Denali

Climb Denali with Alpine Ascents

Great trip, excellent guides, will definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in a Denali trip. The fact that all of our trip made it to the summit and all of the second trip of the season made it !… is a testament to the quality of the organization, team, guides, and process that is used to ensure a safe and successful trip.

Unreal. Breathtaking. All the details of the expedition were thought through and there was never a moment where I doubted the leadership. And the food was delicious.

Our Denali expedition was meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. Our guides were knowledgeable, engaging, friendly, fun, and incredibly supportive. This was my fourth attempt at Denali and my 16th AAI trip in the last twenty years. I’ve come to expect high levels of service and professionalism from the company, and my expectations are always exceeded!

I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the expedition; from the independence, the physically demanding nature of the mountain and the environment, the camaraderie from the team and, of course, the exhilaration of achieving the summit!
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Excellent short film by Alpine Ascents climber Andrew McCarthy :

There are certain mountains that need no explanation as to “Why Climb.” Denali is such a mountain. Its tremendous size and beauty generate a magnetism that continually draws climbers from around the world. An ascent of Denali touches the psyche of all alpinists, and for those who have undertaken its challenges, it rewards them with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Alpine Ascents has been running successful Denali expeditions for 30 years and is extremely well regarded  among concessionaires. Our 2023 proved to be one of our best with 8 of 10 teams standing atop Denali, in a season where many teams did not reach the summit. The 2022 season was outstanding with an 83% team success rate and the two teams that did not summit aborted their summit attempt to assist with a rescue (we may have had 100%!) In 2021 we had an outstanding season with a 73% climber success rate amidst a challenging weather season.  Alpine Ascents is traditionally known to have some of the highest success rates on the mountain, which we attribute to out guide staff and screening process. We look forward to having similar accomplishments in 2024 and — as always — we are happy to put you in touch with former climbers. We are committed to keeping up our high standards for food and logistics, and we look forward to the 2024 season.

Want to get the full recap of the 2023 season?  You can read the full season review here. 

Our Denali climb was recommended by Lonely Planet Books/website.

Alpine Ascents offers small group sizes of nine climbers and three guides. We can also arrange private trips for smaller group sizes. Please note: it is imperative for groups of any size that all climbers be in excellent physical condition and well-trained in the necessary climbing skills to ascend Denali. Please see our Denali screening page.

Alpine Ascents has climbing concessions on both Denali and Mt. Rainier, and we offer training courses in both locations. These mountaineering courses are an excellent way to make sure your climbing skills and physical conditioning meet the necessary requirements to attempt Denali. Alpine Ascents has very high prerequisites for our Denali climbers because we know your climb will be more enjoyable, risk aware, and have a greater chance of success if all members are well-prepared for the rigors of Denali.

Please contact us with any questions. Our Denali climbs fill early every season.

I was very impressed by the whole experience. It lived up to all of my expectations. It has been my dream to climb Denali for quite a while now and AAI and the awesome guides made it possible. I can’t say enough good things about the guide team I had.

The Climb

About The Mountain

Denali is often considered North America’s most classic climb. From base to summit, it rises nearly 18,000ft., an elevation gain unsurpassed anywhere in the world. At a northern latitude of 63 degrees, it is the most northerly of any big mountain over 20,000ft. No other region offers such breathtaking and diverse views each day of the ascent. The panorama from Denali’s summit includes Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, and Mt. Huntington in all their majestic glory.

When Dr. Bradford Washburn pioneered the West Buttress route, he heralded in a new era of Denali ascents and offered climbers a unique approach to the summit. The flight onto the glacier is a trip in itself, presenting overwhelming vistas of the Alaska Range. The West Buttress route remains, by far, the most successfully climbed route on the mountain.

denali-route

A Denali climb begins deep in the heart of the Alaska Range on the Kahiltna Glacier. From the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier we begin the climb of Denali’s West Buttress. Base Camp plus five higher camps are established on the mountain. When necessary, the team makes double carries between all camps, except high camp, to ensure proper acclimatization and reduce loads. In each camp we build snow walls for protection from possible high winds. The climb takes approximately 17-18 days round trip from Base and we add an additional four days to allow for inclement weather, acclimatization and optimal summit attempts. The ascent requires intermediate mountaineering skills and is physically and mentally demanding.

Climbing Conditions

Denali is a mountain of extreme conditions where a climber may encounter 100-mph winds and minus 40 degree F temperatures. Alternately, some days are quite hot with sunshine lasting up to 20 hours. These low temperatures and sporadic high winds greatly increase the rigors of the climb. Snowstorms are known to last a week at a time. The unpredictable weather coupled with the high altitude requires not only technical snow and cold weather skills, but also endurance and fortitude.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge we gather upon the ancestral lands of the Dena’ina Elnena, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Tanana, and Ahtna tribes [known greatly as the Athabascan tribes]. These communities have lived on and stewarded the lands surrounding Deenaalee [The Koyukon tribe original spelling of Denali] since time immemorial, and continue to do so today. We recognize that this land acknowledgment is one small step toward true ally-ship and we commit to uplifting the voices, experiences, and histories of the Indigenous people of this land and beyond.

