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Denali

An ascent of North America’s highest mountain, via the West Buttress Route

Introduction

Located in Alaska, Denali is the highest mountain in North America and the second most difficult of the Seven Summits. The West Buttress route is technically quite easy, but it is a tough expedition due to the need to carry heavy loads, and the notoriously stormy weather that the peak attracts. The climbing season runs from the end of April until the middle of July. Earlier it is colder, but there is more snow cover on the glaciers, making travel easier. Later in the season it is warmer, but the Kahiltna Glacier can be difficult to navigate, as crevasses open up. This means that you must weave around them and there is a greater chance of falling through weakened snow bridges. Overall, Denali is a big, serious mountain that should not be underestimated.

Join us on Denali

  • In keeping with Denali National Park regulations, our expedition will be operated through an authorised Alaskan guiding operator.
  • Advice from Jagged Globe staff who have climbed the mountain.
  • Denali is good preparation for an 8,000m peak, or Everest.

Experience Required

Climbers wishing to join the Denali expedition and have a good chance of success must be able to:

  • Demonstrate that they have completed routes of Scottish Grade II or above
  • Show experience of glacier travel and have completed Alpine routes of PD or equivalent
  • Be well organised and self-reliant, having taken part in previous expeditions
  • You must be able to carry 25Kg in a pack and 25Kg in a sled
  • You must have knowledge of crevasse rescue techniques (training in Scotland or the Alps available on a private basis)

Our Winter Mountaineering course in Scotland provides good skills preparation for this expedition.

Day 1: Fly UK to Anchorage.
Day 2: Preparations.
Your guides will meet you at the hotel to check your equipment. There are good stores in Anchorage for buying specialist gear, if you have any shortfalls.
Day 3: Drive to Talkeetna and fly to Kahiltna Airstrip.
It’s a 2.5 hour drive north to Talkeetna. Visit National Park Office to purchase your climbing permit and National Park fee. Mostly 4-seater aircraft fly onto the Kahiltna Glacier, so it can take several flights to get the entire team to Kahiltna Airstrip. This is a wonderful 45-minute flight. If it is clear, you will have your first good views of Denali. After landing, the team will set up camp close to the airstrip and prepare to move up the mountain.
Day 4: Journey to Camp 1 (7,700ft).
It is now common for teams to ‘single carry’ the 9Km stretch to Camp 1 at the junction of the North East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, which will mean carrying approximately 25Kg on your back and up to 25Kg in your sled. This is one of the toughest days of the expedition. It can be extremely hot and large crevasses are a feature of the journey.
Day 5 – 7: Move to Camp 2 (11,000ft).
You will initially carry a load to Camp 2 at 11,000ft/3,350m (or at least part way there), before moving to camp the following day. From Camp 1 you ascend ‘Ski Hill’ to Kahiltna Pass, before pulling into Camp 2 and feeling the altitude for the first time. It’s common to do a ‘back carry’ the following day, picking up the load that you cached two days ago.
Day 8: Carry around Windy Corner.
You will aim to cache just around Windy Corner at approximately 13,500ft/4,100m, before returning to the 11,000ft camp for the evening. Above Camp 2 is ‘Motorcycle Hill’, where you will put on crampons for the first time. The route climbs up to a col from where you head up more steeply to ‘Squirrel Point’ and the edge of a large plateau. This exposed area must be crossed to reach ‘Windy Corner’. In bad weather the wind rips across this plateau, making it impossible to get round Windy Corner safely.
Day 9: Move up to Camp 3 (14,200ft Camp, also known as ‘Basin Camp’).
Day 10: Back carry.
This is effectively a rest day, as it takes about 30 minutes to descend to your cache of two days ago, then about 1 hour to climb back up to camp.
Day 11: Rest day.
A day of leisure and to refine your gear and food before tomorrow’s cache.
Day 12: Cache on ridge at the top of the fixed lines (16,100ft).
If the weather is good, the team will organise loads to be placed on the ridge, at the top of the Headwall. Today serves as essential acclimatisation and you will also use a jumar for the first time on the fixed lines.
Day 13: Rest day.
Optional.
Day 14: Move up and establish High Camp (17,200ft/5,245m).
This is the most enjoyable day of climbing. At the top of the Headwall you will pick up your extra gear, before beginning the ridge section. The ridge is protected by pickets (snow stakes) and provides airy climbing in a fabulous setting. High Camp is very exposed to storms, so snow walls need to be built tent-high before you can relax and rest prior to a summit attempt.
Day 15 Rest day.
Typically teams will rest a day before attempting the summit. However, this is dependent on the weather forecast.
Day 16 – 20: Summit days.
From camp you will make the long rising traverse across snow to Denali Pass at 18,100ft/5,545m. From Denali Pass, the route bears right, steeply at first, then up a very long but low-angled snow and ice slope, between rock buttresses to Archdeacon’s Tower on the edge of the summit plateau. A short descent from the top of this leads onto ‘The Football Field’ at c6,000m. From here, you climb steep snow slopes onto the summit ridge and a further 20 minutes to reach the summit of Denali and the highest point in North America.
Day 21 – 22: Descend to Kahiltna Base Camp.
Day 23: Return flight to Talkeetna.
The team will check out with the National Park Service. Time to celebrate at the West Rib Pub and Grill!
Day 24: Return to Anchorage.
Transfer back to Anchorage.
Day 25 – 26: Fly home.

PLEASE NOTE: This itinerary is intended to be a guideline only. Any schedule for climbing Denali is extremely weather sensitive and inevitably the weather will force changes to be made. Occasionally, teams take longer to climb Denali than expected, which may result in flying back at a later date. Members are therefore advised to inform relatives and employers of this possibility to avoid undue alarm should this occur. You must also make sure that you have a flexible international flight ticket, so that you can change the return journey if required. Whatever the weather conditions, the expedition guides will arrange the itinerary to maximise the chances of success without prejudicing safety.

Acclimatisation

Approximate altitude profile of Denali:

pic

Please note: This profile does not represent the gradient of the mountain!

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