The Traverse team has the unique challenge of climbing the highest peak in North America while traveling over the crest of the Alaska Range. Fixed lines on Karsten's Ridge, route finding the crevassed lower icefall, crossing the McKinley River, and swatting mosquitoes make this the ultimate Alaska mountaineering experience and only suited to those who enjoy the rigors of expedition life. The Denali Traverse is rated an Alaska Grade II, but it is definitely more challenging than the similarly rated West Buttress. Climbing over Denali Pass with a loaded pack and descending Karsten's Ridge are feats in themselves. Denali is never easy, and the Traverse is no exception. High altitude, extreme weather, active glaciers, river crossings, and mosquitoes combine to make the Traverse the grand tour of North American mountaineering.
Route: The Traverse, Alaska Grade II, 20,310 feet / 6,190 meters, 76 miles, 13,110 feet elevation gain, 24 days
Group Limit: 6 expedition members, 3 AMS guides, maintaining a 3:1 ratio or better
Cost Includes: AMS Professional Mountain Guides, Denali National Park climber and registration fees, glacier flights, National Park shuttle and private van pick up and to return to Talkeetna, field food and fuel, group camping and climbing equipment (tents, ropes, snow/ice protection, kitchens) emergency supplies (maps / GPS, radios, satellite phone, and repair, trauma and drug kits), pre-rigged sleds, base camp fees, 24/7 support during the expedition from AMS HQ, knowledgeable advice for training, equipment and travel, camping at AMS in Talkeetna, regular updates on social media during the expedition.
You are responsible for: Arriving with excellent physical and mental fitness, transportation to and from Talkeetna, lodging in Talkeetna, personal equipment and clothing, rental items from AMS, travel and medical insurance, gratuities.
In 1913, Archdeacon Stuck's team climbed the Muldrow/Karsten's Ridge route we will be using for our descent. He followed the paths of the early explorers and gold miners who unraveled intricate and formidable approaches to find a northern route to the summit. Bradford Washburn's team pioneered the West Buttress in 1951.
AMS' expedition-style climbing strategy reflects a concern for giving everyone the best chance to acclimate to a lower oxygen environment. Double carries, rest days, and 4-5 nights at 14,200' before moving higher allow most people the time for their bodies to adjust. Expeditions carry a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation levels and heart rate as well as prescription drugs to treat life-threatening conditions. Advanced signs or symptoms of pulmonary and/or cerebral edema are serious, life-threatening conditions that require immediate descent. AMS is briefed by our medical director Dr. Peter Hackett, who pioneered high altitude medical research on Denali, on any advancements in the research, prevention, and treatment of altitude-related illnesses. Our training supervisor Lance Taysom, chief life-flight RN and NPS mountaineering ranger also keeps us informed. Together they wrote our medical protocols and standing orders that allow AMS instructors to evaluate and treat within the scope of their Wilderness First Responder training. A class on altitude-related injuries is taught, and touching base individually is made a priority. For those suffering from acute mountain sickness, we aknowledge the benefits of Diamox (Acetazolamide) in conjunction with rest and hydration. Any person showing signs of severe acute mountain sickness should not climb to higher elevations until those signs and symptoms go away.
Denali applicants must adopt a goal of being in excellent physical condition by the start of the expedition. On any mountaineering expedition, there are factors that are completely out of anyone's control, namely weather and individual acclimatization rates. By joining a professionally run expedition, you leave expedition logistics, food, equipment and leadership to us. You do have responsible for and control over your physical fitness and climbing ability. It is imperative that everyone joining our expeditions be physically fit when the expedition begins. The better condition you are in, the more you will enjoy the climb, the safer it will be for you, and the better chance for you have for summiting. The more climbing experience you have prior to the climb, the better prepared you will be for Denali.
Denali is not a mountain on which you can "just get by" with mediocre equipment. Your gear will be put to the ultimate test. A carefully planned layering system will be more comfortable, efficient, lightweight, and hold up. "Quality" does not necessarily mean "expensive"; a trip to the Army surplus store often turns up many of the basics. Carefully read the equipment list created for this expedition; it answers many questions and gives recommendations for particular items. Try to have equipment questions answered by a knowledgeable salesperson in a local climbing store; they are often the most informed about the pros and cons of a particular brand or style. The equipment section of "Denali's West Buttress" by Colby Coombs also provides tips and suggestions. Your instructors will insure you are properly outfitted before you go. Please wait until the morning of the first day to check equipment at AMS, as we are busy preparing for the expedition for three full days before meeting team members on day one of the expedition. The AMS Mountain Shop is able to provide all your equipment needs from head to toe and give you a discount.
AMS provides all of the food for this expedition. To ensure satisfaction, we suggest that you bring some of your preferred hot and cold drinks and 6 pounds of your favorite trail lunch or snack food to supplement the choices you have from the AMS ration's room. Part of this food will be saved for summit day. More information on food is provided on the expedition food sheet. Please contact us if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies.
The Traverse starts with climbing the West Buttress in traditional expedition style, relaying loads, establishing camps and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. The first nine miles of the route are up the Kahiltna Glacier to 11,000 feet. We place 2-3 camps on this section of the route. Above 11,000 feet, the terrain is steeper, and we switch to crampons. Advanced base camp (ABC) is 14,200 feet and located in a large basin relatively sheltered from high winds. We often arrive at 14,200 feet on the 9th day. The views of Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker from here are amazing. After 4-5 days acclimatizing, resting, and making a carry to 16,200 feet, we depart for the upper mountain. Between 15,500 feet and 16,200 feet are 40-45° slopes so we climb clipped to a fixed rope to safeguard our movements. We often place a camp at the top of the fixed ropes at 16,200 feet to break up the climb or wait for better weather. The stretch to high camp at 17,200 feet is a scenic part of the route and climbs a narrow ridge to 17,200 feet. When the weather is suitable, we will begin our climb to the summit via Denali Pass and Archdeacon's Tower. On the way to the summit, we will leave a cache at 18,200 feet to pick up when we begin our decent down the Harper Glacier. Summit day is somewhere between day 16 and 22 and is approximately 12 hours of arduous climbing. After our summit day, we will climb back to Denali Pass before descending the Harper Glacier to Browne's Tower (14,600 feet) on the northeast side of Mt. McKinley. From Browne's Tower, we descend the elegant snow crest of Karstens Ridge for 3,500 feet down to the Muldrow Glacier. Down climbing this exposed, steep ridge with heavy packs is one of the most difficult aspects of the climb. The broken ice of the Muldrow Glacier begins at 11,000 feet, and we will follow its crevassed course for ten miles to McGonagall Pass (5,720 feet). At the pass, we will unrope, leave the ice behind, and enter the green of summer. This is a great moment for everyone. We will walk across nineteen miles of tundra and wade across several rivers, including the McKinley River which may be a formidable obstacle. Finally, you reach the Denali National Park Road at Wonder Lake. Your pack can weigh 80 100 pounds on this part of the expedition; you must be physically capable of carrying this pack weight. Denali's summit, 25 miles away and more than 18,000 feet above us, dominates the southern horizon. We will take the park shuttle bus to headquarters and then return to Talkeetna by van.
AMS' approach to Denali falls in line with our mission as a school of mountaineering. Denali's summit is a means, not an end, and we will be pushing every day to increase our skills and performance. The mountain provides an excellent stage to practice good mountaineering. We expect everyone to share a goal of becoming better climbers on our expeditions.
Weather and snow conditions will ultimately determine our progress on the mountain. This itinerary is a rough guide and outlines a possible schedule. Our style on the mountain is flexible and will fluctuate on a 24 hour basis depending on conditions. With lucky weather, most expeditions return a day or two early. On the other hand, delays at the start with un-flyable weather and storms at high camp may result in the expedition being extended by a few days.
Day 1 8:00 am meet at AMS for orientation, gear check, NPS registration, pack lunches, 4:30 pm fly to Base Camp at 7,200 feet, distance: 60 miles, elevation gain: 6850 feet
Day 2 Base Camp: glacier travel and crevasse rescue review day
Day 3 Move to Ski Hill, Camp 1, 7,800 feet, distance: 5.5 miles, elevation gain: 600 feet
Day 4 Carry to Kahiltna Pass, 9,700 feet, distance: 5 miles, elevation gain: 1900 feet
Day 5 Move to Kahiltna Pass, Camp 2, 9,700 feet, distance: 2.5 miles, elevation gain: 1900 feet
Day 6 Move to 11,000 feet, Camp 3, distance: .5 miles, elevation gain: 1300 feet
Day 7 Rest day
Day 8 Carry to 13,500 feet around Windy Corner, distance: 1.75 miles, elevation gain: 2500 feet
Day 9 Move to 14,200 feet, Camp IV, (ABC), distance: 2.75 miles, elevation gain: 3200 feet
Day 10 Descend and pick up cache at 13,500 feet, distance: 1 mile, elevation gain: 700 feet
Day 11 Carry to 16,200 feet, distance: 1 mile, elevation gain: 2000 feet
Day 12 Rest at 14,200 feet
Day 13 Move to 16,200 feet or 17,200 feet, Camp V, distance: 1.75 miles, elevation gain: 3000 feet
Day 14 Rest day or move to 17,200 feet, Camp VI
Day 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 Summit days, distance: 3.5 miles, elevation gain: 3120 feet. and descend to Upper Harper, 18,000'
Day 20 Descend to Browne's Tower, distance: 3 miles.
Day 21 Descend Karsten's Ridge and Muldrow Glacier, distance: 6 miles
Day 22 Hike out via McGonagall Pass, distance: 12 miles
Day 23 Hike across the tundra and cross the McKinley River, distance: 15 miles
Day 24 Take NPS bus to park entrance, 70 miles, and AMS van pickup and drive back to Talkeetna