The morning of July 4th, 2017 began unlike most others on the West Buttress route of Denali. A long night of howling winds, cold temps, and restless sleep gave way to a stunningly calm day that delivered brilliant blue skies and dreamy panoramas at our 17,200 foot high camp. After the normal routine of firing up the stove for food and water, dressing with multiple warm layers, and prepping all necessary climbing gear, our team of three would set foot on a seemingly endless journey—one which would take us over Denali Pass to the summit ridge, and finally, the highest point in North America at 20,310 ft (6190m). While physical and mental endurance were essential components of successfully achieving such an objective, so too were the demands placed on every scrutinized piece of gear that we would haul over the next twelve hours and six thousand feet. From crampons to axes to ice and snow protection and all other life-saving equipment, our gear would be subjected to a harsh environment unwilling to give itself away. This story is about one unusual piece of gear that made the trek—the KLOS acoustic guitar—and how it came to be chosen.
Since childhood, playing music has been an outlet to escape the chaos of everyday life; a cathartic release of emotion if you will. Despite the love, eleven years of military life, with the constant moving and deployments which that entails, has not always facilitated my ability to play. And naturally, as many can understand, life often distracts us from our passions. Eventually, we come to realize we have lost touch with something that was once so important for our psyche. My fifth deployment to Afghanistan in January 2017 was to change all of that; my life had slowed, and war had slowed. I was going to take this opportunity to dust off my old Martin acoustic and reacquaint myself with an old friend while overseas. Come to find out, my friend did not feel the same way—years of bouncing between jungles, deserts, cities, war zones, etc. had taken its toll. Battle scars surfaced in the form of de-lamination, warping, and all other facets that render a guitar useless. I couldn’t let this become an obstacle, however, and the search was on for a new, modernized friend that could keep up with my adventurous lifestyle.
You see, I am an Alaskan (though not by birth). I travel the state in my tiny 1946 taildragger, scouring the landscape for opportunities to climb, ski, surf, pack raft, or just plop down and relax. Therefore, I needed a guitar that could do the same, and one made from carbon almost seemed essential given my environment. But it’s not that easy to shop for guitars when the list of requirements is exhaustive: carbon body/neck (environmental resilience), compact/lightweight (airline overhead bins, small Alaskan planes, backpacks, pack rafts, expedition sleds, etc), inexpensive (save money for the adventure bum on a budget), and full-body sounding and playing (no ukelele sized fretboards and unbalanced tones!!). As it turns out, it is very difficult to find this diamond in the rough. Yet one day, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across the KLOS guitar on the internet; not only did it meet the requirements and more (for instance, the straight neck/headstock joint is brilliantly strong!), but the first caption I read on KLOS Guitar’s website stated, “Imagine a guitar that follows you everywhere.” Well, I imagined, and figured what better place to test such a claim than a month long trip on North America’s tallest peak: if glacier landings, sled hauls, rain, snow, frigid temps, and the thin air of 20k+ feet couldn’t destroy it, then I would be sold!
Naturally, glacier landings in a turbine Otter (or any plane for that matter!) are not smooth. Crammed between hundreds of pounds of gear, and a plane loaded with climbers, the KLOS guitar made its arrival at 7,200’ base camp in good spirits. Accompanying the guitar on the trip was the standard accoutrements that the company has available: gig bag, rain cover, strap, and capo. Furthermore, the guitar breaks down quite nice with four screws, allowing the neck to be removed, which maximized space in a 150 liter sled duffel. Over the next three weeks, the guitar tagged along on the lower Kahiltna glacier making overnight stays at 7,800’, 9,800’, 11,200’, and 14,200’. It not only survived rain, snowstorms, and the unfathomable heat and sun of the glacier, but also thrived in its role to spread much needed joy amongst mountaineers at the end of long days negotiating hazardous crevasses, rock fall, and steep ridge lines. Most importantly, no matter what condition or elevation the guitar travelled, the procedure for making it play-worthy was quite simple: re-place the neck if necessary, re-tune, and jam away! If one needed a break while playing, no need for a guitar stand—just jam the carbon body in the snow and let it take in the surrounding views of Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter while it awaited your return! Needless to say, by the time we moved from 14 camp to high camp, a fondness was developing with my KLOS guitar which I have never experienced before.
Ultimately, the decision of what gear to take from 17,200’ high camp to the summit has to be heavily scrutinized: high altitudes and rapidly moving weather systems dictate only essential gear be carried. For me, carrying the KLOS guitar was a no-brainer…I did not haul it thousands of feet only to leave it just below the summit! After all, we had shared blood and sweat (I don’t think any tears) and, more importantly, you have to remember: it was made to go EVERYWHERE! So when that brilliant Fourth of July day broke, I strapped it to the outside of my pack with just the rain cover and headed off towards the infamous Autobahn. Six hours later, as I stood atop North America with ice ax in one hand and KLOS ax in the other, my climbing partner keyed up the National Park Service radio. “We’ve got a pretty sweet view!” he hollered for all to hear. And then something extraordinary occurred…this amazingly adventurous KLOS guitar began to play a most moving rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” (or, perhaps it was the hypoxia that made it so moving!). Regardless, it was a moment that re-stored my passion for playing on a new level, solidified my confidence in KLOS products and their vision, and inspired endless thoughts of journeys to come in Alaska and beyond. Now go grab a KLOS guitar, choose your adventure, and get out there!!
-Chris BaileyAbout the Author
Chris Bailey is a role model KLOS Guitars customer who has tested the limits of his KLOS guitar like nobody before. In the summer of 2017, he hiked the mountain Denali with his guitar, all 20,310 feet.