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

The Mountaineers Books

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

Hudson Air Service

K-2 Aviation

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 Rib
Westliche Rippe - La Côte de l'Ouest

FIRST ASCENT: June 8 to June 19, 1959 by Jake Breitenhach, Bill Buckingham, Barry Corbet and Pete Sinclair. Beginning their climb from the normal landing area, the mountaineers moved up the Kahiltna Glacier to its intersection with the Northeast Fork. After working their way through numerous crevasse zones they reached the head of the glacier and gained the ridge leading to the West Rib by climbing a difficult ice couloir. Once on the ridge itself, the party had to surmount a pair of ice domes before reaching easier ground and the succession of rock ribs and couloirs leading to the summit ridge. After gaining the high ridge, the climbers followed the normal West Buttress Route to the South Summit. On the descent, they retraced their own tracks to the highest camp and then traversed west to join the West Buttres Route above Windy Corner.

POINT OF DEPARTURE: Southeast Fork, Kahiltna Glacier
ALTITUDE GAIN: 13,320 feet (4,060 meters)
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: 24 miles (38 kilometers) via West Rib   descent, 28 miles (45 kilometers) via West Buttress descent
TIME: 15 to 30 days
CRUX: Couloir between 11,100 and 12.300 feet
  (3,383 and 3,749 meters)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 3,600 feet (1,200 meters) of fixed line
  and 12 snow pickets; 12 ice pitons; 40 rock pitons (mostly   horizontals and small to medium angles)

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 5 miles (8 kilometers) to the junction with the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.

Turn right, east, and proceed up the left center of the glacier through the crevasse zones for a distance of 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to the base of the icefall at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Move up and left, north, through the icefall to the base of the eprominent couloir at 11,000 feet (3,383 meters).

Like the Japanese Couloir at the base of the nearby Cassin Ridge Route, this is the crux of the climb. Snow and ice in the couloir stand at an angle of 50 to 60 degrees. Fixed ropes may be anchored to snow, ice or rock as conditions warrant to safeguard the ascent to the base of the ridge at 12,300 feet (3,749 meters). As much as 1,600 feet (500 meters) of line may be needed for the couloir.

From an icy stance at the top of the couloir, continue upward along the ridge line over two prominent ice humps between 12,400 and 13,500 feet (3,779 and 4,115 meters) until the ridge widens out and the angle lessens. As much as 1,800 feet of fixed line may be needed to protect the route over the two ice domes, but the climbing is straightforward on ice and hard snow.

Above the second hump, the ridge broadens and movement becomes easier for one-half mile (1 kilometer) until the angle again increases at 13,900 feet (4,237 meters).

Still moving up the ridgeline, cross a bergschrund that bisects the slope at about 14,200 feet (4,328 meters), and climb difficult rock or an ice couloir which may require another 600 feet (200 meters) of fixed rope to gain a rocky terrace at 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). Mixed ground leads to 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) where the panorama of the West Buttress becomes visible. Pitches of rock and snow alternate until the ridge ends at a broad snow slope at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters).

USGS 1:25,000 McKinley Summit Section

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

The route continues up and to the left across the snow slope to the northernmost couloir which joins the West Buttress Route leading to the summit at the 19,400-foot (5,913 meter) level. From this point, the South Summit lies about one mile (1.6 kilometers) to the east across a shallow basin and up the final snow slopes.

Parties descending via the West Buttress Route generally begin the traverse across the high snow basin from the 16,000-foot (4,877-meter) level of the West Rib.

CAMPS: Nine or ten camps are normally made by parties climbing the West Rib Route.

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      8,500 ft.    2,590 m.
Camp 5      9,600 ft.    2,926 m.
Camp 6    10,800 ft.    3,292 m.
Camp 7    12,300 ft.    3,749 m.
Camp 8    14,800 ft.    4,511 m.
Camp 9    16,500 ft.    5,029 m.

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