The West Buttress: The Classic Route on Denali (Mt. McKinley): 20,310 ft.

The West Buttress of Denali is the classic mountaineering objective in North America. First pioneered in 1950 by the indefatigable Bradford Washburn, it has become the route of choice for most Denali climbers due to its relative ease of access in this modern age of Air Taxis. Mountain Trip has helped more climbers achieve their Denali dreams than any other guide service. As one of the original Denali National Park guide service concessionaires, Mountain Trip has been guiding climbers up the West Buttress each season since 1976.

The West Buttress route begins at 7,200 feet on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. It follows the Kahiltna north before ascending up onto the West Buttress proper. Though technically not a very difficult route, climbers must use a variety of mountaineering techniques to make their way around crevasses and up moderately steep terrain. The route culminates on summit day by following an incredible knife-edged ridge to the highest point in North America.

Denali is a place of superlatives. Carrying the heaviest pack of your life in the thin air of altitude at such a northern latitude can make the West Buttress a very physically challenging climb. Extreme winds, heavy snowfall and arctic cold all conspire to make it a serious undertaking. Aspiring West Buttress climbers need to be in top physical shape and prepared to suffer with a smile.

Mountain Trip is a small company and we like it that way. It enables us to give personal, attentive service and to provide our climbers with the most experienced guides on the mountain. No other Denali guide service has our stringent guidelines for whom we allow to lead expeditions on the mountain. Our lead guides have a minimum of five Denali ascents under their boots — some have 20, 30, or more. Our office staff includes Denali guides who can answer your questions from their personal experience and love to talk about climbing big, cold mountains. Give us a call!

Having 3 Guides is Important!

We have a long history of thinking outside the box in a ceaseless effort to offer our climbers the best possible experience on Denali. In 2013, we began offering both our traditional 9-climber, 3-guide expeditions, as well as smaller, 6-climber, 3-guide teams. We feel that having three guides on a team is highly important to the success and security of a Denali team. Each season we see other guide service teams with two guides end up having only one guide on summit day, which really limits a team’s options.

Denali is a big, serious mountain with big mountain weather, geography, and acclimatization issues. The following itinerary represents a basic outline of what could happen on a given day during the course of a Denali expedition. Many factors can, and likely will, contribute to cause the following schedule to change. Our guides know the mountain and may elect to stray from this itinerary in order to give you the best possible shot at getting to the summit.

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 in advance. Our trip fee includes two night’s accommodation at the Lakefront Anchorage (formerly the Millennium Alaska Hotel), conveniently located and offers free airport transfers.

Ski Plane on the SE Fork of the Kahiltna_2DAY 2: TRAVEL TO TALKEETNA AND FLY TO THE GLACIER. We provide transportation to Talkeetna for all of our Denali climbers, using our own vans and trailers so we are not tied to a third-party’s schedule.  The drive takes a bit over two hours, and we’ll stop for coffee and snacks along the way.  Once in Talkeetna, we’ll need to unload, organize, and weigh all of our equipment and supplies in preparation for our flight to the glacier.  We will also 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, we’ll fly to the glacier, weather permitting.  Once on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, we’ll be busy establishing our camp for the night.

Hiking up the Kahiltna Glacier_2DAY 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 shakedown 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: HAUL LOADS UP TO KAHILTNA PASS. We’ll head out of 7,800′ Camp and carry loads up the 1,800′ Ski Hill. Several options exist for campsites between 9,000 & 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.

11200 foot Camp_2DAY 5: MOVE EVERYTHING TO 11,200′ CAMP. Our second camp is often in the 11,200’ 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.

DAY 6: BACK-CARRY DAY. This is an “active rest day” during which we drop back down and pick up the cache we left near Kahiltna Pass. It also helps give us another day to acclimatize before moving higher.

DAY 7: HAUL LOADS AROUND WINDY CORNER (13,300 FEET). 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. Fun climbing with crampons and ice axe gets you around Windy Corner where the upper mountain comes into view. Have your camera ready!

Camp 3_2DAY 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. Upon arrival, everyone will need to pitch in to build our camp, as we need to fortify our tents due to the possibility of severe winds.

