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As one of the Seven Summits and the highest peak in North America, it’s no wonder so many mountaineers dream of standing at the top of Denali at its 20,310 feet. Also called Mount McKinley, Denali is located in the Alaskan Range and has over 100 years of climbing history. Enjoy the vistas of braided rivers and colorful ridgelines, and cross tundra-covered valleys as you reach jagged snowy peaks. There are five popular routes to the top, but the West Buttress is the least technical and most classic option. Denali is a challenge even to the most experienced climbers, but the views are unparalleled, and the feeling of triumph as you reach the summit is beyond compare. Although the weather is unpredictable, the load heavy, and the winds extreme, many choose to embark on this endeavor and cross it off their bucket list. An experienced guide and enough contingency days make your chances of reaching the top higher, while good preparation, endurance, and top physical shape ensure you have the best experience possible.
Considered North America’s most classic climb, it rises over 20,310ft
The spectacular West Buttress is one of five challenging climbing routes
The third most prominent peak on Earth after Everest & Aconcagua
Climbing Denali is on every climber’s bucket list but it is also one of the most difficult mountains to climb due to cold temperatures, carrying heavy loads, and extreme winds. The West Buttress of Denali is the Classic route for mountaineers looking to summit Denali. This is the usual route due to its relative ease of access — start your climb at 7,200 feet on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and continue onto the West Buttress proper. Finally, on summit day, follow a jaw-dropping knife-edged ridge to the highest point in North America! Join a professional and experienced guide that will always put your safety first and help you make the most of this daring and spectacular expedition.
This is the itinerary for the classic route that may change due to inclement weather or other unplanned obstacles. There are five other routes, each more difficult than the other. If you are interested in climbing one of these routes, contact us prior to booking and we will make arrangements.
You should arrive in Anchorage early enough to make the 10 A.M. meeting with your guides, which may require arriving a day in advance. After a short meet and greet, you’ll have an expedition orientation and equipment check. This trip includes two night’s accommodation at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel that is conveniently located and has a free shuttle service from the airport.
Join your guides for a 2-hour drive to Talkeetna and stop for coffee and snacks along the way. Once in Talkeetna, unload your gear, organize, and weigh all of the equipment and supplies in preparation for your flight to the glacier. Finish the registration process with the National Park Service and attend a pre-climb orientation provided by one of the NPS Climbing Rangers. After finalizing all the NPS admin steps, fly to the glacier, weather permitting. Once on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, establish your camp for the night.
Depart the base camp, and drop down the infamous Heartbreak Hill and onto the broad Kahiltna Glacier. Your goal will be to move camp to about 7,800 feet, near the junction with the NE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. This is a moderately tough day of about 5 miles and is a good shakedown for the upcoming days. Throughout the expedition you will typically follow the “climb high, sleep low” technique for better acclimatization. On the late May and June expeditions, you may climb early in the morning to avoid excessive heat and soft snow conditions on the lower glacier.
Quick Stats: 8 km / 5 miles with 365m / 1200’ of elevation gain
Climbing time: ~ 4.5 – 6 hours
Head out of 7,800′ camp and carry loads up the 1,800′ Ski Hill. Several options exist for campsites between 9,000 and 11,000 feet, depending upon weather, snow conditions, and team strength. This is a moderately difficult carry of 7-9 miles round trip, with 2,000 – 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a return to 7,800′ camp for the night.
Quick Stats: 12.87 km / 8 miles round trip, with 670m / 2200’ of elevation gain and loss
Climbing time: ~ 6 – 8 hours
The second camp is usually in the 11,000’ basin at the base of Motorcycle Hill. This is an incredibly beautiful location that basks in alpenglow when the sun travels around the north side of the mountain.
Quick Stats: 7.64 km / 4.75 miles one way, with 1036m / 3400’ of elevation gain
Climbing time: ~ 5.5 – 7 hours
This is an “active rest day” during which you’ll drop back down and pick up the cache you left near Kahiltna Pass.This gives you another day to acclimatize before moving higher.
Quick Stats: 2.4 km / 1.5 miles round trip, with 365m / 1200’ of elevation loss and gain
Climbing time: 1.5 hours round trip
Spend your day climbing with crampons and an ice axe that gets you around Windy Corner where the upper mountain comes into view. Have your camera ready — steep snow climbing up the 1,000′ high Motorcycle Hill rewards climbers with spectacular views. The total distance for the day is about four miles round trip with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
Quick Stats: 6.43 km / 4 miles, with 700m / 2300’ of elevation gain
Climbing Time: ~ 6-7 hours round trip
Day 8 is usually a long and difficult day. The next camp is located at the well-equipped 14,200 feet camp in the expansive Genet Basin. Loads are getting lighter and the air is getting thinner. Upon arrival, the whole group will help build the camp and fortify the tents due to the possibility of severe winds.
Quick Stats: 4 km / 2.5 miles, with 914m / 3200’ of elevation gain
Climbing time: ~ 5 – 7 hours
This is another “active rest day” during which the team will descend from Genet Basin to the Windy Corner cache and bring everything up to 14,200 feet. Spend the afternoon going over climbing techniques that you’ll use in the upcoming days.
Quick Stats: 1.6 km / 1 mile round trip, with 213m / 700’ of elevation loss and gain
Climbing time: ~ 1.5 hours round trip
The goal of the day is to climb up the Headwall and cache supplies up on the ridge above and return to 14,200 feet. Climbing up this section with fixed lines makes this one of the more strenuous days of the trip because of the steep terrain, heavy pack and thinning air. The views as breathtaking as the rarefied air will make it all worth it!
Quick Stats: 3.8km / 2.4 miles round trip, with 670m / 2200’ of elevation gain and loss
Climbing time: ~ 5-7 hours
Take a rest/acclimatization day prior to moving up to High Camp. Many climbers feel this day really helps their acclimatization. Spend the day relaxing and hanging out with your group.
Weather and team strength will again determine this decision. While there is a campsite at 16,100 feet, it is very exposed, so the ultimate goal is to push for the 17,200 feet site which is more secure and the better choice for camp. This is a really tough day — your loads are big and some of the terrain is risky. Still, you’ll enjoy a day of awesome climbing along the ridge. Weaving in and out of the rocks and occasionally walking a knife edged stretch, combined with big exposure, make this day one of the most memorable of the route.
Quick Stats: 3.21km / 2 miles, with 914m / 3000 feet of elevation gain
Climbing time: ~ 6 – 8 hours
Moving to 17200 ft and establishing High Camp make for a strenuous day, so day 13 is usually used as a rest day before attempting the summit. Circumstances could be such that you do not take this rest day, but if possible, the guides prefer to take it.
This is the day you’ve been waiting for! If the weather is favorable, you’ll push for the summit. It is important to be patient on a big peak like Denali and only try for the summit when the weather is good, mostly clear and calm. Your guide staff is the most experienced on the mountain and your guides will make this sometimes difficult decision. The round trip climb will take 8 to 12 hours or more. After a hearty breakfast, depart camp early (7-10 A.M.), climb up to Denali Pass (18,000’) and follow the route past Arch Deacon’s Tower and the Football Field to the slopes leading to the Summit Ridge. If the weather permits, enjoy the views over the Ruth Glacier with beautiful peaks such as Moose’s Tooth, Mt Huntington and Mt. Hunter.
Quick Stats: 8km / 5 miles round trip, with 914m / 3000’ of elevation gain and loss
Climbing time: ~ 9 – 12+ hours
Note: The weather needs to be good and everyone attempting the summit must have demonstrated that they can reasonably give it a shot. This is often the most grueling day of the expedition. The guides have the ultimate decision as to when the team will make a summit bid. The guides also have the discretion to decide that a team member has not shown that he or she is capable of making a summit bid. Such occurrences are rare but remember — getting everyone home safe and healthy is the primary concern.
The descent from High Camp takes from one to two days, depending on the team’s strength and motivation to get home. The descent can beat you up more than the ascent. Weather dictates when you’ll be able to fly out to Talkeetna for food and showers. Not much beats a steak and salad at the West Rib Tavern after climbing Denali!
There are seven “contingency days” built into the schedule. Denali has a well deserved reputation for arctic weather and it is common to take weather days at some point on the mountain.
Your guide will provide group transportation back to Anchorage and you can make plans to fly home as early as this evening. Lodging after the climb is not included in the trip cost, but your guides will be happy to assist you with finding the best lodging in the area. Transition from the intensity of the mountain to the relative “big city” life of Anchorage and enjoy the post-climb beers as you talk about your experience with your group!
57hours is committed to providing safe outdoor adventure experiences. We require all guides using our platform to have a COVID-19 safety plan and to make the details of that plan accessible to travelers. In most cases, group sizes will be reduced, guides will avoid overcrowded locations, and other safety measures will be met depending on the location and activity.
We also expect clients to respect local regulations and take measures to protect themselves, guides and the communities they’re travelling to. For more information on COVID-19 measures in Denali, Alaska, please refer to Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services website.
Please contact us if you have any questions or require further information. We are happy to provide you with the most up-to-date information!
What you get on this adventure:
Meals may contain such entrees as pad thai, chicken burgers with blue cheese and burrito night for dinner and french toast, omelets with bacon and chilaquiles for breakfast. Lunches are a combination of snacks on the run and more structured, sit down affairs. If you have any dietary restrictions, contact us prior to booking to make arrangements.
What’s not included:
The West Buttress route on Denali is not considered the most technical alpine climb, but it is a difficult mountaineering route where you need to have basic alpine climbing skills and excellent fitness. These can be learned on just about any introduction to mountaineering course. Don’t underestimate the challenge — you will be on steep terrain for hours, and your skills with crampons and ice axe self arrest, etc. are important for the safety of you and your team. You should be able to demonstrate a high degree of familiarity with basic mountaineering techniques such as the rest step, French Technique, front pointing, running belays, and roped glacier travel techniques.
You need to be in very good physical condition to climb Denali. Summit day shouldn’t be maxing out your strength and endurance, it should be well within your comfort zone. So many variables are out of your control (weather, etc.) and you need to be sure that you can manage the ones that you can control. Climbing big mountains is primarily an endurance event, but you do need strength as well. You’ll often leave base camp with 50+ pound (22+ kilogram) packs, and drag almost as much in a sled behind you. You should train with a pack as a part of your training regime so that your body can adapt to it.
Experience on a couple of other mountains prior to going to Denali will also help you understand where you are physically. Expeditions that you may want to consider before attempting a Denali climb are Mount Superior in the Wasatch Mountains and Aconcagua, the highest peak in S. America. This is a great chance to get expedition experience in high altitude in a much friendlier environment than Denali.
Note: Guides may decide not to take climbers up Denali if their skill level or fitness are deemed inappropriate during the climb.
Denali is not for first-time climbers or mountaineers. It is a technical and physically demanding climb at high altitudes that will enable you to move on to even bigger objectives, but you must already have completed a mountaineering course and several climbs.
If you’re new to alpine climbing, there are plenty of options to prepare you for an expedition like this. Mount Superior in the Wasatch Mountains make for a great training ground to get the experience to move on to an expedition of this level.
All technical and camping group equipment will be provided by your guiding service.
You’ll need to bring:
Only bring good gear that is in very good condition, as it will all get tested, perhaps to the extreme!
Here’s a list of the clothes equipment we suggest you bring:
Here’s what you’ll need for camping:
Dress comfortably and for the weather in clothes you can move in. We suggest bringing clothing appropriate for the season. Layers are best and don’t wear jeans.
Group sizes and prices:
Min. age requirements:
If your group has climbers under the age of 18, contact us prior to booking to make arrangements.
All Denali expeditions require a $2500 deposit to secure a spot on the team. Your submission of a deposit constitutes your acceptance of this Fee Schedule, Refund and Cancellation Policy. The deposit includes a non-refundable $1500 administration fee.
Final payments for expeditions must be received 120 days prior to the adventure. Failure to pay expedition fees by the date they are due constitutes cancellation of your spot on the team and forfeiture of your deposit. If you register for a climb within 90 days of the trip, expedition fees will be due in full to secure your spot on the team.
Any cancellation 120+ days before your trip will be refunded in full, less the administration fee. If you cancel 120-90 days before your trip, you are eligible for a refund of 50% of any money paid, less the deposit. No refunds will be provided for cancellations occurring within the last 89 days prior to an expedition.
Your guides reserve the right to cancel an expedition prior to the departure date for any reason. In such an event, all money for that expedition shall be refunded.
For the 2022 Denali season, your guides require that all climbers are fully vaccinated prior to departing for Anchorage. A person is considered fully vaccinated greater than or equal to 2 weeks after completion of a two-dose mRNA series or single dose of Janssen vaccine. All climbers joining Mountain Trip Alaska for expeditions in Denali National Park and Preserve will be required to sign a COVID-19 Declaration stating the following:
To get to Denali National Park, most people fly into Anchorage International Airport (ANC). You will meet your guides there on the first day at 10 A.M.
Once you and your guide agree on the details of your itinerary, your guide will suggest the best place to meet.