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, 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. Complex glacier travel is requires to access the base of the route, which quickly rears back to provide 50 -60 degree snow and ice climbing.
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!
Follow Up Climbs
Alpine or expedition style?
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. 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 Millennium Alaska Hotel, which is very nice 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: 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: 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 some years, and we might depart in the early hours of morning, well before the sun hits the trail.
Day 4: 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: 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 kit from the cache at 10,000 ft and return to sleep at Camp 2.
Day 7: 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: Pack up camp and move up to Camp 3 at 14,200 ft (4328 m).
Day 9: Back-carry gear from the cache above Windy Corner and sleep at Camp 3 on the Buttress.
Day 10: Carry supplies to cache at 16,400 ft (5000 m) on the West Rib and return to Camp 3 to sleep.
Day 11: Move down to the cache site at 7,800′, at the entrance to the NE Fork of the Kahiltna.
Day 12: 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 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 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: Continue up the Rib!
Day 16: Keep climbing up the Rib to reunite with the cache we left at High Camp at 16,400 ft (5000 m)
Day 17: Rest 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.
We are fans of technical mountain axes like the Black Diamond Venom for routes like the West Rib. Such an axe can be used to effectively self arrest, climbs steep ice quite well, and can still be used in traditional piolet fashion. One BD Venom and one technical tool will set you up for moving with a feeling of security on the steeper terrain of the route.
The following is a list of suggested gear for climbing the West Rib. Climbers joining Mountain Trip on an expedition will receive an updated, comprehensive equipment list that supersedes this list.
Recommended items reflect the opinions of our guides, but they may not necessarily fit you. They are also weighted toward a couple companies that are industry leaders in exhibiting environmental and social consciousness as well as making the best gear for the mountains. We frequently update our equipment list to keep it as current as possible and certain trips will require slightly different gear lists, so contact us for specifics.
Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.
- MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS: Acceptable boots for Denali fall into two categories, traditional double boots and triple boot systems with integrated gaiters. Either variety works well, however the latter versions are lighter and arguably simpler. The goal is to have warm, comfortable feet. Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits well. Consider your future mountaineering objectives when purchasing boots as well. Recommended 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. A great upgrade to any plastic boot are the Denali Liners by Intuition. These are lighter and warmer than almost any stock liners. They are heat molded to fit your feet and are worth every penny. *** All double boots need Overboots and Gaiters, including the Spantiks Shop for Mountain Boots
- OVERBOOTS: Neoprene overboots such as 40 Below Purple Haze are best. O.R. and Wild Country insulated Overboots work well if they fit with your crampons. Supergaiters alone are not warm enough for Denali.
- GAITERS: Full height, such as Black Diamond GTX Frontpoint Gaiter or Outdoor Research “Crocodiles.” Full coverage “Supergaiters” work great as well. *** Do you really need gaiters? Check with us about this guide tip!
- BOOTIES**: Synthetic or down fill booties. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots. Guides Pick: Sierra Designs Down Booty
- SNOWSHOES: Atlas Summit Series or the basic MSR Denali both work well, although a nice “upgrade” feature is a heel riser, which really helps make the steeper hills a bit more manageable. 22-25 inch snowshoes will generally work fine. Guides Pick: MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoe ** available for rent
- SKI POLES: Adjustable poles work best and are easier to travel with, as they fit better in your duffle bag. Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing. 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. Guides Pick: Black Diamond Expedition Ski Pole
You will need a total of five (5) layers for your torso and four (4) for your legs:
- BASE LAYER: (1 or 2 sets) Synthetic layers work well, such as Capilene 2 or 3 from Patagonia. There are some really nice Merino wool options on the market as well. Guides Pick: Patagonia Capilene 2 Crew
- LIGHT FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. Again, a zip t-neck is important for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Hoody
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: We used to consider this layer optional, but this “Soft Shell” layer is becoming indispensible, due to the broad comfort range it provides. Often pants made of Schoeller Dynamic or similar fabrics can be worn all the way to High Camp in lieu of less breathable “hard-shell” pants. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Alpine Guide Pants
- FLEECE OR INSULATED PANTS: This layer must have side zippers! The best options for this layer are thick, “puffy” synthetic or down pants like the Patagonia Das Pants or Feathered Friends Volant Pants. These can be layered over your shell pants for easier and quicker layer changes. Guides Pick: Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pant
- PRIMALOFT “PUFFY” JACKET: Size this to fit over your shell. We are fans of the puffy, Primaloft jackets because they are lighter and warmer than fleece and compress down much smaller. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Micro Puff Hooded Jacket
- SHELL JACKET & PANTS: They should be large enough to go over your pile clothing layers and the pants must have full length side zippers. These do not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Many people are climbing Denali using lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells. Guides Pick: Patagonia M10 Jacket
- EXPEDITION DOWN PARKA (WITH HOOD): Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but because it is the lightest and warmest Down Parka we’ve ever seen, our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Encapsil Down Belay Parka.
- VEST**: Fleece, puffy or down vest adds warmth to a light Expedition Parka. (OPTIONAL)
- T-SHIRT**: Synthetic long sleeve shirt for the lower glacier. Synthetics dry faster than cotton! (OPTIONAL)
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: Two or three changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene. Ladies might consider additional changes.
- SOCKS: 3 – 5 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your socks fit with your boots! Guides’ Pick: Merino Mountaineering Extra Cushion Sock
- GLOVES: Light or medium weight fleece, Windstopper or even better: Schoeller fabric (one or two pairs). Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Vert Gloves
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are the workhorse on Denali. Black Diamond Guide Gloves have removable liners for ease of drying. It’s hard to stress how much you’ll be wearing these, so do not skimp on this item. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Guide Glove
- SUMMIT MITTENS: Thick, warm, non-constricting mittens made of pile, Primaloft or down. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. They aren’t cheap, but are extremely warm. Divide the cost by 10 digits and they’re a bargain!
- WARM HAT: One warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection.
- FACE MASK: Neoprene or Windstopper work equally well. Guides’ Pick: Seirus Neofleece Masque
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the lower mountain. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 6+ sets of these disposable insurance policies.
- GLACIER GLASSES: They must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays. Guides’ Pick: Julbo Explorer Alti Spectron 4 Sunglasses
- SKI GOGGLES: For use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells. These must have double lenses and provide UV protection. Fogging is a real challenge, so the “Turbo Fan” goggles are worth the investment! Guides’ Pick: Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Goggle with Red/Sol X Mirror Lens
- EXPEDITION PACK: Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find a good expedition-sized back pack. Denali requires a 6000+ cu in. or 85+ liter pack to carry your gear, plus group food & equipment. The Mountain Hardwear BMG and the Osprey Xenith 105 are our two current favorites. Be sure to spend some time training with your pack so that you know it fits you and you are familiar with how to adjust it.
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFEL: (90 – 120L) for use as a sled bag. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although the Patagonia Black Hole Bag 120L is about the perfect sled bag. It is lightweight and darn near water proof, making it the ideal sled bag! Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Black Hole 120L
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: Rated to -20 to -40 Fahrenheit (-30 to -40 Celsius) Which to choose, down or synthetic? We prefer down bags because they are lighter, more compact, and have a longer lifespan than synthetics. Guides’ Pick: Marmot Col EQ -20 or Marmot CWM EQ -40
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Granite Gear and Outdoor Research are both making nice, lightweight compression sacks. These are essential for sleeping bags and recommended for your summit clothes, such as your parka, mitts and warmest pants, so you might consider bringing two. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research UltraLight Compression Sack 20L
- (2) SLEEPING PADS: You will need 1 basic foam pad, and 1 inflatable sleeping pad. This system will keep you off the snow and the foam pad is good insurance against a popped inflatable pad. Guides’ Pick: Exped DownMat UL 7 paired with a Therm a Rest Ridge Rest SOLite(regular)
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE AXE: (with leash) 70-80 cm length works well for the West Buttress and go 10-20 cm shorter for technical climbs. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Raven Pro
- 2nd Shorter Axe: For the W. Rib and most technical climbs in Alaska, a mountaineering axe and a shorter axe gives you a lot of security on a wide variety of steeper terrain. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Venom Ice Axe 50cm
- CRAMPONS: 10 or 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! The traditional wire toe-bail and the newer “Clip” models both work, but the “Clip” versions are more secure on top of overboots, and easier to use in cold conditions. Make sure they fit with your mountain boots and overboots. Fit is especially important with overboots! Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Sabretooth Clip Crampon
- HARNESS: Your harness should be adjustable enough to accommodate several layers of clothing. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Couloir Harness
- ASCENDERS: You need one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension, consider bringing a left-handed one for ease of use on the fixed lines. Guides’ Pick: Petzl Ascension Ascender
- CARABINERS: Bring three large locking carabiners and eight regular carabiners. Please do not bring “bent-gate” carabiners. These have certain limitations that do not make them appropriate for how we will use them. Mark them with colored tape for identification. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond OZ carabiners are very lightweight and the locking Black Diamond VaporLock Carabiner
- PERLON CORD: 50 feet of 5 or 6 mm for sled and pack tie offs. Guides’ Pick: Blue Water 6mm Cord
- CLIMBING HELMET: Make certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. Superlight foam helmets have a tendency to get crushed in your bag during travel. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- NOSE GUARDS: Beko makes nice nose protectors that keep the wind and sun from wreaking havoc on your skin.
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items plus one large one for a cache bag)
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES: Please do not bring metal bottles or small mouth bottles. Guides’ Pick: Nalgene Wide Mouth 1liter Bottle
- INSULATED COVER (1or 2 for your water bottles).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP OR BOWL for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl work fine)
- INSULATED CUP 12 or 16 ounce for hot drinks. Guides’ Pick: The 16 oz Kleen Kanteen Insulated Bottle with the “Cafe’ Cap” gives you a drinking mug and a thermos in one!
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- 2 SMALL LIP BALMS (WITH 30+SPF): Two small tubes are easier to keep from freezing than one big tube.
- SUN SCREEN 3-4 OUNCES- two to four small tubes work better than one large tube
- TOILET PAPER: 1 or 2 rolls, depending on your technique
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes, hand sanitizer, foot powder… keep it small)
- P-BOTTLE Wide-mouth, collapsible Nalgene Cantenes work great- they make a 96 ounce version! Ladies- look for an appropriate adapter available at your local outdoors store. These items are both tough to find in Anchorage so plan ahead!
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen). PLEASE CONTACT YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN FOR A LIST OF APPROPRIATE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. THERE ARE SOME VERY USEFUL PRESCRIPTION DRUGS THAT CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE AT ALTITUDE. CONTACT US FOR RECOMENDATIONS. OPTIONAL ITEMS
- CAMERA, with extra batteries and memory cards.
- BOOK(s) for storm day reading
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH. The Suunto Vector is a classic mountaineering altimeter watch.
- BUFF. A lightweight neck gaiter for sun, wind, and cold protection. These are a Guides’ Favorite!
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER (iPod, etc with charging system)
- SPOT GPS -This personal tracking and locator device tracks your location online, allowing friends and family to keep track of your progress on one of several maps.
EQUIPMENT ON THIS LIST IS AVAILABLE AT THESE RECOMMENDED ONLINE RETAILERS.
MAKE SURE YOU TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BRING IT ON DENALI!!
CALL OR EMAIL US WITH YOUR EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS.