Mount Foraker 17,400 ft
We led the first successful guided expedition up Mount Foraker in 1980. The Southeast Ridge is one of the finest alpine routes in the Alaska Range. The route involves steep snow climbing, interspersed with ice pitches and exposed, cornice ridges. All this makes for very spectacular and scenic climbing. Unfortunately, changing conditions on the route have kept us from attempting it in recent years.
In the spring of 1996 we began leading climbers up the most popular line on Mount Foraker, the Sultana or Northeast Ridge. It is a longer route than the Southeast Ridge but harbors less objective hazards. This is a challenging route with a big summit day that demands respect.
We fly into the Southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and set forth across the Kahiltna proper to make our base camp at the base of 12,800’ Mount Crossen. A steep entrance gulley leads to a snowy ridge that climbs to a dramatic camp perched high above the Kahiltna Glacier. Above this camp, steeper steps of snow and ice are encountered as we climb up and over Mount Crossen to make Camp 2. The long ridge line that connects Crossen with Mount Foraker presents climbers with a mix of steep steps, wild cornices and knife-edged ridges. Summit day is a physically challenging ascent of the sublime Northeast Ridge, negotiating crevasses and continuously steep cramponing. This route should only be considered by very fit climbers with solid crampon and ice axe technique.
Denali West Buttress – A climb of the West Buttress might not be a bad idea for someone hoping to attempt Mount Foraker. Yes, Foraker is lower, but we are including this to stress how serious the weather conditions on this peak can be. Most climbers would agree that the West Buttress is somewhat easier of a climb, and that the experience they gained on Denali helped them manage themselves while on Foraker.
Follow Up Climbs
The West Rib of Denali – The Rib is a step up in terms of technical difficulty, but shares some of the technical and physical demands of the Sultana.
Foraker Guide Tips
- Learn to ski. Skiing across the Kahiltna is much easier than breaking trail in snowshoes.
- Seek out the steepest and slushiest snow you can find and practice climbing up and down. There must be some geothermal activity at the base of Mount Crosson, because the lower slopes that access the interconnecting ridge with Foraker turn to mashed potatoes early in the season. Proper technique (if there is such a thing for climbing goo) or at least a familiarity with this medium will help a lot should you find yourself looking up 500 feet of this stuff.
- Practice passing running belays. Efficient passing of anchors will speed the entire team up immensely, resluting in less time on exposed terrain.
- MOUNTAINEERING DOUBLE BOOTS:Boots fall into two categories, traditional double boots and boot systems with integrated gaiters. 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.
Recommended System Boots: LOWA “EXPEDITION 8000 or 6000 GTX”, LA SPORTIVA “OLYMPUS MONS EVO”
Recommended Double Boots: LA SPORTIVA “NUPTSE” or “SPANTIK,” SCARPA “INVERNO” with High Altitude Liners or INTUITION Liners.
- GAITERS: Full height, such as Black Diamond GTX Frontpoint Gaiter or Outdoor Research “Crocodiles.” Full coverage “Supergaiters” work great as well. (system boots do not need gaiters)
*** Guide’s Tip! If your soft shell pants or Gore-tex pants have built in gaiters or fit snugly over your boopts, perhaps you do not need gaiters? Call us about this!!
- BOOTIES**: Synthetic or down filled booties. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots. Look for ones with good traction soles. (Optional, but pretty nice for around base camp).
- SNOWSHOES: MSR Denali Denali EVO Ascent and Lightning Ascent are among the lightest.
- SKI POLES: Select a length for walking. Almost any ski pole will do, although adjustable poles work best. Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they seem less prone to collapsing.
- DOWN PARKA: Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka for its simple design and light weight. There are some synthetic options such as the Patagonia D.A.S. Parka and the Wild Things Belay Jacket, however; down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky.
- SHELL JACKET & PANTS: They should be large enough to go over your pile clothing layers and the pants must have side zippers. These do not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Many people are climbing in Alaska using lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells. Look for function and quality. This is a very important layer. Guides’ Pick: The Patagonia Jetstream Jacket is tough yet light.
***Guide’s Tip!! Maybe you do not really need Gore-tex, if your soft shell layers are good?
- PRIMALOFT JACKET: We really favor the puffy jackets over fleece, as we think they are more versatile and are warmer for the weight. Size this layer to fit over your shell. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Micro-Puff Hooded Jacket.
- “EXPEDITION WEIGHT” FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is good for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or R1 Hoody.
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: We used to consider these optional, however, this “Soft Shell” layer provides such a broad comfort range that they are now mandatory for alpine climbing. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Exos Pants.
- BASE LAYER: Synthetic Top and Bottoms such as Capilene 2 or 3 from Patagonia (1-2 pair, but only bring one on the route). The new Merino wool long underwear are really nice as well.
- T-SHIRT**: Synthetic or cotton t-shirt for lounging on the lower glacier. Synthetics dry faster! (Optional)
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: One or two changes should do the trick, although ladies might want a few more. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene. Ladies might also want a couple synthetic sports bras.
- SOCKS: 2 – 3 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your sock s fit with your boots! The new system boots don’t need as thick a sock as the boots of old.
- GLOVES: Soft shell gloves such as ones made from Schoeller fabric work best (one or two pairs.)
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are the workhorse in Alaska. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Guide Gloves are bomber and have removable liners for ease of drying.
- 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 fingers!).
- WARM HAT: One warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection. Avoid Windstopper hats, as they interfere with your ability to hear rock and ice fall!
- FACE PROTECTION: Neoprene facemasks help keep your nose and cheeks warm when it gets blustery. A lightweight “Buff” brand neck gaiter does a good job as well and is more versatile.
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the lower glaciers. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection-again, think synthetic.
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 3+ sets of the disposable versions. Toe warmers work well too and can keep camera batteries warm on summit day.
- GLACIER GLASSES: They must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays.
- SKI GOGGLES: For use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells.
- EXPEDITION PACK: (3000-4500 cu in. or 50+ Liters) There are a lot of good packs on the market in this size range. Go for light weight! Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Quantum 55 or 65 are our current favorites.
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFEL: (36-48″) for use as a sled bag. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although if you can find the Patagonia Stellar Black Hole Bag you will be thrilled. It is lightweight and darn near water proof, making it the ideal sled bag!
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: Rated from –20 to -10 degrees. Marmot, Mt Hardwear and The North Face all make great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? Down is lighter and less bulky, but cost a lot more. Synthetic bags are getting much better, but we still favor down. Guides’ Pick: Valandre “Shocking Blue” is a suitable bag that weighs less than 3 lbs in a regular length!
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Outdoor research makes some nice lightweight compression sacks, which are pretty nice for expedition sleeping bags.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, one closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat and a self inflating pad. Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads are among the warmest and most comfortable for their weight. Guides’ Pick: Thermarest Pro-Lite 3 paired with a 3/4 length Deluxe Ridge Rest. You’re alpine climbing, so think lightweight vs plush, deluxe comfort.
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE TOOLS: 1 mountaineering axe and 1 technical ice tool (hammer might be best) Guides’ Pick: the Black Diamond Venom is a very lightweight, versatile tool, available in both a hammer and an adze version.
- CRAMPONS: 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! Step in or “New-matic” work equally well. Avoid the ones with vertical, “cookie cutter” side rails.
- HARNESS: Your harness must have adjustable leg loops. The Black Diamond Blizzard and Alpine Bod harnesses are both lightweight and functional.
- ASCENDERS: Check with us, as you might not need/want a full-on ascender for this route. You can also pair one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension with a prussik loop for your feet or just use 2 prussik loops. If you do need an ascender, be sure to have some 6 mm cord (10 feet +/-) or a Daisy Chain for attaching your ascender to your harness.
- BELAY DEVICE: Choose one that works with skinny ropes and can function as an “auto bloc”. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond ATC Guide
- HELMET: Look for a lightweight climbing helmet that will fit comfortably over your warm hat.
- CARABINERS: Bring three locking carabiners and eight regular carabiners. Mark them with colored tape for identification. Please no bent-gate ‘biners! Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Oz are very lightweight and almost full sized.
- PERLON CORD: 60 feet of 5 or 6 mm for sled and pack tie offs.
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items)
- CAMELBACK hydration system (optional)
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES
- INSULATED COVER (1or 2 for your water bottles).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl)
- INSULATED CUP for hot drinks
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- LIP BALM (WITH SPF)
- SUN CREAM (3-4 OUNCES in 1 ounce tubes)
- TOILET PAPER
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes,… keep it small)
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE (optional)
- P-BOTTLE (wide mouth collapsible Nalgene work great- they make a 96 ounce version! Ladies bring an adapter and please practice before you come)
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen) Contact your personal physician about prescription medications that may be appropriate for this climb. The Mountain Trip Office can give you suggestions regarding what to inquire about.
- CAMERA, lots of film or extra memory card
- BOOK(S) for storm day reading
- DIARY & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- HAND LOTION
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITER
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER (choose flash drive based MP3 players if you want it to work at altitude)
RENTAL ITEMS AVAILABLE
- SNOWSHOES ($30)
- SKI POLES ($10)
- CRAMPONS ($30)
- ICE AXE ($25)
- ASCENDER ($15 ea.)
- EXPEDITION PACK ($50)
- SUMMIT PARKER ($60)
ALL EQUIPMENT ON THIS LIST IS AVAILABLE AT AMH IN ANCHORAGE -
And you get a 10% discount. Check out their Web site: www.alaskamountaineering.com or call 907 272-1811.
Feathered Friends in Seattle will also give you a 10% discount if you tell them you are joining one of our expeditions. www.featheredfriends.com
MAKE SURE YOU TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BRING IT TO ALASKA!!
CALL OR EMAIL US WITH YOUR EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS.