DENALI VIA THE CASSIN RIDGE
This slender ridge drops like a plumb line from the summit of Denali, splitting its massive South Face in two. It is the line that immediately captures the eye of climbers when they first see the mountain from the south. “The Cassin” is a legendary route, which has attracted the best alpinists of the day since it was first climbed in 1961 by Riccardo Cassin and members of an Italian climbing club known as the Lecco Spiders. Among experienced alpinists, it has a reputation as the alpine climb to do in North America.
The Cassin has only been guided a handful of times. Mountain Trip attempted an early guided climb in the 1980’s and we led an attempt as recently as 2010. This is a serious route and demands the utmost respect. We have not taken the decision to guide it lightly. Any climber who wishes to attempt this route must join us in Southwest Colorado for a few days of training and evaluation during the winter. We have selected our strongest, most qualified guides to lead this climb and will only consider strong, skilled, committed climbers to join the team.
Please contact us if you would like to climb the most striking line on Denali.
The West Rib of Denali: Any prospective Cassin climber should have an ascent (or more) of Denali under his or her boots. The West Rib will give you a small taste of the exposure and workload that a Cassin climb will require.
Ice routes on the Alaska Range: Routes such as the Ham and Eggs Couloir and Shaken Not Stirred on Mooses Tooth or the West Face Couloir of Mount Huntington will give you some experience in what it feels like to climb for long days in the Alaska Range.
The Northwest Buttress of Denali: Seldom attempted, this beautiful route saw its second ascent by a Mountain Trip team led by Gary Bocarde. It is a step up in difficulty and commitment from the West Rib and a good route to prepare a climber for the Cassin.
Follow Up Climbs
Many consider the Cassin to be the pinnacle of alpine climbing in the US. Long time Mountain Trip guide and our Himalayan program director, Scott Woolums (who has climbed Denali over 40 times, Everest 7 times and gone to 6000m well over 100 times) calls it the “best alpine climb” he’s done. So what’s next…? The Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker? The South Face of Aconcagua? You’ve just eaten the icing on the cake, so we are hard pressed to make more recommendations…
Leashless ice tools: Most hard routes these days are being climbed using modern, leashless tools, with some form of tether to prevent dropping them. Leashless tools offer many advantages over traditional, leashed tools, in that they allow you to climb more fluidly and shake out pumped forearms more readily than when tied to your tools.
Light is right:
Pare your personal kit down to the absolute minimum. We’ll work with you in this regard, but you should consider throwing the old model of layering out the window, and adopt a clothing system that enables you to climb for hours on end without overheating, as is common when bundled under a layer of sweat-trapping Gore-tex.
The following is a list of suggested gear for climbing the Cassin Ridge. Climbers joining Mountain Trip will receive a comprehensive equipment list that supersedes the one below. Many of the items on the list need to fit you well in order for you to fully enjoy your experience on the mountain. Please plan ahead with equipment purchased for your trip so you can be certain that your gear fits you well. The Valley of Death is not the place to discover that your pack is too small for your torso, or that your boots give you blisters. Recommended items reflect the opinions of our guides, but they may not necessarily fit you. They are also weighted toward a couple companies that are industry leaders in exhibiting environmental and social consciousness.
Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.
Items with ** are optional, but recommended.
- MOUNTAINEERING DOUBLE BOOTS: Acceptable boots for Denali fall into two categories, traditional double boots and boot systems with integrated gaiters. Either variety works well, however the latter versions are lighter and arguably simpler. The goal is to have warm, comfortable feet! Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits well. Consider your future mountaineering objectives when purchasing boots as well.
- Recommended System Boots: LOWA “8000 GTX ”, LA SPORTIVA “OLYMPUS MONS EVO”
- Recommended Double Boots: SCARPA “INVERNO” with High Altitude Liners, LA SPORTIVA “NUPTSE” OR “SPANTIK”. A great upgrade to any plastic boot are the Denali Liners by Intuition. These are lighter and warmer than almost any stock liners. They are heat molded to fit your feet and are worth every penny. *** All double boots need Overboots and Gaiters, including the Spantiks
- OVERBOOTS: Neoprene overboots such as 40 Below Purple Haze are best. O.R. and Wild Country insulated Overboots work well if they fit with your crampons. Supergaiters alone are not warm enough for Denali.
- GAITERS: Full height, such as Black Diamond GTX Frontpoint Gaiter or Outdoor Research “Crocodiles.” Full coverage “Supergaiters” work great as well.
- BOOTIES**: Synthetic or down fill booties. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots.
- SNOWSHOES: Atlas Summit Series or the basic MSR Denali both work well, although a nice “upgrade” feature is a heel riser, which really helps make the steeper hills a bit more manageable. 22-25 inch snowshoes will generally work fine. ___
- SKI POLES: Select a proper length for hiking. Almost any ski pole will do, although adjustable poles work best! Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing.
CLOTHING You will need a total of five (5) layers for your torso and four (4) for your legs:
- BASE LAYER: (1 or 2 sets) Synthetic Top and Bottoms such as Light or Mid-Weight Capilene from Patagonia. There are some really nice Merino wool options on the market as well. Patagonia has a nice entry called Wool 2.
- “EXPEDITION WEIGHT” FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is important for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or the R1 Flash Hoody.
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: We used to consider this layer optional, but this “Soft Shell” layer is becoming indispensible, due to the broad comfort range it provides. Often pants made of Schoeller Dynamic or similar fabrics can be worn all the way to High Camp in lieu of less breathable “hard-shell” pants. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Alpine Guide Pants
- FLEECE OR INSULATED PANTS: This layer must have side zippers! The best options for this layer are thick, “puffy” synthetic or down pants like the Patagonia Micro Puff Pants or Feathered Friends Volant Pants. These can be layered over your shell pants for easier and quicker layer changes.
- PRIMALOFT “PUFFY” JACKET: Size this to fit over your shell. We are fans of the puffy, Primaloft jackets because they are lighter and warmer than fleece and compress down much smaller. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Micro Puff Hooded Jacket or the Outdoor Research Chaos Jacket
- SHELL JACKET & PANTS: They should be large enough to go over your pile clothing layers and the pants must have full lenght side zippers. These do not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Many people are climbing Denali using lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells.
- EXPEDITION PARKA (WITH HOOD): Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka. There are some synthetic options such as the Patagonia D.A.S. Parka and the Wild Things Belay Jacket, however; down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky.
- VEST**: Fleece, puffy or down vest adds warmth to a light Expedition Parka. (OPTIONAL)
- T-SHIRT**: Synthetic long sleeve shirt for the lower glacier. Synthetics dry faster than cotton!
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: One or two changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene.
- SOCKS: 2 – 4 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your socks fit with your boots!
- GLOVES: Light or medium weight bunting, polypro, Windstopper or even better: Schoeller fabric (one or two pairs.) Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Vert Gloves
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are the workhorse on Denali. Black Diamond Guide Gloves have removable liners for ease of drying. It’s hard to stress how much you’ll be wearing these, so do not skimp on this item.
- SUMMIT MITTENS: Thick, warm, non-constricting mittens made of pile, Primaloft or down. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. They aren’t cheap, but are extremely warm. Divide the cost by 10 digits and they’re a bargain!
- WARM HAT: One warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection.
- FACE MASK: Neoprene or Windstopper work equally well.
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the lower mountain. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 8+ sets of these disposable insurance policies.
- GLACIER GLASSES: They must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays.
- SKI GOGGLES: For use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells.These must have double lenses and provide 100%UV protection.
- EXPEDITION PACK: Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find a good expedition-sized back pack. Denali requires a 6000+ cu in. or 90+ liter pack to carry your gear, plus group food & equipment. The Dana Designs Terra Plane, Gregory Denali Pro and Osprey Aether 90 all fit the bill. BE CERTAIN THAT YOUR PACK FITS YOU! Get used to your pack; train with it!
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFEL: (36-48″) for use as a sled bag. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although if you can find the Patagonia Stellar Black Hole Bag you will be thrilled. It is lightweight and darn near water proof, making it the ideal sled bag!
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: Rated to 30 below. Marmot Cwm, Col and Mt Hardwear Ghost are all great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? We prefer down bags because they are lighter, more compact, and have a longer lifespan than synthetics, but the new synthetics are getting a lot better. Guides’ Pick: Weighing in at just 4 pounds, the Valandre Odin is a -40 degree bag which is also suitable for Antarctica. It’s lighter companion, the Freja, is a -22 degree bag that only weighs 3 lbs 6 oz!
