Denali Via the West Rib

An aesthetic line sweeping up alongside the massive South Face of Denali, the West Rib is a challenging route for climbers with good technical experience and wishing to push themselves on what definitely qualifies as a “Big Route.” Steeper, more exposed, more committing, and more serious than its neighbor, the West Buttress, the Rib, is all about the climbing.

Just getting to the base of the route is a challenge, as climbers need to negotiate complex glacier travel to make it through the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  The route itself starts with a challenging 50 – 60 degree snow and ice couloir and remains steep all the way to the plateau known as the Football Field, at over 19,000 feet.

We have options for how we attempt this route.  With increasing frequency, we have been climbing it in “alpine style,” meaning that teams acclimatize on the West Buttress before dropping back down the the lower Kahiltna Glacier to push up the route.  This has the benefit of allowing climbers to spend less time on the route, which is very exposed to storms. There are also some very good reasons to climb the route in traditional expedition style, meaning hiking up to the base and climbing it without acclimatizing on another route.  How we decide to climb will be based on conversations with our climbers, as well as how conditions seem immediately before the climb.

Since its first ascent in 1959, the West Rib has continued to provide beautiful alpine climbing in a spectacular setting. Its rich history and moderately technical terrain still attract the best climbers as they hone their skills. The first winter and first winter solo ascents were made by climbers who guided for Mountain Trip.

Mountain Trip has been guiding climbers up technical routes on Denali since the early 1980’s. We love this type of climbing! The Rib demands that our guides combine their technical skills with their depth of Denali experience to give committed climbers the best chance of climbing a beautiful line on a huge peak. It doesn’t get much better than that!  If you have solid technical climbing skills and are interested in putting them to use on a big, serious climb on a big, serious mountain – give us a call to discuss this option.

Alpine or expedition style?

As we mentioned, there are generally two ways to attempt the Rib. One is to hike out of base camp will all your kit and climb the route expedition style, ferrying loads between camps, while you acclimatize on the route. Another style involves ascending the West Buttress route to gain acclimatization and to perhaps put a cache in at the high camp on the Rib. The team then descends back to the North East Fork of the Kahiltna at about 7,800 feet to access the route and climb it in alpine style. As briefly discussed above, there are pros and cons to each method, and conditions of the route may ultimately dictate which style we pursue. The itinerary below reflects an alpine style attempt.

Day 1: TEAM MEETING IN ANCHORAGE.  Your trip fee includes two nights lodging before the expedition at the Lakefront Anchorage (formerly the Millennium Alaska Hotel), which is very comfortable and conveniently located.  We will meet at 10 am on your Team Meeting date for an orientation from the guides and a comprehensive equipment check.  If you need to pick up any last minute items, we will provide transportation within Anchorage to do so.

Day 2: DRIVE TO TALKEETNA AND FLY TO THE GLACIER.  We will pick you up early in the morning for the 2 hour drive to Talkeetna, where we will check in with the NPS and attend their orientation provided to all Denali climbers.  After that, we’ll head over to our friends at Talkeetna Air Taxi and finalize our preparations for the flight into Base Camp.  Base Camp is located at 7,200′ on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and weather permitting, we’ll sleep on the glacier this night!

Day 3: MOVE TO CAMP 1. Pack up camp and move to Camp 1 at 7,800 ft (2380 m).  This is a 5 mile hike with little elevation gain.  There can be significant crevasse hazard on the lower glacier, and we might depart in the early hours of morning, well before the sun hits the trail.

Day 4: FERRY SUPPLIES TO 10,000′.  If we are climbing the route alpine style, we’ll carry supplies and gear to 10,000 ft (3048 m) and then return to sleep at Camp 1.

Day 5: MOVE TO CAMP 2. After caching our technical climbing gear and some food for our push up the route, we’ll pack up camp and move to Camp 2 at 11,200 ft (3413 m)

Day 6: BACK CARRY DAY.  Back-carry kit from the cache at 10,000 ft and return to sleep at Camp 2.

Day 7: CACHE AROUND WINDY CORNER. Carry supplies around Windy Corner at 13,500’ (4551 m) and make a cache at about 13,700′. We’ll drop back down to sleep at Camp 2.

Day 8:MOVE TO CAMP 3 ON THE WB.  Pack up camp and move up to Camp 3 at 14,200 ft (4328 m).

Day 9: BACK CARRY DAY. Back-carry gear from the cache above Windy Corner and sleep at Camp 3 on the Buttress.

Day 10: CACHE ON THE WEST RIB ROUTE.  Carry supplies to cache at 16,400 ft (5000 m) on the West Rib and return to Camp 3 to sleep.

Day 11: DESCEND TO THE NE FORK OF THE KAHILTNA. Move down to the cache site at 7,800′, at the entrance to the NE Fork of the Kahiltna.

Day 12: MOVE TO THE BASE OF THE RIB. Move up the NE Fork to the base of the Chicken Couloir.  This is a big, hard day, with route finding challenges.  Sections of the route are prone to avalanche hazard, so we need to have good conditions in order to travel, and there could be stretches where we need to keep pushing long after we all would prefer to stop for a break.  There are very few appropriate places to camp between the main Kahiltna and the base of the Rib, so we prefer to make this in one long push.

Day 13: FIX THE CHICKEN COULOIR.  Fix lines up the Chicken Couloir.  The terrain here can be ice or snow, depending on the year.  Expect to climb up to 60 degrees as we affix ropes to facilitate moving up the couloir the following day.

Day 14: MOVE CAMP UP ONTO THE RIB PROPER.  Move up to Ice Dome camp.  We’ll climb the entire 1,200′ couloir, using a mix of fixed lines, belayed pitches and simul-climbing.  This is the “real deal,” with steep ice and snow, exposure and a dramatic setting for some great climbing!

Day 15: CLIMB HIGHER UP THE RIB.  Continue climbing snow as we make our way up the Rib!

Day 16: KEEP ON CLIMBING UP THE RIB!  Keep climbing up the Rib to reunite with the cache we left at High Camp at 16,400 ft (5000 m)

Day 17: REST / ACCLIMATIZATION DAY.  A rest day is generally prudent before launching up the very big and challenging summit day.

Day 18: SUMMIT DAY!!  Summit day is long, physical, and mentally challenging.  The climbing is mostly on show, although we’ll probably climb through a couple of rocky sections as well.  The steepest section is the last bit before we top out near the” Football Field,” at about 19,400′.  The descent can take as long as the ascent, as we must move deliberately through exposed sections, which can make for somewhat slow going.  Plan on 12-20 hours of climbing up and down.

Day 19 – 24: CONTINGENCY DAYS for weather etc.

The following is a general list of required gear for climbing the West Rib 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. Perched on a ledge at 15,000 feet on the Rib 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
Mountaineering Socks for DenaliModern 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. Denali climbers should bring 3 - 5 pairs of socks for your expedition.
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 Black Diamond’s “Frontpoint Gore-tex” are better for snow and for protecting your pants while ice climbing.

Glacier Travel

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 travel.

Head and Hands

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
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.
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 will have light synthetic fill and are often waterproof.
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.
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?
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. Windstopper fabric over your ears can greatly reduce your ability to hear things like rockfall or your rope mate calling to you.
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.
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.

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 Polartech, 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.
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.
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.
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.

Other

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
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.
MapsOur guides will have maps and/or GPS devices, but a good map can be fun to have along.
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.
LighterIt is nice to have one lighter per tent, as cord always needs to be cut and melted.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
GPS Tracking DeviceSpot GPS devices have been the standard, but the DeLorme inReach has been increasingly popular, as you can send and receive text messages with it. We carry a tracking device on every trip, but you might consider bringing one as well. Again- consider how you will keep it powered over the course of your expedition.

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 an all around travel bag.

Sleeping Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
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.
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.

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 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.
Soft Shell JacketMany big, cold mountains do not require a fully waterproof jacket. Soft shell jackets are much more breathable and comfortable than Gore-tex, and we are fans whenever they are appropriate. Soft shell is a general term for highly breathable layers that still cut most, if not all of the wind. Some trips require a hard shell down low, but can be climbed using soft shells higher up on the mountain.
T ShirtSynthetic or lightweight Merino wool shirts can be a nice "extra" piece for the lower glacier n Denali. Synthetics dry faster than cotton! Long-sleeve "sun hoodies" are popular amongst our guides.
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.
VestA 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.

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 does not provide any lodging while off the mountain, although we do have an optional pre-climb lodging package for the two nights before you depart for the glacier. 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.

Expectations

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

Partnership

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. The West Rib requires an even higher level of screening, as it is a very committing and challenging route.

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 some 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, but this is much less possible on the West Rib.  West Rib climbers must arrive with the appropriate level of skills, experience, and fitness.

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 Denali 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.” This is much less of an issue on the West Rib, but is something we want to discuss with every climber.  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 some 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 onto the Chicken Couloir on the Rib, each team member must demonstrate the following:

  • The physical conditioning necessary to move appropriately through steep and often hazardous terrain
  • The ability to perform basic personal maintenance (clothing selection, application of sunscreen/lip balm, hydration, eating, hygiene), with minimal guide input and guidance
  • A high degree of familiarity with the appropriate use and function of your clothing and equipment, also with guide assistance
  • Demonstrate a high degree of familiarity with basic mountaineering techniques such as the rest step, French Technique, front pointing, running belays, and roped glacier 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 (if acclimating on the Buttress), 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, if acclimating on the Buttress.

After launching up the Chicken Couloir, it is very difficult to descend, so every team member must have demonstrated that he or she is capable of contributing and climbing the route before moving up the couloir.

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. 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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