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.

STRATEGIES AND STYLE

The Cassin Ridge is a huge undertaking for any climber, and there are several ways in which we might attempt the route, depending to some extent on conditions, but also on the strength of the climbing team.  A common manner to attempt the route is to acclimatize on the West Buttress, before attempting the climb in alpine style.  The following itinerary reflects this strategy.  As with any itinerary for climbing a big, cold mountain – the following is merely a rough outline of what might happen on any given day, and is subject to change for any number of reasons.

DAY 1: MEET IN ANCHORAGE. Our Team Meetings are generally scheduled at 10 A.M. for an expedition orientation and equipment check. This is a very important meeting, which all climbers must attend. Be sure to arrive in Anchorage early enough to make the meeting; which may require arriving a day early. Our trip fee includes two nights accommodation at the Millennium Alaska Hotel, which is conveniently located and offers free airport transfers.

DAY 3: SINGLE CARRY TO 7,800′ CAMP. Departing base camp, we’ll drop down the infamous Heartbreak Hill and onto the broad Kahiltna glacier. Our 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 9 miles round-trip and is a good shake-down for the upcoming days. Depending on the team and weather we may or may not carry loads and return to Base Camp. Throughout the expedition we will typically follow the “climb high, sleep low” technique for better acclimatization, however the altitude difference between Base Camp and 7,800′ Camp is minimal enough to permit us to generally “single-carry” this stretch. On the late May and June expeditions, we may be doing our climbing early in the morning to avoid the excessive heat and soft snow conditions on the Lower Glacier.

DAY 4: SINGLE CARRY TO 9,700′. We’ll head out of 7,800′ Camp and carry loads up the 1,800′ Ski Hill. Several options exist for camp sites between 9,000 & 11,000 feet, depending upon weather, snow conditions and team strength. This is a moderately difficult carry of 3 – 4.5 miles, with 2- 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

DAY 5: MOVE TO 11,200′ CAMP. Our third camp is often in the 11,200’ basin at the base of Motorcycle Hill. This is an incredibly beautiful camp that basks in alpenglow when the sun travels around the north side of the mountain.

DAY 6: REST/ACCLIMATIZATION DAY. We just moved rather quickly from sea level to 11,200′, so it is often prudent to slow things down a bit and allow our bodies to acclimate a bit before pushing up to the big camp at 14,200′.

DAY 7: HAUL LOADS AROUND WINDY CORNER (13,300 FEET). Steep snow climbing up the 1,000′ high Motorcycle Hill rewards you with spectacular views. The total distance for the day is about 4 miles round trip with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Fun climbing with crampons and ice axe gets you around Windy Corner where the upper mountain comes into view-have your camera ready!

DAY 8: MOVE CAMP TO 14,200 FEET. This is usually a long, hard day. Our next camp is generally located at the well equipped 14,200’ camp in the expansive Genet Basin. Loads are getting lighter and the air is getting thinner. Hopefully everyone will have enough energy left to help get camp in as we need to fortify this camp due to the possibility for fairly severe weather.

DAY 9: ACCLIMATIZATION DAY. This is an important day that helps provide the foundation of acclimatization that we’ll need for climbing higher on Denali.  We’ll review a variety of climbing techniques during the day and might have a chance to walk over to a dramatically scenic spot known as “The Edge of the World.”

DAY 10: CLIMB HIGHER TO FURTHER DEVELOP ACCLIMATIZATION. We have options as to whether we climb up the West Buttress route and out the ridge that leads to the 17,200′ camp or we can climb up to the high camps on the West Rib.  Either will serve us well.

DAY 11: DESCEND TO OUR 7,800′ CAMP. We’ll drop back down to the site of our cache at 7,800′ in preparation for pushing up the NE Fork of the Kahiltna towards our route.

DAY 12 – 13: MOVE UP THE NE FORK TO THE BASE OF THE ROUTE. As with much of this expedition, we have options as to how we move up the NE Fork of the Kahiltna and where we camp.  Team strength and conditions will dictate our strategy.

DAY 14 – 20: CLIMBING THE CASSIN! Weather, team strength, conditions and health will all direct our team decision-making for where we camp, and how we move up the route.  It could easily take a week to climb up the route and descend back to our cache at 14,200′.

DAY 21 – 26(+): CONTINGENCY/DESCENT DAYS.  Weather will probably slow us down at some point, and it will take a day to reach the airstrip from our cache at 14,200′.  As we book these trips on a private, custom basis, your schedule will dictate how many days we have to devote to contingency days.  There comes a point of diminishing returns, whereby, if you bring too many extra days of food, the weight will slow you down so much that you’ll need to use them.  We’ll discuss this at length with any prospective climber.

The following is a general list of required gear for climbing the Cassin Ridge with Mountain Trip. Climbers joining us on an expedition will receive an updated, comprehensive equipment list that may supersede this list.

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. Deep in th NE Fork of the Kahiltna 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. We have used and have faith in all of our recommendations, but they may not necessarily fit or work for you.

Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.

Please follow this list closely and do not hesitate to call us for clarifications or to solicit an opinion about anything you are considering. There is a good selection of gear available in Anchorage, but please plan ahead for things that you might need in a particular size, as local shops do not always have every item in stock. Lastly, only bring quality gear that is in very good condition on your expedition.

Climbing Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Ice AxeA general use, mountaineering axe is sufficient for this climb. Some axes are much lighter than others, so select for weight as well as a size for your height. Most climbers do well with a 60 - 75 cm axe. On less technical routes, a longer axe can act like a walking stick on flatter terrain.
Climbing HarnessYour harness should be adjustable enough to accommodate several layers of clothing. As with most items on this list, choose a light weight harness.
CarabinersBring eight regular (non-locking) carabiners. Please do not bring “bent-gate” carabiners, as these have certain limitations that do not make them appropriate for how we will use them. Mark your 'biners with colored tape for identification.
Perlon Cord50 feet (15.25m) of 5-6mm accessory cord will be plenty to rig your sled and pack for glacier travel. This is readily available in Anchorage and should be considered disposable, as we'll cut it into several pieces.
Climbing HelmetMake certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. We have seen a couple super-lightweight foam helmets get crushed in duffel bags bag during travel, so protect your lid!
Prussik CordIn addition to our one, full-handled ascender, we will use one prussik loop for glacier travel. Bring __ feet of 6 or 7mm perlon cord for tying into a prussik loop. Your guides will assist with this in Anchorage.

Footwear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
OverbootsDouble mountaineering boots require overboots for the potential extreme cold of the upper mountain. We prefer snug fitting neoprene overboots, such as the ones from 40 Below. Triple boots generally do not require overboots, but we encourage you to double check with us regarding your personal boot choice.
Mountaineering BootsModern Mountaineering Boots fall into two categories, traditional double boots and the newer triple boot systems with integrated gaiters. Either variety works well, however the “triple boots” are lighter and arguably simpler. Whichever you decide to use, 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 Triple Boots: La Sportiva OLYMPUS MONS EVO, Boreal G1 Expedition, Scarpa PHANTOM 8000 or Lowa 8000 GTX

Recommended Double Boots: La Sportiva BARUNTSE, or SPANTIK, Boreal G1 Lite or the Scarpa “INVERNO” with High Altitude Liners or aftermarket liners.

Guides' Tip: 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.

Glacier Travel

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Snow ShoesAtlas Summit Series or the basic MSR EVO Ascent snowshoes both work well. A nice “upgrade” feature is a heel riser, which really helps make the steeper hills a bit more manageable. You won't need huge snowshoes, so 22-25 inch snowshoes will generally work fine.

Head and Hands

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Nose GuardBeko makes nice nose protectors that keep the wind and sun from wreaking havoc on your skin.

Leg Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Base Layer BottomsLightweight synthetic or Merino wool bottoms are a good choice for this layer. Synthetic seems to wick a bit better and is the choice of most of our guides, but Merino tends to be more fragrance-free, and many people appreciate that quality. One pair is sufficient for overnight climbs and most expeditions, even longer climbs such as Denali and Aconcagua. Everest climbers should bring two pair.
Light Fleece BottomsAs the air thins and the wind picks up, you'll want a bit more insulation on your legs. Light fleece bottoms, such as the Capilene 4 bottoms from Patagonia are breathable and have a broad comfort range, so you can wear them all day long, even if the sun pokes out from the clouds. If you tend to run cold, consider thicker fleece, such as Powerstretch from Polartec, which most outdoor clothing manufacturers also use.
Soft Shell PantsWe are fans of soft shell pants for use in the mountains. Also known as stretch-woven pants, these are breathable and comfortable enough to wear day in and day out on most expeditions. They cut most of the wind and are water resistant, meaning you can often use them in place of waterproof (not very breathable) hard shell pants on many climbs. On peaks like Denali and Aconcagua, you can wear them in lieu of your hard shell pants for much of the expedition.

Other

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Ski / Trekking PolesAdjustable poles work great and are easier to travel with as they fit better in your duffel bag. Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing than some of the twist-tightening versions. The small “trekking” baskets on some poles are not large enough for use on soft snow, so make certain your poles have bigger “snowflake” style baskets for any climb with glacier or snow travel.
Lip BalmBring a tube of quality lip balm with sun protection (SPF).
Stuff SacksWe are fans of the very light stiff sacks made from Sil Nylon fabric. Bring enough for your clothes and personal items. Light, zippered stuff bags are really nice for toiletries.
Two (2) One-Liter Water BottlesYou will need two, 1-liter plastic water bottles. Please bring wide-mouth bottles, such as those from Nalgene, as these are much easier to fill than bottles with small openings.
Insulated Bottle Cover(s)Water bottles freeze when it gets cold. Crazy, but true! Extra clothing can help insulate bottles, but dedicated water bottle insulators do a much better job. Bring at least one.
Large Plastic BowlBowls are much easier to use and are much more versatile than are plates. Bring a 2-4 cup camping bowl or a plastic "Rubbermaid" style container for your mountain dining.
Insulated Cup or MugA 12 - 16 ounce (350-500 Ml) mug with an attached lid will help keep you hydrated. The Kleen Kanteen Insulated Bottle with the "Cafe Cap" is pretty nifty, as it is a mug and a thermos all in one!
Lexan SpoonA soup spoon made from Lexan will survive most trips and is more useful and versatile than a fork or even a "spork." Mark your spoon with your initials to keep spoon rustlers at bay.
Lip Balm (2 tubes)Protect your lips! Bring two tubes of high quality lip balm with SPF.
Sun Screen for DenaliSmaller tubes work well, as they are easier to keep from freezing than is one big tube. You'll want to bring 3-4 ounces (85 - 110g) for the trip.

Torso Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Expedition ParkaPatagonia, Feathered Friends, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, and The North Face all make good parkas. There are some synthetic options; however, down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky. You do not need a full-on 8000meter parka for peaks like Denali and Aconcagua, but you should have a warm one with a hood. A suitable parka will be built with "box baffled construction."
Base Layer Top(1 or 2 sets) Synthetic layers work well, such as Capilene 2 or 3 from Patagonia. There are some really nice Merino wool options on the market as well. One set it sufficient for most expeditions and for overnight trips, however; the choice as to whether to bring a second set is a personal one, based on your level of comfort with wearing the same clothes for days or weeks at a time.
Light Fleece TopYou'll want a light fleece top in a weight similar to Capilene 4 from Patagonia, or Powerstretch from Polartec. A rather deep zip t-neck really helps with ventilating and we are fans of a hooded version for this layer.
“Puffy,” Synthetic JacketSize this layer to fit over your light fleece and wind shell. We are fans of the puffy, Primaloft jackets because they are lighter and warmer than thick fleece and compress down much smaller. A hood is a recommended feature in this layer, but is not necessary.
Hard Shell JacketThis jacket should be large enough to go over your fleece clothing layer. You do not need the burliest Gore-Tex jacket you can find, and we prefer the lightest weight versions. Many people are climbing peaks such as Denali, Aconcagua and Everest using very lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells, rather than fully waterproof jackets. Other trips, such as Carstensz Pyramid, are notoriously wet and absolutely need waterproof layers. Long expeditions like Everest also need this layer. Contact us to see if your particular trip needs this layer for your trip.
Wind ShirtMany high alpine peaks are cold and dry. If you are not getting rained on or experiencing wet snow, perhaps you do not need a waterproof jacket? We are huge fans of very lightweight windshirts for peaks like Denali and Aconcagua. Weighing just a few ounces, these can be carried in your pocket or in the lid of your pack for rapid deployment. They can replace your hard shell on many mountains, saving you a half a pound or more.

Refunds and Cancellations

Mountain Trip recognizes how difficult and disappointing it can be for climbers who must cancel expeditions which they have planned for a long time. Team members must also recognize that, due to the nature of planning expeditions and dealing with governmental permits and regulations, Mountain Trip also accrues significant expenses in the months prior to expedition departure dates. We must therefore adhere to a strict refund policy for all climbers. Trip cancellation and travel insurance is generally available for all expeditions. U.S. and Canadian residents should contact us for more information regarding travel insurance. Our refund and cancellation policy is outlined below.

• All Denali expeditions require a $1500 deposit to secure a spot on the team. Your submission of a deposit constitutes your acceptance of this Fee Schedule, Refund and Cancellation Policy.  Private climbs often require a higher and often non-refundable deposit.  Contact us for details pertaining to this trip.

• All deposits for Denali expeditions include a non-refundable $750 administration fee.

• Final payments for expeditions must be received 120 days prior to the Team Meeting Day.

• Failure to pay expedition fees by the date they are due constitutes cancellation of your spot on the team and forfeiture of your deposit.

• Any cancellation 120+ days before your Team Meeting Day will be refunded in full, less the administration fee.

• If you cancel 120-90 days before your Team Meeting Day, you are eligible for a refund of 50% of any monies paid, less the deposit.

• No refunds will be provided for cancellations occurring within the last 89 days prior to an expedition.

• All requests for refunds must be made in writing and received in our Colorado office.

• If you register for a climb within 90 days of the Team Meeting Day, expedition fees will be due in full to secure your spot on the team.

• Mountain Trip reserves the right to cancel an expedition prior to the departure date for any reason. In such an event, all monies collected by Mountain Trip from team members for that expedition shall be promptly refunded. This is the extent of our financial liability.

 

Inclusions and Exclusions

Included in the Trip Fee:

• Unlimited pre-trip access to our office resources

• Guidance of our experienced Mountain Trip guides

• Scheduled group transportation between Anchorage and Talkeetna

• Scheduled flights between Talkeetna and Base Camp

• All food while on the mountain

• All group equipment (tents, kitchen, ropes, sleds, snow pickets, shovels, group med kit, satellite phone, GPS tracker, etc)

• Custom expedition dispatch blog for your climb, complete with audio posts from team members calling from the mountain

• Assistance arranging for post-climb activities in Alaska

 

Not Included in the Trip Fee:

• Flights to and from Alaska

• Lodging in Alaska, although we can help you secure rooms in Anchorage at a negotiated rate – please inquire about this option.

• Personal clothing and equipment per our equipment list

• Meals while not on the mountain

• Mountaineering Cost Recovery Fee ($260 for climbers 24 years old and younger, $360 for older climbers) paid to the National Park Service at the time you register for your individual climbing permit.

• Travel and/or rescue insurance

• Costs incurred due to evacuation or unplanned departure from the mountain due to illness or other problems

• Costs incurred as a result of delays beyond the control of Mountain Trip

• Customary gratuities for guides

• Costs as a result of force majeure

 

General Agreement Concerning Services to be Provided And Responsibilities of Team Members

When registering for an expedition with Mountain Trip we want to help make sure you understand the services we are providing and the services you are responsible for.

Transportation is incidental

The main purpose of becoming a team member is to join us on an expedition in the mountains. As such any transportation we provide or that you may contract for on your own is incidental to the trip. We suggest that you make sure you have time built into your itinerary for delays.

Transportation to and from your destination

We will designate a specific Team Meeting Day for your expedition. Transportation to the meeting point on your Team Meeting Day is to be provided by you. You must arrive in time to be ready to participate in a team meeting at the appointed time on the Team Meeting Day for your expedition. This probably means you will need to arrive the day before, as our Team Meetings for Alaska trips are held in the morning.  Expedition climbing is very dynamic and we will provide you with a recommendation as to when you should book your flights to and from your destination. We suggest you book a ticket that allows you to change your flight with little effort or cost.

Lodging off the mountain

Mountain Trip will provide lodging per the Inclusions and Exclusions section above. Any additional lodging is your responsibility. Don’t worry about booking a room after your expedition. We generally don’t know how long we’ll be in the mountains, and we can help arrange lodging when we return to “civilization.”

Responsibilities of Team Members

You are ultimately responsible for your own well-being, including making all necessary preparations to ensure good health and physical conditioning. You are responsible for understanding the conditions that may exist on the climb and choosing a climb that is appropriate for your abilities and interests. You are responsible for having knowledge of all pre-departure information and for assembling the appropriate clothing and equipment for your climb.

While on the expedition, team members are responsible to maintain basic levels of hygiene and to conduct themselves respectfully with other team members and members of the local population. If a guide feels that a team member is putting other members’ health or safety at risk, the guide has the discretion to remove a team member from an expedition.

Use our office staff and your lead guide as pre-trip resources to ensure that all your questions are answered. Travel insurance may help recoup expenses if you need to leave an expedition due to an illness.

Airline Responsibility Passenger/Airline contracts are in effect while team members are on board any aircraft contracted for use in the expedition.

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