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.
WE ONLY BOOK THIS TRIP ON A PRIVATE BASIS. Please contact our office for more information.
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.