Alaska Technical Routes
Challenging Climbing in the Alaska Range
Mountain Trip began guiding technical climbs in the late 1970’s in the Ruth Glacier, leading the first ascent of Mt Johnson and routes on many other peaks. Over the years, we have led ascents of iconic peaks such as Mooses Tooth, Mt Foraker, Mt Hunter, Mt Russell, and Mt Deborah. Mountain Trip has also led numerous routes on Denali such as the Northwest Buttress, the Cassin Ridge, the West Rib, the West Buttress Direct and the South Buttress.
We love climbing technical routes. Each year we offer a selection of routes and we are always looking for a new peak to climb. These climbs are for experienced climbers only. Party size is limited, so please contact us well in advance of the season. Most technical climbs are made via private arrangements, so give us a call if you have a high and wild alpine dream that you are ready to pursue. We are climbers who are passionate about being in the mountains and love to share these wild places with other climbers.
If you are considering an attempt on a technical climb in Alaska, please read the information in our “Choosing a Climb” tab on this page.
For the climber looking for a more technical route on Denali, we offer scheduled expeditions up the West Rib. Other routes are also available by private arrangement. Mountain Trip began guiding climbers up technical routes on Denali in 1982, when we led a group up the Northwest Buttress for its second ascent. Additionally, our guides have led expeditions on the Cassin Ridge, the South Buttress and the West Rib. We generally offer one or two technical Denali climbs per season with scheduled trips up the West Rib.
These routes are only for experienced mountaineers, as they are both physically and technically demanding. The climbing involves steep couloirs and beautiful ridges. Summit day is very demanding, potentially requiring over 20 hours of climbing. After returning to high camp from the summit, you will descend via the West Buttress. We can also offer other options for the Rib, such as doing it Alpine style or doing just the Upper Rib variation. Let us know your interests.
This slender ridge drops like a plumb line from the summit of Denali, splitting its massive South Face in two. It is the line that immediately captures the eye of climbers when they first see the mountain from the south. “The Cassin” is a legendary route, which has attracted the best alpinists of the day since it was first climbed in 1961 by Ricardo Cassin and members of an Italian climbing club known as the Lecco Spiders. Among experienced alpinists, it has a reputation as THE alpine climb to do in North America.
Denali via the Northwest Buttress
This route is very special to us, not only due to the sublime beauty of its skyline visible from the south. Mountain Trip guided the 2nd, 3rd and 5th ascents of this route in the 1980’s and we had a strong team climb it to the north summit of the mountain in 2011. This route is very rarely attempted and is long, tough and committing. Please contact us if you are interested in joining us on this stunning line.
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 Crosson. 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 Crosson to make Camp 2. The long ridge line that connects Crosson 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.
Mt. Hunter has been gotten more notice over the past few years. On its walls and ridges lie some very challenging and beautiful climbing. All of the climbs on this mountain are physically and technically demanding, as they are a mix of rock, ice and snow climbing. We have led numerous successful expeditions on the West Ridge since 1982 and have led attempts on other routes.
The West Ridge is a true classic and deserves its status as one of Steck & Roper’s “50 Classic Climbs”. Gary Bocarde did the first ascent of a variation of this route and we offer climbs up both the Bocarde Variation and the original Becky route. Experienced, fit climbers with find this route an exhilarating challenge.
Mount Huntington, 12,400 feet
Mount Huntington is arguably the most beautiful peak in the Alaska Range. At 12,400’ it is not as high as its loftier neighbors, but offers big challenges for technically proficient climbers. The West Face Couloir, also known as the Nettle-Quirk route ascends a prominent line of ice up the middle of the west face. Steep snow leads to even steeper ice amidst the beautiful granite of this massive wall. A high camp allows weary climbers a night of rest before attempting the summit via the upper portion of the French Ridge. For the strong climber with good steep-ice climbing skills, this route is world class!
The Mooses Tooth 10,300 feet
The granite mass of The Mooses Tooth dominates the Ruth Glacier Amphitheater. Mountain Trip founder, Gary Bocarde put up one of the most audacious lines of its time with his first ascent of the Moose Antler Route on the SW Face in 1974 to make the 2nd ascent of the peak. Just up glacier from this historic route lies one of the truly accessible plums of the Alaska Range; the Ham and Eggs Couloir.
Ham and Eggs follows an icy line of weakness through the massive granite South Face of The Mooses Tooth. This is the real deal; solid ice climbers will find themselves challenged by steep ice and often by mixed stretches on the route. We try to climb this one in a single push, so train hard for a pretty long day.
Rock Climbing and Mountaineering in Little Switzerland
If you’re a rock climber looking to challenge yourself or learn the basics of alpine rock climbing; you’ll not find many places with the variety of routes and rock quality of Little Switzerland. This same area, south of Denali and accessed from the Pika Glacier, also provides an ideal setting for mountaineering courses. The names of the peaks rising from the glacier are steeped in magic and after experiencing the quality of the routes that ascend them- it doesn’t take long to find yourself under their spell.
There is something for everyone in Little Switzerland. The Throne has everything from fun, lower fifth-class, ridge climbs to full-on Alaskan Big Wall climbing. The Middle Troll has a number of routes to its narrow summit that will challenge rock climbers. There are almost endless possibilities for cragging in some truly spectacular settings. To up the adventure factor, we can go out in search of first ascents- of which there are still plenty to be had.
The Pika Glacier is also a great place to learn the basics of mountaineering. Whether traveling by skis or on snowshoes, a variety of terrain is open for exploration and the nature of the area is perfect for both beginning and advanced mountaineers. Mountaineering courses can run from six to twelve days, depending on your schedule.
Dates: April-July, Custom dates are available
Cost: Dependent on group size
Choosing a Climb
Just as there are often many routes to a mountain’s summit, so to there can be many ways to pursue a dream of climbing big mountains. After decades of working with all manner of climbers and aspiring climbers, we have learned a thing or two about which routes are most successful. We like to think of climbing and mountaineering within the context of a continuum. We all start somewhere on the continuum and proceed further along, until we reach our goal, get sick of the whole enterprise or can just go no further.
There are no viable short-cuts to climbing big mountains. Hiring a mountain guide has rich traditions stretching back to the mid 1800’s, and has enabled mountain enthusiasts to pursue their passion for wild places without devoting their lives to the time and energy necessary to mount their own expeditions. Mountain guides allow aspiring climbers to more safely embark on the continuum and to follow it further than they might otherwise have the opportunity to do, however; at the end of the day, it was the personal effort and skill set of the individual climber than got them to the summit, or saw them fall short.
Each route on each peak demands a specific skill set, and we encourage all of our climbers to put in the time and practice to prepare themselves for their intended route. Bigger routes on higher peaks require more of an apprenticeship in the mountains, both to better manage the risk that often accompanies these routes, but also to protect your investment. As one of our climbing heroes, Don Whillans succinctly put it, “The mountains will always be there youth, the trick is for you to be there as well.”
If you are a recreational hiker or backpacker, you should focus on learning some snow skills and join a trip that will teach you if longer trips are something that you will enjoy. If you are intent on “going for it,” start with a shorter climb, like an ascent of Kilimanjaro or Mount Elbrus. These offer some insight into how you will feel at higher altitudes, with the benefits of being relatively short trips that are highly supported.
If you are a weekend “peak bagger” and backpacker, you may be ready to test your mettle on a longer expedition. Aconcagua is a nice choice because it has routes that are technically easy, and you can focus your energies on how your body does at increasingly high altitudes. Aconcagua is a great precursor for a Denali attempt because the duration of the climb is similar, but it is somewhat easier, overall. Summit day does feel similar, and might be a good gauge of how you will feel when you head to the top of North America.
Are you a fit technical rock and/or ice climber who wants to climb a big peak? Are you a seasoned mountaineer in the Alps, New Zealand or the lower 48 states? What are your goals? For some, the goal is the summit, and an ascent of the Denali via the West Buttress is a great choice. For others, it’s all about the climbing, and they are willing to assume a greater risk of not standing on the summit for the challenge and quality of the technical climbing, so they might opt for the West Rib. The Sultana Ridge on Mount Foraker offers spectacular climbing in a stunningly beautiful and often exposed setting, yet usually sees less than a dozen attempts each year.
Seven Summit climbers have it easier, in some ways. But how should one proceed? A smart sequence might be one that increases the altitude and the physical demands of the ascent. Consider beginning with Kilimanjaro or Elbrus, moving on to Aconcagua, then Mount Vinson, Denali, Everest and Carstensz. Carstensz is so much different from the other six, that it could fall anywhere into the sequence, but it does require a skill set that is different, and will require some additional preparation. Financially, you might decide to climb Denali before Vinson, as some additional insurance in case you learn that you just can’t stand the cold.
Experienced, technically proficient ice and rock climbers, who want to push their limits on big alpine faces will find many lifetimes worth of challenges in Alaska. Mooses Tooth, Peak 11,300, Mt Huntington, and the most sublime line in the Alaska Range, the Cassin Ridge, are all within the reach of climbers who put in the time to hone their skills, build upon their successive experiences and train hard to be in peak physical fitness for their climb.
The following is a list of required gear for climbing the West Buttress with Mountain Trip. 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. The Kahiltna Glacier 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, 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.
Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.
Items with ** are optional, but recommended.
- MOUNTAINEERING DOUBLE BOOTS: Acceptable boots for Denali fall into two categories, traditional double boots and 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 System Boots: LOWA “8000 GTX ”, LA SPORTIVA “OLYMPUS MONS EVO”
- Recommended Double Boots: SCARPA “INVERNO” with High Altitude Liners, LA SPORTIVA “NUPTSE” OR “SPANTIK”. 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. ___
- SKI POLES: Select a proper length for hiking. Almost any ski pole will do, although adjustable poles work best! Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing.
CLOTHING 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 Top and Bottoms such as Light or Mid-Weight Capilene from Patagonia. There are some really nice Merino wool options on the market as well. Patagonia has a nice entry called Wool 2.
- “EXPEDITION WEIGHT” FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is important for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or the R1 Flash Hoody.
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: We used to consider this layer optional, but this “Soft Shell” layer is becoming indispensable, 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 Micro Puff Pants or Feathered Friends Volant Pants. These can be layered over your shell pants for easier and quicker layer changes.
- 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 or the Outdoor Research Chaos 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.
- EXPEDITION PARKA (WITH HOOD): Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka. 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.
- 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!
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: One or two changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene.
- SOCKS: 2 – 4 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your socks fit with your boots!
- GLOVES: Light or medium weight bunting, polypro, 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.
- 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.
- 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 8+ sets of these disposable insurance policies.
- 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.These must have double lenses and provide 100%UV protection.
- EXPEDITION PACK: Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find a good expedition-sized back pack. Denali requires a 6000+ cu in. or 90+ liter pack to carry your gear, plus group food & equipment. The Dana Designs Terra Plane, Gregory Denali Pro and Osprey Aether 90 all fit the bill. BE CERTAIN THAT YOUR PACK FITS YOU! Get used to your pack; train with it!
- 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 to 30 below. Marmot Cwm, Col and Mt Hardwear Ghost are all great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? We prefer down bags because they are lighter, more compact, and have a longer lifespan than synthetics, but the new synthetics are getting a lot better. Guides’ Pick: Weighing in at just 4 pounds, the Valandre Odin is a -40 degree bag which is also suitable for Antarctica. It’s lighter companion, the Freja, is a -22 degree bag that only weighs 3 lbs 6 oz!
- 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.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, with one being a closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat just in case you poke a crampon through your air mattress. Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads have been among the warmest and most comfortable, but the new Exped pads from Outdoor Research are really nice. Guides’ Pick: Exped 7 paired with a Deluxe, Full-length Ridge Rest
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
- CRAMPONS: 10 or 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! Step in or “New-matic” work equally well, just make sure they fit with your mountain boots and overboots. Fit is especially important with overboots! Black Diamond Guides’ Pick: Sabretooth Clip with ABS
- HARNESS: Your harness needs to have adjustable leg loops. Black Diamond Blizzard or Alpine Bod harnesses are both lightweight and functional.
- ASCENDERS: You need at least one full-sized ascender such as the Petzl Ascension. This can be paired with a second, handled ascender or with a lighter weight version such as a Petzl Tibloc, a Wild Country Ropeman or simply bring a prussik cord for your feet. If you opt for only one full sized ascender, consider bringing a left-handed one for ease of use on the fixed lines.
- CARABINERS: Bring two 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 Neutrinos are very lightweight.
- PERLON CORD: 50 feet of 5 or 6 mm for sled and pack tie offs.
- CLIMBING HELMET: Unfortunately, even Alaska is not beyond the reach of Global Warming and there is now a stretch of the West Buttress route that necessitates the wearing of a climbing helmet. Get the lightest one you can find and make certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Tracer
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)
- CAMELBACK HYDRATION SYSTEM (optional, but if you bring one, also bring an insulated tube and mouthpiece) This DOES NOT replace your Water Bottles!
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES: Please do not bring metal bottles or small mouth bottles.
- 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 plastic cup for hot drinks
- 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,… 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 lots of film or digital and no film
- BOOK(s) for storm day reading
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- HAND LOTION
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITOR (check out the light weight versions from Buff)
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE
- EXTRA ACCESSORY STRAPS** (generally only needed for smaller sized packs)
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER (CD, MINI DISC, MP3 PLAYER, ETC with extra batteries)
- CELL PHONE (Due to antiquated cell phone infrastructure in this part of Alaska, only a small number of phones actually work from Denali. As of 2006, only phones capable of receiving ANALOG signals could function from the mountain.)
TRAVERSE CLIMB ONLY
- MOSQUITO REPELLENT
- HEAD NET
- TRAIL RUNNING or LIGHT HIKING SHOES (For river crossings and the walk out to Wonder Lake)
RENTAL ITEMS AVAILABLE
- SNOWSHOES ($50)
- SKI POLES ($15)
- CRAMPONS ($30)
- ICE AXE ($25)
- ASCENDER ($25)
- EXPEDITION PACK ($50-$100)
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.
MAKE SURE YOU TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BRING IT ON DENALI!!
CALL OR EMAIL US WITH YOUR EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS.