm — it was 0 degrees! That was good. Everybody is in good health. Spirits are pretty high, too.

Lucas, a 46-year-old sponsored climber from Brazil, came down from 17 Camp. He’s climbing solo. We met him lower on the mountain and spent some time with him. When he came down he came to visit us. He spent some time in our tent and we explained the Gospel to him. We talked about John 1:12 and Romans 9 and 10. There were a lot of questions asked. Yesterday, Lucas gave his life to Christ!

TJ's sharing like crazy. He’s on fire. Jim is skiing with a bunch of guys. Last night he gave his testimony. Karim has been helping people build snow walls around their tents, and witnessing to them. I met some guys who want to talk more about Climbing For Christ. Our Austrian friends want to help us build a giant snow cross here at 14 Camp.

So we’re hunkering down, praying, reading, and answering divine appointments.

Thursday, May 22 (6 p.m. local time)

The team is camped at 14,000 feet. High winds (50-70 mph) are expected the next few days, so the plan is to stay at 14,000 feet until the weather improves. Everyone is healthy. Pray that the team’s focus is greater than any obstacle before them.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)

Wednesday, May 21 (10:30 a.m. local time)

A lot of people are coming through our camp to visit. The team from Austria has come by to worship with us and pray with us. When we were up at 14 Camp yesterday to cache supplies we met a British team. We told them about Climbing For Christ and they said they wanted to hang out when we got up there. People want to hang out with us — a lot of people. Karim’s sharing his testimony; it’s powerful. TJ talked to some other guys about the Holy Spirit. I can’t keep up with all the people they’re speaking with. Everybody is talking to everybody.

We’re getting ready to move up to 14 Camp right now. We’re a little tired. Yesterday was a hard day, carrying our gear up. Windy Corner was perfect, though — there was no wind. The route is icy, so keep praying for us. But we heard the route to the summit is set with pickets and is really safe. There are a lot of people at 14,000 feet. We’re looking forward to getting up there. We’re going to invite people to a Bible study.

Wednesday, May 21

Happy birthday to trip co-leader Tim, who is 20 today! It's Tim's second straight year celebrating his birthday on Denali. May he have a blessed day.

Tuesday, May 20 (8 a.m. local time)

We’re leaving to cache at 14 Camp. It’s 2.75 miles (and the group need to climb Motorcycle Hill). We need prayer because the trail ahead is icy. It’s been minus-15 at nighttime.

We did a little hike yesterday and we’re fully rested and feeling great. We’ll be coming back to sleep at 11-2 Camp tonight and moving to 14,000 feet tomorrow.

Monday, May 19 (noon local time)

We're at 11-2 (11,200 feet). It's a beautiful sunny day. We're just drying out everything and resting our muscles. We're going to take a cache up to 14 Camp tomorrow. Everybody is doing pretty well. This is Rod's third Denali trip (he didn't summit the first two times) and he says this is the best trip he's been on so far. He loves being with a group of Christians on the mountain.
Our presence here is known. We've been talking to a lot of people, offering hot chocolate, and offering to build walls for tents. We're just showing the love of Jesus. There are a lot of campers at 11-2. We're happy to hang out; if people want to hear we're here to share. We talked about Revelation 3:20 — “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” We want to make this a place that's comfortable for people to come and visit with us.
Dan B shared his testimony today. Everyone is getting a chance to share. I told the team that Isaiah 52:7 was my verse last year — “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news...” My wife was fully confident in my going. I came back this year because of that verse. We're here for a mission: to let people see Christ in us.

Sunday, May 18 (11:30 a.m. local time)

We’re at 9,800-foot Camp. We’re going to haul the rest of our gear up to 11,200-foot Camp today. Half of us cached gear at “11-2” yesterday. All of us will move up today. We’re a little tired, but we seem to be recovering nicely each day.

We had church this morning. We did a devotional and we prayed together. Keep praying for group unity and dynamics. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to witness to people – a solo climber from Brazil who is camping by us and a team of seven Austrians, including a blind climber (Andy Holzer) who summited Kilimanjaro with Erik Weihenmayer in 2005 and knows (Climbing For Christ member) Eric Alexander.

I’ve got to tell you, the other day after we said we hadn’t seen a blue sky, we prayed about the weather and within a half-hour the skies cleared. We’ve had two days of blue skies. We’ve only seen one crevasse so far. We’ve had nice climbing conditions.

We plan to hang out at “11-2” Camp tomorrow. It’ll be a rest day. We saw a lot of campers up there yesterday so we’re looking forward to have more opportunities to minister.

Saturday, May 17 (9 a.m. local time)

We have blue skies. Everybody is feeling good. We're going up to 11,000-foot camp today. More later.

Friday, May 16 (9:30 a.m. local time)

We're tired from the 5½-mile trek to 7,800-foot Camp. We slept in a little bit this morning. We're moving up and caching at 9,700-foot Camp today, Lord willing. It's cold and cloudy. We haven't seen any blue sky at all since we got here. All the other climbers on the mountain are saying it's been really cold, especially up high. It's too cold to interact with other climbers so pray for a break in the weather.

We've had great devotionals at dinnertime and everybody is working hard together. We've got some good team dynamics going. We're just waiting for opportunities to share God's love with other climbers.

Thursday, May 15 (8 a.m. local time)

We flew on the glacier yesterday around noon. Tim led the group to set up Base Camp at 7,200 feet. It’s been cold, fluctuating between 10 and 40 degrees. We had a refresher on crevasse rescue; we went through self-arrest techniques and glacier travel. Everybody is in good spirits and feeling pretty good. We’re moving up to “78 Camp” (7,800-foot camp, a 5½-mile trek) with our sleds and our gear – a full carry. There are not a lot of people here at Base Camp. We’ve been mingling with the people we’ve met. We’re hoping to see more people ahead. Keep praying for us.

Wednesday, May 14 (noon local time)

We are getting ready to leave for Base Camp. Karim and I are the last two to fly out of Talkeetna on the Hudson Air bush plane. Everyone else is on the Kahiltna Glacier. We’ll be leaving from Base Camp to “78 Camp” (7,800-foot camp) tomorrow morning. It’s a 5½-mile trek. Everybody is feeling good. We have a lot of great climbers on the team and God is in charge.


Denali '08 team

The Mission: Denali 2008 team before heading for Talkeetna.

Tuesday, May 13 (10:30 a.m. local time)

We're leaving for Talkeetna. We prayed and had communion together in the last hour, committing our trip to the Lord, as we remember why we're here. All of us are in strong agreement that God has us on this trip for a purpose! We are knit together in Christ.

Sunday, May 11 (9 p.m. local time)

The Denali 2008 team has arrived safely in Anchorage! They have been busy serving and preparing for the trip together. Hard workers! The team is quick to eat up whatever responsibility I give them, and they want more. I love it. We're waiting for our last member, Rod Briggs, to arrive Monday morning. We'll give him a hard time for being last. Karim has been our organizer and details guy. (He reminds me of Sayid Jarrah from the Lost series. We call him “Sayid.”) Tim has arrived and is doing exceptionally well leading us in the food preparation. Praise God for how the Lord is bringing us together with laughter and, at the same time, passion and seriousness for God. Talking to the team, there will be many great God stories to share on the mountain; we are anxious to serve together. Right now, we're all listening to Christian music while we work. Please pray for Daniel Karlsen – he has an infection on his leg, which is slowly healing. I still have some leftover sickness that doesn't appear completely gone. Also, pray for peace and closure to the preparations. It's long, and we want to be done! Amen.
Today, we all gathered with Chapel By The Sea Church in fellowship. I can't tell you how unique the churches (the people) seem to be here in Alaska. Very warm and welcoming, personable, and family-centered. They have been very helpful in our mission. After worship with a great choir, the whole church unconventionally stood up to pray together in their pews, one after another, different people standing to speak and pray for their mothers, wives, and grandmothers. Genuine prayers. The message truly honored women on this Mother's Day. We applaud that objective. The team wants to wish all mother's (wives or moms), a Happy Mother's Day! 
I spoke with the youth group and was blown away by their spiritual maturity in the Word. You can tell they have been well taught, and more importantly, the message has been overtly lived out in the home by their families. The church believes families are responsible to the younger generation, not just of their own kids, but also to others. You can see it here in Anchorage.
Monday we will do our last preparations. In the evening, we will have devotion, and I'll try and echo Gary Fallesen's heart and vision for Denali 2008, ending with communion.  Chapel By The Sea will take us to Talkeetna on Tuesday, where we will prepare to fly out. We will try and shoot over a few pictures online of our team before flying out. From then on, we will be in contact via satellite phone.
Blessings to you all. We love you all. Please keep us in prayer. Our team is anticipating many God moments, and we have already experienced God's goodness on our trip. God is large and in charge!



Charleton, mugging for the camera high up Denali in 2007, felt C4C had unfinished business on North America's tallest mountain.

Pre-Trip Report: Wednesday, May 7

Mission: Denali 2008 begins with the Climbing For Christ team arriving in Anchorage to prepare for the journey ahead. We have all been anticipating this trip for a time. We’re hoping for God to use us for His purpose and to reach out to other climbers. We want God to amaze us and to enrich us through fellowship, prayer, and devotions. I believe God wants to bless our pants off. Serving on Denali has been Gary Fallesen’s vision since climbing in Alaska in 2004.

Last year, the Mission: Denali team left an impression on the mountain, even among the skeptical National Park Service rangers. Denali ’07 paved the way for this year’s mission. Our team desires to be used by God to do great things in His Name.

Scripture says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things which you do not know.”

We are excited to finally meet in fellowship this weekend. I have been communicating with our team on a regular basis, and there is already a sense of servanthood and teamwork. They are ready to serve. Our team consists of ages 20, 20, 22, 30, 33, 36, 40, 42, 44, and 50 – with Jim Moore of Crystal Bay, Nev. being younger longer than any of us. That’s a nice way of saying he’s the oldest. He’s also an AMGA certified guide.

Karim Mella of Tampa, Fla., was arriving first – today – and getting things rolling. Most of us are set to arrive on Friday and jump into action. We will begin purchasing and organizing our food, which is a large task, performing gear checks, praying together as a team, delegating responsibilities, and working with our co-laborer, Chapel by the Sea Church in Anchorage. Jack Bailey, a Chapel by the Sea member, has been busy rallying drivers and preparing housing arrangements for the team.  Chapel by the Sea assisted Climbing For Christ last year, and we are blessed by their commitment.

On Tuesday, May 13, Chapel by the Sea will provide drivers and transport us to Talkeetna, our last town before flying out to Base Camp in a bush plane. Talkeetna is a small town, which people call “a drinking town with a climbing problem.” This is where the ministry really begins, not merely at Base Camp. We will pray here, walk around the town, and ask how the Lord would use us to serve. We have reserved one night in the hostel, which Hudson Air has provided. We will meet with the NPS rangers for an expedition overview, check-in, and pick up our Johnny-on-the-spots in the form of green two-foot cans. While in Talkeetna, we also hope to partner with Talkeetna Community Church, which last year allowed us to use the church to catch some zzz’s when weather kept us from flying. They are without a pastor at this time, as this town is a tough place to keep one.

Once on the mountain, we will slowly make our way up the peak, mingling with others, looking for ways God might use us to bless others. Another reason to climb slowly is to acclimatize and reduce the chance of altitude sickness. At 18,000 feet our oxygen will be only half of that found at sea level. Breathing becomes harder, and your body eats away at itself. More on that later.

Our goal is to arrive at 14,200-foot camp, erect a cross, have devotions and Bible studies, communion, have worship services, and invite others to join us. This is a great area, weather permitting, to have Bible studies geared toward those who are open to hearing it. This is definitely a great camp to meet others, laugh, enjoy the gorgeous views, and talk with the NPS rangers who have a medical camp set up. Who knows how God is going to use us? There could be up to 300 people in this camp at one time. May the Lord give us great weather!

As a member of the Denali ’07 team, I left the mountain with a sense of unfinished work. Most of us knew there was more to be done. After Jim Doenges and I talked, we both agreed that somebody needed to return and finish what God initiated. As a result, I am going back to Mount McKinley; even though I told myself as I came off the mountain that I would not climb it again. This is a God thing. We are blessed to have Gary Fallesen and Jim Doenges oversee and assist this expedition (from their warm and comfortable homes while we suffer in the freezing temperatures). Tim Hall of Boulder, Colo. will be assisting in the leadership on this team. He is young (turning 20 on the trip) and quite experienced. I look forward to working with Tim on this climb.

We eagerly await what God moments will be in store for us. We hope to communicate daily to our supporters, families, and friends of our whereabouts and prayer requests.

As Jesus told His disciples: “Watch and pray.”

Charleton Churchill is a youth pastor from Jackson, Calif. He has been a member of Climbing For Christ since January 2007. He was a part of the Mission: Denali 2007 team and was asked by the C4C staff to lead Mission: Denali 2008 (with the assistance of Tim Hall). He hopes to one day climb Mount Everest.

The Word

“All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.”
Isaiah 18:3 (NIV)

The Team

Dan Bartolomucci, Kent, Wash.; Rod Briggs, Seattle, Wash.; Cameron Carson, Orono, Minn.; Charleton Churchill, Jackson, Calif., trip leader; TJ Engstrom, Bozeman, Mont.; Tim Hall, Boulder, Colo., assistant leader; Daniel Karlsen, Golden, Colo.; Karim Mella, Tampa. Fla.; Jim Moore, Crystal Bay, Nev.; and Cristina Robles, Zacatecas, Mexico.

CLICK HERE to read the team biographies.

The Plan

Wednesday, May 7 to Monday, May 12: Team members arrive in Anchorage.

Tuesday, May 13: Team transported to Talkeetna.

Wednesday, May 14: Scheduled flights into Kahiltna Glacier.

Thursday, May 15: Begin climbing.

Saturday, May 17: Camp at 9,800 feet.

Monday, May 19: Move to 11,000-foot camp.

Thursday, May 22: Move to 14,000-foot camp.

Sunday, May 25 or Monday, May 26: Move to 17,000-foot camp (High Camp).

Tuesday, May 27 to Saturday, May 31: Summit attempt, weather permitting.

Sunday, June 1: Return to 11,000-foot camp.

Monday, June 2: Return to Base Camp.

Tuesday, June 3: Return to Anchorage.

Thursday, June 5 to Friday, June 6: Return home.

The Forecast

CLICK HERE to see the weather forecast for Mount McKinley (Denali).




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