Mt. McKinley Climber's Guide Logotype
Climbing Alaska's
Mt. McKinley has been described alternately
as a long walk in the snow, or as one of the most difficult high mountain ascents in
the world, depending

Butch Wade at Windy Corner, West Buttress The Expedition
That Fell From
The Sky

on the route being climbed and conditions encountered along
the way. Even in mid summer, conditions on North America's tallest mountain are arctic in character. During the two- to four-week ascent, most parties encounter
temperatures ranging from + 70° to - 40° F.
(+ 27° to - 40° C.). Winds in excess of 100 m.p.h. (160 k.p.h.) are not uncommon.

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Individual storms sometimes last two weeks, making it imperative that climbers prepare for at least a month's climb on easier routes and as much as six weeks on difficult routes. Although nearly 3,000 climbers have stood on its 20,320-foot (6,194-meter) summit since the first ascent in 1913, none have treated the mountain casually. Over forty have died on its slopes. As on big mountains elsewhere, hidden crevasses have taken unnecessary lives. Climbers should always travel roped, no matter how easy the terrain appears. Expeditions
planning to attempt
Mt. McKinley must register at least two months in advance with the National Park Service and should complete all preparations before coming to Alaska, including arrangements for a radio and charter air transportation. Climbers should also plan on removing all their equipment and trash from the mountain.

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West Buttress
Westliche Stützmauer
Le Contrefort
  de l'Ouest

South Buttress
Südliche Stützmauer
Le Contrefort du Sud

Muldrow Glacier
Muldrow Gletscher
Le Glacier Muldrow

West Rib
Westliche Rippe
La Côte de l'Ouest

Cassin Ridge
Cassin Kamm
La Crête Cassin

Coming Soon
Doug Scott &
Dougal Haston's
South Face Direct

Notice & Disclaimer

This map and the climbing descriptions can only serve as general guides to the
five major routes on
Mt. McKinley because
of daily and seasonal conditions. On a big mountain, no guide
or map can safely be substituted for good

Copyright © 2001
by Dennis Cowals.
All rights reserved.

Ice axe and rope logo copyright © 2001
by Dennis Cowals.

Mountaineers edition copyright © 1981
by Dennis Cowals
ISBN 0-89886-020-2.

Original edition
copyright © 1976
by The Alaska
Alpine Company.
  USGS 1:250,000 McKinley Map Section

Mt. McKinley 1:250,000 scale - U.S. Geological Survey
  The Mountaineers MMCG Cover

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Cassin Ridge
Cassin Kamm - La Crête Cassin

FIRST ASCENT: June 24 to July 19, 1961 by Riccardo Cassin, Luigi Airoldi, Luigi Alippi, Giancarlo Canali, Romano Perego and Annibale Zucchi. Despite the handicap of beginning the route from the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier instead of the East Fork as had been planned, Cassin's strong team pushed up the heavily crevassed glacier and established a base camp at 11,320 feet. Beginning the climb on July 5, the party slowly moved upward on the most difficult rock and ice pitches McKinley has to offer. Despite frequent storms, high winds, spindrift avalanches and mists which glazed the rock with sheets of ice, Cassin and his climbers emerged on the summit ridge exhausted, and reached the South Summit in a final 17-hour push from their high camp. (Subsequent Japanese [Hokkaido Alpine Association - May 26, 1967], American [Everett - August 2, 1967] and French [Berquet - July 23, 1971] ascents have refined the route up the South Face by discovering safer, faster and sometimes easier alternatives to some of Cassin's pitches. Still, the Cassin Ridge is the mountain's most difficult route and should be attempted only by strong parties. The route described below, then, is a composite made possible by exceptional climbers from four nations.)

POINT OF DEPARTURE: Southeast Fork, Kahiltna Glacier
ALTITUDE GAIN: 13,320 feet (4,060 meters)
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: 24 miles (38 kilometers), not
  including relays which can double the overland distance TIME: 21 to 35 days
CRUX: The Japanese Couloir between 12,400 and 13,400
  feet (3,780 and 4,084 meters)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1,600 to 2,400
  meters) of fixed rope and 20 snow pickets; 24 ice
  pitons; 60 rock pitions (mostly horizontals and small to
  medium angles including a few knifeblades)

ROUTE: From the landing area on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, move west to join the main glacier. Turn right, north, and proceed approximately 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers) to the junction with the East Fork. Take an easterly course up the left center of the glacier that swings more and more to the north as the glacier curves around to meet the South Face.

At 11,200 feet (3,134 meters) enter a prominent - but narrow - ice couloir and climb it to gain Kahiltna Notch at 11,960 feet (3,645 meters).

Rappel down 300 feet (100 meters) to gain the upper snowfield of the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and traverse north to the base of the Japanese Couloir at 12,400 feet (3,780 meters). Although conditions make individual pitches higher on the mountain more difficult, most climbers agree the Japanese Couloir is the crux of the Cassin Ridge Route with three pitches each of ice, snow and rock, snow and ice and two pure rock pitches. From the top of the couloir at 13,400 feet (4,084 meters) move up and to the right over mixed ground, climbing a rock couloir to gain a narrow snow ridge. Follow the ridge to the prominent hanging glacier.

Continue moving up the glacier to reach mixed dpitches of ice and rock. These lead upward for 1,000 feet (300 meters) to Cassin's Rib Pitch, a difficult 150-foot (50-meter) rock wall. Once over the barrier, follow the ridge to easier ground.

Bearing left, climb pitches of snow and rock to another vertical granite wall which may be climbed via a 300-foot (100-meter) rock couloir. From the top of the couloir, traverse right, east, approximately 1,000 feet (300 meters) to a prominent snowfield and climb it. Doing so avoids difficult rock pitches climbed by Cassin's party. Continue up the snowfield until regaining the ridge above the 17,000-foor (5,182-meter) level.

USGS 1:25,000 McKinley Summit Section

Mt. McKinley Summit 1:25,000 scale - adapted from U.S.G.S.
West Buttress    West Rib    Cassin Ridge    South Buttress

Mixed ground leads to the base of the last buttress at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). Move up and left through a succession of coulois and pitches of rock and snow to gain the summit ridge. Depending on conditions, almost any of the couloirs on the upper section of the face will provide access to the summit ridge, intersecting it at altitudes ranging from 19,600 to 20,000 feet (5,974 to 6,096 meters). Alternately, the ridge itself may be climbed all the way to Kahiltna Horn if the difficulties at the base of the last buttress are bypassed by climbing a couloir.

CAMPS: Nine or ten camps are normally made by parties attempting the Cassin Ridge via the original route. In recent years, however, most parties attempting the Cassin have made their approaches from the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier rather than the East Fork. Depending on seasonal glacier and avalanche conditions and expeditionary or alpine styles, the number and location of camps on this route is subject to more variation than on other climbing routes.

Camp   1      7,000 ft.    2,134 m.
Camp   2      7,200 ft.    2,195 m.
Camp   3      7,800 ft.    2,377 m.
Camp   4      8,600 ft.    2,620 m.
Camp   5      9,500 ft.    2,956 m.
Camp   6    10,800 ft.    3,291 m.
Camp   7    13,400 ft.    4,084 m.
Camp   8    14,000 ft.    4,248 m.
Camp   9    15,700 ft.    4,785 m.
Camp 10    17,000 ft.    5,182 m.

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