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

Denali National
Park & Preserve

& Information

Mountaineering in
Denali National Park
& Preserve

National Weather Service
Alaska Region

Denali National Park
Weather Forecast

Alaska Satellite Images


Hours of Daylight

Wind Chill Calculator

North to Alaska?
These friends
are good folks
to contact.
We've shared
many climbs,
rescues and
over the years.

Doug Geeting

K-2 Aviation

Hudson Air Service

Talkeetna Air Taxi

Mountain Trip

Alaska-Denali Guiding

Alaska Mountain
Rescue Group

Alaska Alpine Club

Club of Alaska

& Hiking


The Mountaineers Books

Alaska Alpine Co. MMCG Cover

The American
Alpine Club

Mountain Rescue Association

National Ski Patrol


Alaska Wilderness Companion Cover

West Buttress
Westliche Stützmauer - Le Contrefort de l'Ouest

FIRST ASCENT: June 18 to July 1, 1951 by Dr. Bradford Washburn, William Hackett and James Gale. With air support provided by Dr. Terris Moore, then president of the University of Alaska, Washburn and three others pioneered the now familiar route up the Kahiltna Glacier and established a base camp at the 10,100-foot level below Kahiltna Pass. There, they waited for nine days until the other four members of the expedition arrived after making an overland trek from Wonder Lake to the Muddy River, up Birch Creek and finally across the Peters Glacier. United again as a single, strong party, the group continued to advance up the buttress along lines selected by Washburn from his aerial reconnaissance flights around the mountain until the climbers reached the South Summit. Within four days of the first ascent, all five of the other expedition members reached the summit. They were: Dr. Henry Buchtel, Barry Bishop, John Ambler, Jerry More and T. Melvin Griffiths.

POINT OF DEPARTURE: Southeast Fork, Kahiltna Glacier
ALTITUDE GAIN: 13,320 feet (4,060 meters)
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: 32 miles (52 kilometers), not
  including relays which can double the overland distance TIME: 15 to 30 days
CRUX: Headwall between 15,000 and 16,000 feet
  (4,572 and 4,877 meters)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 1,200 feet (400 meters) of fixed line
  and six snow pickets to protect climbers moving up and
  down the headwall

ROUTE: From the landing area outside the park boundary at the 7,000-foot (2,194-meter) level of the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, proceed down glacier, west, to the junction with the main stream of the Kahiltna Glacier. Turn right, north, and proceed approximately 8 miles (13 kilometers) toward Kahiltna Pass, a prominent notch in the northern skyline.

After gaining a small plateau east of the pass, move to the left of the prominent icefall and follow the obvious ridgeline toward the granite base of the West Buttress.

Still moving up the snowfield -- well clear of the avalanche chutes on the buttress -- turn left, east, upon reaching Windy Corner at 13,400 feet (4,084 meters). From this point the route follows an easterly course between the rock buttress on the left and a large icefall on the right until it reaches a nameless basin at 14,200 feet (4,328 meters).

In the basin, the route turns left and follows a northerly course directly up a prominent couloir leading to the top of the West Buttress at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). This is the steepest section of the route and the one climbers often refer to as the Headwall. It is here, between 15,000 and 16,000 feet (4,573 and 4,877 meters) that parties sometimes install a fixed line to safeguard climbers relaying loads to the top of the buttress. Teams climbing the route early in the season may use two 600-foot spools or two 200-meter reels of rope to fix the route up the couloir.

At the crest of the ridge, turn right, east, and thread a path through the granite blocks on the ridgeline for 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) to the complex of ice caves known as the Iglooplex at 17,320 feet (5,251 meters). Continue up the ridge and traverse a long snow slope to the left to reach Denali Pass at 18,200 feet (5,547 meters).

USGS 1:25,000 McKinley Summit Section

Mt. McKinley Summit 1:25,000 - adapted from U.S.G.S.

West Buttress    Muldrow Glacier
West Rib    Cassin Ridge    South Buttress

From the pass, the seldom-climbed North Summit lies approximately 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) to the northeast. To reach it, parties should ascend and move to the right across the broad snow slope leading to the rock band. Follow a prominent snow ramp through the rock band to the summit plateau and continue up easy slopes to the North Summit at 19,470 feet (5,934 meters).

The true summit lies about the same distance from Denali Pass as the lesser, northern peak, but in a southeasterly direction. Climb the ridge leading up and south from the pass for a little more than one-half mile (1 kilometer), then turn left, east, toward the Archdeacon's Tower after passing a small, rocky ridge at 19,400 feet (5,193 meters). Continue east between the Archdeacon's Tower on the north and a rock knob to the south. Descend into a broad basin and cross it. Climb the basin's eastern slope to the final ridge leading to the South Summit at 20,320 feet (6,194 meters).

CAMPS: Seven or eight camps are normally made by parties ascending the West Buttress. Climbers planning to traverse the mountain and descend via the Muldrow Glacier Route routinely place another camp on the east side of Denali Pass before attempting either summit.

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      9,000 ft.    2,743 m.
Camp 5    11,000 ft.    3,352 m.
Camp 6    12,700 ft.    3,871 m.
Camp 7    14,200 ft.    4,328 m.
Camp 8    16,400 ft.    4,999 m.
Camp 9    17,320 ft.    5,251 m.

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