DAY 9: BACK-CARRY DAY. 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. We’ll spend the afternoon going over climbing techniques that we will use in the upcoming days.

Climber on the Headwall_2DAY 10: CLIMB UP THE HEADWALL TO THE RIDGE. Our goal is to cache supplies up on the ridge above us and return to 14,200 feet. Climbing up the “Headwall” (the section of route with fixed lines running from 15,500 to 16,100 feet) with a heavy pack makes this one of the more strenuous days of the trip because of the steep terrain, heavy pack and thinning air. The views from the ridge can be as breathtaking as the rarefied air!

DAY 11: REST DAY. It is often prudent to take a rest/acclimatization day prior to moving up to High Camp.  Many climbers feel this day really helps their acclimatization.

DAY 12: MOVE TO HIGH CAMP. Weather and team strength will again determine this decision. While there is a camp site at 16,100′, it is very exposed, so we usually push for the 17,200 ‘ site which is more secure and the better choice for camp. This is a really tough day, as our loads are big and some of the the terrain we will negotiate is steep. Rewards for our work are in the 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.

DAY 13: REST DAY. Moving to 17,200’ and getting High Camp established can be a huge day, so we usually take a rest day before attempting the summit.  Circumstances could be such that we do not take this rest day, but if possible, we prefer to take it.

Summit Ridge_2DAY 14: SUMMIT DAY. If the weather is favorable, we’ll push for the summit. It is important to be patient on a big peak like Denali and we will only try for the summit when the weather is good; meaning mostly clear and calm. Our guide staff is the most experienced on the mountain and your guides will make this sometimes difficult decision. The round trip climb will take eight to twelve hours or more. Usually you will 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. On this spectacular ridge you can often see down into the Ruth Glacier with views of beautiful peaks such as Mooses Tooth, Mt Huntington and Mt Hunter.

Summit_2***Summit Day is serious.

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 (some climbers say of their lives!). 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 to make a summit bid. Such occurrences are rare; but remember getting everyone home healthy is primary concern.

DAYS 15 – 16: DESCENT. 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, as we often shoulder our heaviest loads of the trip as we hike down from High Camp to Camp 2. Weather dictates when we can fly out to Talkeetna for food and showers. Not much beats a steak and salad at the West Rib Tavern after working hard on Denali!

DAYS 17 – 21 CONTINGENCY DAYS. We build five “contingency days” into our schedule. Denali has a well deserved reputation for arctic weather and it is common to take weather days at some point on the mountain.

DAY 22: RETURN TO ANCHORAGE. We will provide group transportation back to Anchorage and assist in making any necessary lodging reservations; however, lodging after the climb is your responsibility. As we cannot predict when we will come off the mountain, we cannot make arrangements for lodging ahead of time. This is a true transition day from the intensity of the mountain to the relative “big city” life of Anchorage.

The following is a general list of required gear for climbing Denali 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. 7,800 feet on Denali 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 great selection of gear available in Anchorage but please plan ahead and order any items that are size specific. Only bring good gear that is in very good condition, as it will all get tested, perhaps to the extreme!


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 SocksModern mountaineering boots do not require multiple socks as did boots some years ago. Most climbers prefer a medium to heavy weight, wool or wool/synthetic blend sock for use with mountaineering boots. Some climbers are fans of using a sock system of a very light synthetic sock with their heavier wool socks. Make certain that your socks do not make your mountain boots too tight, as this will result in cold toes. 3 - 5 pairs of socks should suffice for your expedition.
BootiesSynthetic or down fill booties both work well on expeditions. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots. Booties are generally considered optional, but we really recommend them for West Buttress expeditions.
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.
GaitersAny height gaiters will work for most trips, but tall versions like Outdoor Research's "Crocodile Gaiters" are better for snow and for protecting your pants while ice climbing.

Torso Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Light Down Shirt (optional)A light "Down Shirt" layer is a great way to add some warmth to your layering system for very minimal weight. The Patagonia Down Shirt weighs only 9.6oz and when layered under your puffy jacket adds significant warmth. For cold expeditions like Mount Vinson, or early season (April and early May) Denali expeditions, or 8000 meter peaks, an extra layer like this is great insurance against the cold, and provides nice layering options without getting a heavier down/puffy jacket. Use this instead of a vest on these colder trips, or to add warmth to a light Puffy Jacket layer. **(OPTIONAL)
Sun Hoody (optional)A Sun Hoody is a great lightweight layer to help protect you from the intense UV at high altitude. It's a go-to layer for our guides, as it both keeps the sun off your skin and helps keeps you cool. **OPTIONAL
Vest (optional)A lightweight down or synthetic filled vest can be a nice addition for colder climbs or for those bringing a lighter weight expedition parka. We are fans of the ultralight down vests or the lightweight Nano vests from Patagonia. This is an optional layer for most climbers.
T ShirtSynthetic or lightweight Merino wool shirts can be a nice "extra" piece in the mountains and even on glaciers. Consider this optional. Synthetics dry faster than cotton!
Soft Shell Wind JacketMany 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 softshell wind jackets for high, dry, cold peaks. Weighing just a few ounces, these can be carried in your pocket or in the lid of your pack for rapid deployment. A soft shell is a highly breathable layer that still cuts most, if not all of the wind, but is not as waterproof as a GoreTex shell. Some trips require a hard shell down low when you may experience rain or wet snowfall, but can be climbed using soft shells higher up on the mountain when you just need to cut the wind and keep a little snow off and can save you a half a pound or more. These soft shell jackets are not a substitute for a waterproof shell jacket, but can be very nice when your concern is wind and snow.
Hard Shell JacketThis jacket should be large enough to go over your light puffy jacket 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 and Ecuador, are notoriously wet and absolutely need waterproof layers.
“Puffy” Light Insulated JacketSize this layer to fit over your light fleece and wind shell. We are fans of the puffy Primaloft insulated jackets because they are lighter and warmer than thick fleece and compress down much smaller. A hood on this layer is mandatory.
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.
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.
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."

Leg Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Hard Shell, Waterproof PantsIf there is a probability or good possibility of getting wet, you will need to have waterproof breathable pants. Also known as Hard Shell Pants, these should be as light weight as possible, and should have fully separating side zippers, so you can put them on and remove them over your boots. Gore Tex is commonly used, but there are a number of other materials that work fine. On some peaks, you might carry hard shell pants for the lower mountain, but switch to soft shell pants for the colder and drier upper mountain.
UnderwearConsider synthetic or Merino wool for your underwear. Most longer trips, such as Aconcagua or Denali, typically require 3-4 pair, but choose your quantity based on your personal level of comfort. Ladies might consider bringing additional pairs.
Down or Puffy Expedition PantsOn summit day or on a cold morning, having a warm layer to pull on over all your other leg layers is important. This layer should be down or synthetic (ie. Primaloft) filled and must have fully separating side zippers. Practice putting them on and taking them off while wearing your boots before you leave for your expedition.
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.
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.
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.

Head and Hands

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Nose GuardBeko makes nice nose protectors that keep the wind and sun from wreaking havoc on your skin.
Ski GogglesThese are necessary for use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells. These must have double lenses and provide full UV protection. Fogging is a real challenge, so the “Turbo Fan” goggles are worth the investment! Select a general purpose lens that will provide some protection in bright light, but not be so dark as to make them useless on a cloudy or flat-light day.
Hand WarmersBring 4 -6+ sets of these disposable insurance policies, depending on where you are climbing. Make certain that your hand warmers are relatively new, as they do go bad over time.
Glacier GlassesGlacier glasses are most commonly used on big mountains, but some wrap around, sport-style glasses also work well. Whichever you bring, they must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays. Increasingly, sun glasses are divided into categories of light transmission, and for snowy or glaciated climbs, you will want glasses rated to Category 3 or higher.
Face MaskCheeks and the tip of your nose are notoriously difficult to keep warm, especially in a biting wind. Neoprene face masks do a great job of protecting those exposed surfaces.
Sun HatBaseball type or wide brimmed sun hats are required for protection against the intense sunshine found on many peaks. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection or go for a wide brimmed version to protect your face, ears and neck.
Warm HatBring one warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or fleece are fine, but your hat must provide ear protection from the cold.
Buff Neck GaiterBuff is a brand of light weight neck gaiters that have grown to become a staple of every guide's kit. These are amazingly versatile, and can be worn as a hat, a neck gaiter or pulled over your face for protection from the wind or sun. They come in many thicknesses nowadays, but we prefer the original weight for its versatility.
Summit MittensThick, warm mittens made from down, synthetic fill, or a combination of insulation are crucial for summit morning on many big, cold mountains. Most come with some form of retention straps, which can help reduce the chance of losing them to a gust of wind or in the event of a fall. Select a pair that fit well, with enough room to wiggle your fingers, but not so big that you cannot perform basic tasks while wearing them. Good mittens are expensive, but how much is one finger worth?
60 Second GlovesVery light weight, liner-style gloves have earned the nickname "60 Second Gloves" on cold mountains, because you can wear them under your mittens to provide a modicum of protection for briefly pulling your hands from your mitts in order to perform tasks like clipping ropes through carabiners. Choose the lightest synthetic or Merino wool gloves you can find, and consider them to be somewhat disposable, as they are not generally very durable.
Light Weight GlovesWhen the sun comes out on a glacier, the temperature can soar. Light weight, soft shell gloves are great for keeping the sun off your hands, while still giving you a bit of protection from the wind and cold.
Medium Weight GlovesMid-weight gloves have become increasingly popular in recent years, gaining traction on the traditional heavyweight gloves as the go-to hand protection on many trips. Appropriate gloves generally have a soft shell exterior with light synthetic insulation .
Heavyweight GlovesWarm, insulated gloves are the day-to-day workhorses on cold peaks or for cold days of ice climbing. We prefer gloves with 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. Gloves should fit snugly, but not be too tight, and try them out before you purchase them, as some brand name gloves have pretty terrible dexterity.

Sleeping Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Compression Stuff SackGranite Gear, Outdoor Research and others are all 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.
Foam Sleeping PadBringing two sleeping pads, one closed cell foam and the other an inflatable pad, will provide additional comfort and insulation, as well as a bit of insurance in case you have a catastrophic failure of your inflatable pad.
Inflatable Sleeping PadInflatable pads have improved tremendously in recent years. Whether you choose a self inflating pad or one that requires some pumping to inflate, select a pad that is warm and comfortable.
Denali Sleeping BagSuitable bags for Denali should range from -20 F (-29C) to -40 F (-40C). If you sleep cold, consider a warmer bag. Down bags are preferable, and should be your choice unless you have a compelling reason to bring a synthetic bag. Sleeping bag systems or over bags are generally a compromise and not usually recommended.

Packs and Duffels

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Large Zippered DuffelYou'll want an XL sized (90 – 120L) duffel for your expedition. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although water resistant bags like the Patagonia Black Hole Bag 120L are nice for their toughness to weight ratio. A quality bag can work for a sled bag on Denali, a mule bag on Aconcagua and a great all around travel bag.
Backpack for ExpeditionsDenali and Mount Vinson climbs require a larger capacity pack than do most other expeditions. Climbers need to have a pack with a minimum volume of 85 liters, and bigger is better for most climbers. You'll need enough capacity to carry all your personal gear, plus your share of the group food and equipment. We are fans of lighter weight packs, rather than the heavier, luxury-liner packs that are common in this size range. Look for a pack that weighs less than 6 pounds (2.7 Kg).

Climbing Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Primary Attachment Locking CarabinerWhen you are clipping into the climbing rope, we like to use a "triple action" locking carabiner for added security. The uniquely shaped Gridlock Carabiner is a "triple action" carabiner that also keeps the carabiner oriented in the correct position so it will not get cross loaded during a fall. You only need one of these carabiners and it will be used only for your primary attachment to the rope.
CramponsSelect a pair of 10 or 12-point mountaineering crampons that fit your boots well. Mountaineering crampons will have horizontally oriented front points, rather than the vertically oriented ones used for ice climbing. Step-in or strap versions work equally well; just make sure they fit your mountain boots and overboots. Often, you will need to lengthen your crampons to accommodate your overboots. Please make sure you can make this adjustment in the field. Aluminum crampons are generally not acceptable for most of our expeditions. Note that the newer, stainless steel version is a lot lighter than its predecessor.
Prussik CordIn addition to our one, full-handled ascender, we will use one prussik loop for glacier travel. Bring five feet of 6 or 7mm perlon cord for tying into a prussik loop. Your guides will assist with this in Anchorage.
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!
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.
Locking CarabinersBring three locking carabiners. Screwgate or auto-locking 'biners work equally well, although the new magnetic gate versions seem like they might be less prone to freezing closed. Select light weight carabiners.
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.
AscenderYou need one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension to clip into the fixed lines on the route.
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.
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.
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.

Glacier Travel

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
SnowshoesSelect lightweight snowshoes for your trip in a 22-28 inch length. The addition of a heel riser is welcome when ascending steeper hills, but is not necessary. You won't need optional, add-on tails, which add length to some models.


GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
SunscreenThe sun can be intense at altitude. Bring one small tube for use while climbing and one larger tube for use while not on route.
Several Good Jokes!"A Moose walks into a bar..."
GPS Tracking DeviceGPS devices such as the DeLorme inReach have been increasingly popular, as you can send and receive text messages with it. Again- consider how you will keep it powered over the course of your expedition. These are only for the entertainment of your family and friends at home and to send short messages. They are not required, and Mountain Trip guides carry several forms of communication devices including satellite based communications that we can use in case of an emergency situation.
Personal Music PlayeriPods and the like are really nice on a long trip. At altitude, hard drive based devices stop working, so make certain that you bring a flash drive (solid state) music player. Also consider how you will keep it charged, and bring whatever is necessary to keep you in time to the beat.
Small KnifeA small knife or small multi-tool is also handy to have. One per tent is sufficient. There is emphasis on the word small when it comes to multi-tools!
LighterYour guides will have plenty of lighters, but it is nice to have one lighter per tent, as cord always needs to be cut and melted.
MapsOur guides will have maps and/or GPS devices, but a good map can be fun to have along.
Altimeter WatchAn altimeter watch can be fun to have on an expedition to keep track of your ascent and to watch for changes in barometric pressure.
Journal (and pencil)Expeditions can be a great time for reflection and a journal can be a nice way to wax poetic or just keep track of what you did each day. Keep it small and leave the leather bound version at home.
Book(s) or E-ReaderThere is a lot of "down time" on an expedition, even when you have good weather. A book or two can help pass the time. E-Readers have gained popularity in recent years, as they enable you to have dozens (or hundreds) of books at your disposal. E-Readers present certain challenges, but can be a great way to keep your sanity during a long storm. Consider how you will recharge your e-Reader.
CameraSmall, light weight point and shoot cameras are most popular among climbers. Be sure to bring extra memory and batteries!
Personal Medical KitMountain Trip's guides will have fairly comprehensive medical kits developed by our Medical Director, but we encourage each climber to bring a small, personal kit. Items to consider bringing include: blister treatment and prevention, pain relievers, and antacids. Presctiption medications should be based on consultation with your personal physician. Suggested drugs for altitude expeditions include: Diamox (acetazolomide) 125 mg, Decadron (dexamthazone) 4 mg, Nifedipine XR 30 mg, and a couple of antibiotics for respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.
P-BottleWide-mouth, collapsible Nalgene Cantenes work great- they make a 96 ounce version, which will come in handy during long storms or if you take Diamox. Ladies- look for an appropriate adapter available at your local outdoors store. These items can both be tough to find in Anchorage so plan ahead!
Toiletry KitTooth brush & paste, dental floss, Handi-wipes (1 per day on average), a small bottle of hand sanitizer, perhaps some foot powder… keep it small!!!
Toilet PaperDepending on your technique, you'll want 1-2 rolls, each packed in a quality zip-lock bag.
Sun ScreenSmaller 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.
Lip Balm (2 tubes)Protect your lips! Bring two tubes of high quality lip balm with SPF.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
Cache BagA cache bag is just a very large stuff sack. Having a large bag to put your cache gear into, prior to burying it, makes for much more efficient retrieval of gear. This can be a basic, nylon stiff sack in as large a size as you can find or it can be a fancier, dry-bag closure bag that is totally waterproof. Do not being a river trip-style drybag for this purpose, but rather a lightweight one made from coated nylon or Sil Nylon.
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.

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.

• 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.

Expectation Management

This information is extremely important for anyone considering climbing Denali with Mountain Trip or any guide service.


When you engage a guide service to help you have a great experience on a mountain like Denali, you are entering into a partnership with that company and its staff.

Climbing Denali requires everyone associated with the expedition to commit to significant preparation before the climb. It also requires a high level of cooperation amongst team members during the climb. Every participant has a job to do, at each step of the journey (literally!). The actions of each member can directly affect the other members of the team. If each participant does his or her job in a satisfactory manner, then the entire team will have a good experience, regardless of whether or not the team has an opportunity to stand on the summit.

The Role of the Mountain Trip Office

At Mountain Trip, we are tasked with providing the logistics, support and experienced staff to help each of our climbers have a great experience on Denali. We achieve those goals through a combination of our 40 years of institutional knowledge, a commitment to supporting our staff through good wages, educational and equipment assistance, and a never-ending process of reflection and self-evaluation.

Some of the first steps we take as a company to set our teams up for having great experiences, are to help manage everyone’s expectations of what climbing Denali is like and to help ensure that a climb of Denali is an appropriate choice for each of our climbers. To that end we strive to:

  • Provide helpful and realistic information on our website and in our marketing.
  • Try not to “sugar coat” Denali, because it is important that every prospective climber understand that the mountain can have many moods, including some that are unforgiving.
  • Provide a realistic expectation of what workload is required to have a successful ascent of the peak.
  • Explain what skills are required to climb the mountain, and which of those skills are ones that we can generally teach and refine while on the expedition.
  • Engage each participant (climbers and guides) in a high level of clear, open and honest communication.
  • Provide our guides with tools (education, training, equipment, etc) to perform at the highest levels of the industry, including helping them have a clear understanding of both Mountain Trip and National Park Service protocols and requirements.

The Role of our Guides

Our guides are tasked with numerous responsibilities, including:

  • Facilitating good communication amongst your team.
  • Possessing and maintaining requisite mountaineering skills.
  • Maintaining current medical certifications.
  • Preparing the food and equipment for your climb.
  • Making objective hazard assessments and strategic decision-making.
  • Observing and evaluating team members throughout the expedition.
  • Treating each climber in a respectful and supportive manner.
  • Helping each climber with technical skills that they need to learn or need to refine while on the climb.

The Role of our Climbers

  • Our climbers are similarly tasked with responsibilities, including:
  • Being willing to participate in open, honest communication from the initial contact with our office.
  • Fulfilling the requisite paperwork and financial obligations necessary to join an expedition in a timely manner.
  • Assembling the appropriate clothing and equipment for the expedition.
  • Arriving in Anchorage in sufficiently good physical condition to fully participate in the expedition.
  • Dedicating the time to develop a base of skills sufficient for participating in the expedition.
  • Advocating for themselves regarding skills that they need to, or would like to, work on during the expedition.
  • Conducting themselves respectfully with all other team members and with other climbers.
  • Communicating with guides and team members while on the expedition.


When is it time to say, “No?”

Each year, we advise prospective climbers that Denali might not be a good choice for them at the time after discussing their previous experience and/or level of fitness. We do this because we want each climber who joins us to have a great experience, and it does not serve anyone to bring a climber on an expedition for which he or she is not sufficiently prepared.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to help our climbers choose appropriate trips, we occasionally find climbers who arrive on the Kahiltna Glacier lacking some degree of preparation. We have opportunities to teach skills at the lower camps on the mountain and we conduct a variety of skill reviews and help climbers brush up before heading higher on the mountain, because as we get higher on Denali, everything becomes harder and more serious. The vast majority of the time, we can help them or support them sufficiently so that they end up having a great experience in a manner that does not negatively impact other climbers on the team.

Looking back over the past decade of trip reports and feedback from guides and clients, we see that perhaps 2% of the time, we find that we have someone on a team who cannot, for one reason or another, participate sufficiently to safely climb the mountain. Please note that we use the word “safely” very carefully, because ultimately, climbing a big, cold mountain like Denali is not inherently “safe.” As guides, and the administrators of a guide service, we do our best to mitigate risk, but if a team member does not demonstrate sufficient skills, fitness or ability to climb higher, he or she might create an unacceptable risk to the guides and to the team.

Therefore, we have decided to attempt to be as clear and transparent as possible about our expectations of our climbers. In the rare instance that a climber is just simply unprepared for the rigors and risks of the upper mountain, we want everyone to have some clear benchmarks to refer to in our decision making about whether or not to let that climber continue up the mountain.

Basic Benchmarks for Having a Successful Ascent

Each group will take the time to practice technical skills on the glacier, but prior to advancing up the mountain, climbers must demonstrate a minimum level of mastery of certain techniques. Each stretch of the route has specific hazards, skill requirements and objectives unique to the terrain we will encounter. We have plenty of time to work on skills during the initial days of the climb, and will review many of the basic mountaineering skills necessary to climb the peak, but before moving to the 14,200’ Advanced Base Camp on Denali, each team member must demonstrate the following:

  • The physical conditioning necessary to move appropriately up the mountain
  • The ability to perform basic personal maintenance (clothing selection, application of sunscreen/lip balm, hydration, eating, hygiene), with guide input and guidance
  • A familiarity with the appropriate use and function of your clothing and equipment, also with guide assistance
  • Demonstrate familiarity with basic mountaineering techniques such as the rest step, basic crampon, ice axe technique, and roped travel techniques
  • Exhibit a willingness and ability to be a team member, meaning that each climber must help establish camps, and carry a fair share of the group loads
  • The ability to move between camps at a reasonable pace. This is, of course, highlysubjective, but 40 years of institutional knowledge has shown us that there are some average times that it takes to move between camps. For example:
    • From Base Camp to the 7,800’ Camp, when making a “single carry,” in good conditions, it should take about 4-5 hours.
    • From the 7,800’ Camp to the 11,200’ Camp, it should take about 6-7 hours.
    • The carry up to 13,700 and back to 11,200’ should take between 6-7 hours round trip.

At the 14,200’ camp, we will spend a lot of time working on the use of ascenders on fixed lines, and on passing “running belays,” as these skills are generally not used below the headwall which climbs from 15,600’ to 16,200’. Before moving up to high camp at 17,200’, each climber must demonstrate everything listed above, plus:

  • The ability to efficiently use an ascender and negotiate the fixed lines when you carry loads up to the ridge above 16,200’
  • The capacity to maintain an average time (in good conditions) of carrying up the fixed lines to our cache site at 16,400’ and returning to the 14,200’ camp is between 6-8 hours round trip

After arriving at high camp, we will have a lot of hard work to establish our camp before retiring to our tents. Most of the time, we take a rest day after moving to the 17,200’ level, and, if the weather permits, we can continue to work on skills on this rest day, because we want everyone to feel prepared for the trip to the top. Before attempting the summit, climbers must demonstrate everything listed above, plus:

  • The ability to pass running belays with thick gloves and mittens, as we’ll pass dozens of snow pickets en route to and from the summit
  • The physical conditioning necessary to help carry group summit-day equipment
  • The physical capacity to maintain an average pace of 7-8 hours en route to High Camp, because summit day could easily take 12+ hours round trip.

What if…?

If a climber decides not to continue up the mountain, or if it is determined that continuing higher is not an appropriate choice, we will do our best to accommodate the climber. Sometimes a climber will choose to wait for his or her team to descend, while other times a climber might want to descend immediately. Any decisions made at the time will be in the best interest of both the team and the climber. We cannot promise that we can descend at a given point in time or that we will have an option available that will allow you to remain on the mountain as the team climbs higher. Our options will be driven by numerous factors that are present at the time, and we will endeavor to communicate the decision making process with you.

The intent of this information is not to stress anyone out, but rather to help every team member have a clear understanding of what it takes to successfully climb to the top of North America. The information above is intended to give each participant the tools necessary to assess how you are doing, relative to where you are on the mountain. We want every climber to succeed and to have a great experience on the mountain, and we are really good at helping achieve those goals, but we need each climber to do his or her part.

We encourage any prospective Denali climber to contact us with any and all questions and to do your best to prepare yourself for your adventure.

Have fun out there!!

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