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Granite Gear and Outdoor Research are both making nice, lightweight compression sacks. These are essential for sleeping bags and recommended for your summit clothes, such as your parka, mitts and warmest pants, so you might consider bringing two.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, with one being a closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat just in case you poke a crampon through your air mattress. Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads have been among the warmest and most comfortable, but the new Exped pads from Outdoor Research are really nice. Guides’ Pick: Exped 7 paired with a Deluxe, Full-length Ridge Rest
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE AXE: (with leash) 70-80 cm length works well for the West Buttress and go 10-20 cm shorter for technical climbs. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Raven Pro
- CRAMPONS: 10 or 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! Step in or “New-matic” work equally well, just make sure they fit with your mountain boots and overboots. Fit is especially important with overboots! Black Diamond Guides’ Pick: Sabretooth Clip with ABS
- HARNESS: Your harness needs to have adjustable leg loops. Black Diamond Blizzard or Alpine Bod harnesses are both lightweight and functional.
- ASCENDERS: You need at least one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension. This can be paired with a second, handled ascender or with a lighter weight version such as a Petzl Tibloc, a Wild Country Ropeman or simply bring a prussik cord for your feet. If you opt for only one full sized ascender, consider bringing a left-handed one for ease of use on the fixed lines.
- CARABINERS: Bring two large locking carabiners and eight regular carabiners. Please do not bring “bent-gate” carabiners. These have certain limitations that do not make them appropriate for how we will use them. Mark them with colored tape for identification. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Neutrinos are very lightweight.
- PERLON CORD: 50 feet of 5 or 6 mm for sled and pack tie offs.
- CLIMBING HELMET: Unfortunately, even Alaska is not beyond the reach of Global Warming and there is now a stretch of the West Buttress route that necessitates the wearing of a climbing helmet. Get the lightest one you can find and make certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Tracer
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- NOSE GUARDS: Beko makes nice nose protectors that keep the wind and sun from wreaking havoc on your skin.
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items plus one large one for a cache bag)
- CAMELBACK HYDRATION SYSTEM (optional, but if you bring one, also bring an insulated tube and mouthpiece) This DOES NOT replace your Water Bottles!
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES: Please do not bring metal bottles or small mouth bottles.
- INSULATED COVER (1or 2 for your water bottles).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP OR BOWL for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl work fine)
- INSULATED CUP 12 or 16 ounce plastic cup for hot drinks
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- 2 SMALL LIP BALMS (WITH 30+SPF): Two small tubes are easier to keep from freezing than one big tube.
- SUN SCREEN 3-4 OUNCES- two to four small tubes work better than one large tube
- TOILET PAPER: 1 or 2 rolls, depending on your technique
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes,… keep it small)
- P-BOTTLE Wide-mouth, collapsible Nalgene Cantenes work great- they make a 96 ounce version! Ladies- look for an appropriate adapter available at your local outdoors store. These items are both tough to find in Anchorage so plan ahead!
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen). PLEASE CONTACT YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN FOR A LIST OF APPROPRIATE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. THERE ARE SOME VERY USEFUL PRESCRIPTION DRUGS THAT CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE AT ALTITUDE. CONTACT US FOR RECOMENDATIONS. OPTIONAL ITEMS
- CAMERA, with lots of film or digital and no film
- BOOK(s) for storm day reading
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- HAND LOTION
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITOR (check out the light weight versions from Buff)
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE
- EXTRA ACCESSORY STRAPS** (generally only needed for smaller sized packs)
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER (CD, MINI DISC, MP3 PLAYER, ETC with extra batteries)
- CELL PHONE (Due to antiquated cell phone infrastructure in this part of Alaska, only a small number of phones actually work from Denali. As of 2006, only phones capable of receiving ANALOG signals could function from the mountain.)
TRAVERSE CLIMB ONLY
- MOSQUITO REPELLENT
- HEAD NET
- TRAIL RUNNING or LIGHT HIKING SHOES (For river crossings and the walk out to Wonder Lake)
RENTAL ITEMS AVAILABLE
- SNOWSHOES ($50)
- SKI POLES ($15)
- CRAMPONS ($30)
- ICE AXE ($25)
- ASCENDER ($25)
- EXPEDITION PACK ($50-$100)
ALL EQUIPMENT ON THIS LIST IS AVAILABLE AT AMH IN ANCHORAGE -
And you get a 10% discount. Check out their Web site: www.alaskamountaineering.com or call 907 272-1811.
Feathered Friends in Seattle will also give you a 10% discount if you tell them you are joining one of our expeditions.
MAKE SURE YOU TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BRING IT ON DENALI!!
CALL OR EMAIL US WITH YOUR EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS.