The West Buttress route on Denali was pioneered in 1951 by Dr. Bradford Washburn. The climb is a steady and gradual ascent over a period of days and we emphasize proper acclimatization for our team members. With no rock or vertical ice climbing, the route is not considered a highly technical climb. However, the physical environment of Denali presents much of the climbing challenge: miles of heavily glaciated terrain, extremes of temperatures and weather, and climbing and living at altitude. In addition to extensive glacier travel on the lower mountain, the climbing is considerably steeper above 15,000′ (35° to 45°+). Some slopes have fixed rope in place to climb with the belay of a mechanical ascender. An ascent of the West Buttress of Denali with RMI is truly a major expedition and unforgettable climbing experience!
When your goal is the highest peak in North America, experience matters. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. was established in 1969 and is one of America’s oldest and most-trusted guide services. We are the largest guide service on Mt. Rainierand Denali and leaders in guiding climbs and treks around the globe.
We have been guiding in Alaska since 1975 and have led over 300 expeditions on Denali.
The remote and inhospitable landscape of Denali’s slopes necessitate that all the finer points of an expedition are addressed and our years of leading mountain adventures give us the experience and knowledge to create the best possible trips; we work hard to live up to our reputation as an industry leader. Our preparation before departure helps you with the trip logistics – expedition planning, travel plans, mountain flights with K2 Aviation – so that you can focus on preparing for the climb. RMI does not establish final end dates to our expeditions, giving us the flexibility to take into account considerations such as weather, route conditions, acclimatization and the strength of the climbing team while on the mountain. This flexibility allows us to move higher when the weather permits and climbers are ready, not just because of the need to adhere to a pre-determined schedule.
Our Denali expeditions are led by RMI’s foremost guides who bring years of climbing experience on not only in Alaska but on mountains all over the world, from the Andes to the Antarctic to the Himalayas. With over 35 years of accumulated knowledge guiding Denali, our guides are second to none. Our guides closely monitor climbers’ performance and acclimatization throughout the team’s ascent and will make day-to-day variations in order to better your chances of reaching the summit. As you reach higher elevations and test the limits of your experience, the value of an accomplished, highly trained RMI Guide held to our standards cannot be understated.
4:00 p.m.: Meet the guides at Anchorage International Airport (Domestic Terminal), carousel 1 in Alaska Airlines baggage claim.
Shuttle transportation to Talkeetna is included in the program. The shuttle leaves at 4:30 p.m. and takes three hours to arrive in Talkeetna. The group will stop at a grocery store in Wasilla for the opportunity to purchase any fresh food you’d like to bring on the mountain. The team will arrive in Talkeetna at approximately 9:00 p.m. Overnight in Talkeetna.
7:00 a.m.: Team Breakfast Meeting
Our main goal today is to get the team ready to fly onto the mountain. After our breakfast meeting, the team attends a National Park Service presentation on expedition climbing and special considerations about Denali National Park & Preserve. Next, we focus on equipment, including an extensive personal gear check and recommendations for what to bring onto the mountain and how to pack for the flight to Base Camp. Finally, we organize the group food and equipment, putting the final touches on our packing for the flight. We enjoy a final meal in town before our expedition begins. Overnight in Talkeetna.
After breakfast we meet at K2 Aviation for the bush plane flight to Kahiltna Base Camp, weather permitting. The spectacular scenic flight takes approximately 45 minutes. Kahiltna Base Camp lies at 7,300′ on the S.E. fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, approximately 20 miles distant and 13,000′ below the South Peak of Denali, at 20,320′. At Base Camp we rig our sleds and review mountaineering skills needed for our climb.
There are many variables on a Denali expedition. While most expeditions average 18 days from Base Camp to Base Camp, we never place an ending date on our programs. We purposely build flexibility into our itinerary to take into account weather, route conditions, acclimatization, and the strength of the climbing team. This flexibility allows us to move higher when the weather permits and climbers are ready. Our experienced guides closely monitor climbers’ performance and acclimatization throughout the team’s ascent and may make day-to-day variations in order to better our chances of reaching the summit.
We pack each expedition with twenty-two man-days of food. In the event of bad weather, this amount can be stretched several additional days. Furthermore, there are emergency food rations at Kahiltna Base Camp, in case weather prevents the group from flying off the glacier.
The following itinerary is meant to highlight the camps, route details, and a day-to-day outline while on the mountain. It does not take into account any sort of delays.
Leaving Kahiltna Base, we descend 400′ down Heart Break Hill to the main Kahiltna glacier, where we turn towards Denali, and travel 5.5 miles up the gently rising glacial rolls. Our camp sits at the base of Ski Hill at 7,800′.
Ski Hill is the first major elevation gain of the trip. In a series of rolls, the Kahiltna glacier rises from our camp at the base of Ski Hill towards Kahiltna Pass at 10,000′. We leave camp, and climb up the glacier to our second camp at 9,600′, just below Kahiltna Pass.
At Kahiltna Pass, the Kahiltna glacier makes a prominent turn to the east, continuing up a glacial valley into our camp in a basin at the base of Motorcycle Hill.
We spend the day resting, reviewing crampon and self arrest techniques, and sorting loads in anticipation of our carry day.
Leaving camp, we climb Motorcycle Hill to a bench with stunning views of the Father and Sons Wall, and the Peters Glacier. The subsequent climb up Squirrel Hill leads us to the Polo Field, a wide glacial bench at the foot of the West Buttress. We traverse around Windy Corner at 13,300′ to our cache site at 13,500′. After leaving our load of group food, fuel, and personal items, we descend back to our tents at 11K Camp.
This is an important acclimatization day before our move to 14K Camp. We spend the day resting, hydrating, eating, and organizing our loads for our move day.
After breaking camp we make our move to 14K Camp. We once again climb around Windy Corner, and passing our cache site, continue to climb to our camp at 14,200′ in Genet Basin, our home for the next several days.
We retrace our steps and descend to our cache site at 13,500′. After retrieving our gear, we return to 14K Camp to spend the afternoon improving our camp and relaxing.
The focus of the day is to rest, hydrate, and let our bodies start to adjust to this new altitude. We practice fixed line travel and running belays, as well as sort another load of gear, all in preparation for our carry onto the West Buttress.
We ascend out of the North side of Genet Basin, gaining the fixed lines at approximately 15,200′ that top out at the ridge line of the West Buttress at 16,200′. Depending on time, weather, route conditions, and energy level, we may opt to make our cache at the top of the fixed lines, or travel higher along the West Buttress towards 17K Camp before caching. After leaving our loads, we return to 14K Camp for the evening.
After a leisurely breakfast we make it our priority to hydrate and fuel throughout the day so that we’re prepared for our move to High Camp and the summit push. Depending on weather, we may stretch our legs and take a short walk across Genet Basin to the Edge of the World. From here we can look down almost 7,000′ to the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna, see our first camp at the Base of Ski Hill, and look across the valley to stunning views of 17,402′ Mt. Foraker.
We ascend the North side of Genet Basin once again, gaining the fixed lines to the ridge crest of the West Buttress at 16,200′. We travel along the ridge crest, stopping to pick up any essentials from our cache before continuing to our High Camp at 17,200′.
Our climb begins with a long rising traverse along the Autobahn to Denali Pass at 18,200′. Beyond Denali Pass, we follow the ridge line, passing the Zebra Rocks and the Archdeacon’s Tower before gaining the Football Field at 19,200′. Six hundred vertical feet of climbing leads us to the top of Pig Hill and the summit ridge. We traverse the airy summit ridge to the top of the South Peak. After celebrating on the summit, we descend our route back to High Camp. Summit day can be long; you should train for a 12 to 14 hour round trip.
After a well-deserved rest we pack camp and begin our descent back down the West Buttress. We stop briefly at 14K Camp to retrieve any cached items before continuing our descent to 11K Camp, where we stop for the night.
We re-rig our sleds, don our snowshoes, and begin our descent of the main Kahiltna Glacier back to the base of Heartbreak Hill. We then turn our sights back uphill to Kahiltna Base on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna.
We load up the planes and return to Talkeetna to enjoy a hot shower and celebratory team meal. Overnight in Talkeetna.
Transfer to Anchorage International Airport (ANC) for our outbound flights.