History of Denali

The name Denali derives from the Koyukon language word “deenaalee” meaning “the Great one”. The Koyukon tribe resides on the North side of the park. There are five Athabaskan languages within the park, each has their own significance and name for the highest mountain in the North American range. Below is an audio transcription of the Nenana tribe’s creation story of Denali (Transcribed from Chief Mitch Demientieff of Nenana’s reading Eielson Visitor Center 2008)

“Long before Denali was created, there lived in Alaska an Indian named Yahoo. He possessed great power but had no wife. Yahoo built a canoe and paddled west to find one. As he approached the raven chief village, he began singing a song that explained that he was seeking a wife.
The wife of the second chief spoke softly: “You may have my daughter for your wife, but take her and go quickly. The raven chief is preparing to kill you!”
Yahoo began to paddle away with the young woman. The raven chief was right behind him. The raven chief caused a great storm. The water became very rough. Yahoo took out a powerful stone and threw it ahead of him, calming the waters, but mountainous green waves continued to roll behind him.
Next the raven chief threw his great spear at Yahoo, but Yahoo, using medicine, changed the large wave behind him into a mountain of stone just in time. The great spear glanced off the crest of the stone mountain. There was a second tremendous wave of water, even greater than the first. Yahoo used all his medicine to turn this wave into a tremendous mountain of stone. When the great spear hit the top of the mountain, there was a crash of breaking rock, and the great spear flew off into the sky.
The raven chief was paddling so quickly, his canoe struck the second great mountain of stone. The raven chief was thrown onto the rocks, where he changed instantly into a raven and flapped to the top of the mountain. Exhausted, Yahoo fell asleep. When he awoke he was back at home with his new wife at his side. Gazing around, Yahoo saw the two mountains he had created. There was a smaller one to the west now called Foraker, but the larger one, the one the great war spear glanced off before shooting into the stars, that mighty dome would be called – Denali! The Great One!
Yahoo looked at the sky to see the great raven happy to be back with his people, dancing his approval in the wind.

It is no secret that Denali evokes amazement and demands its presence as it looms over the Alaskan landscape. Denali has become a role model for the possibility of successful reclamation of mountains to their indigenous names. Throughout the centuries the looming peak has held many names, Mount McKinley and Denali are the two most recognizable. Mount McKinley, became the official name of the peak for almost a century starting in 1917. This name was coined by a gold prospector William Dickey, who named the towering mountain in regard to the late president William McKinley. The president had no connection to Alaska- let alone the mountain, but the name became widely recognized after his assassination in 1901. Many pushed back against the name change, appalled that the original indigenous name had been removed. Mount McKinley stood as the official name until controversy arose in 1975 around the official naming of the peak. It wasn’t until 2015 when the name was officially returned to Denali.

History of Alaskan Tribes

Since the last Ice Age, Native American tribes have called the land surrounding Denali home. The land of Alaska provides little comfort. Alaskan indigenous cultures have skillfully and expertly adapted their ways of life to meet the demands of the changing environment. The arctic environment provides no livestock suitable to be domesticated, or land to plant crops. The tundra environment is harsh and lends itself only to a hunter gatherer nature, tribes have survived and thrived upon this land for millennia. During the gold rush when settlers began to flock to Alaska, they often found themselves overwhelmed by the harsh landscape. The success of many gold panners and trading routes was due to the activity and support of indigenous tribes. They often helped provide furs for trade, aided exploratory teams in crisis, and maintained centers for travelers to visit on their journeys to gold panning sites. Due to the remote location of Alaska, and the slow movement of the US to urbanize the state, there were no treaties created. Indigenous tribes still occupy a large amount of the land they have lived on for millennia.

Climbing History

The first climbing attempt was made by the Sourdough Expedition (William Taylor and Pete Anderson) utilizing the Muldrow Glacier. They summited the north peak (19,740’) in 1910. About three years later, in 1913, a team comprised of Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, Robert Tatum, Walter Harper, and Harry Karstens successfully climbed the south peak, reaching the true summit. It was Harper, a native Athabascan, who first stood atop North America. Between 1913 and 1950, there were very few ascents of Denali. The landmark achievement, which opened Denali to a larger group of climbers, was Bradford Washburn’s 1951 expedition, which reached the summit of Denali via the West Buttress. Washburn’s team, using a plane fitted with skis to access the Kahiltna Glacier, pioneered the most popular route on the mountain.

First Climbed: 1913, W. Harper, H. Stuck, R. Tatum & H. Karstens
First Climb of West Buttress: 1951, Bradford & Barbara Washburn

Alpine Ascents is an authorized concessioner of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Reading List

This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to Amazon.com with reviews.

For additional reading, please visit this recommended list from Denali National Park.

Mount McKinley : The Conquest of Denali
by Bradford Washburn, Harry N Abrams
Dena'ina Ełnena, A Celebration
Voices of the Dena'ina

Alaska Indigenous Community Educational Resources

View the Culture and Heritage educational resources from Denali NPS

The Denali NPS website has great articles written on the History and Culture of the park

History of the Upper Kuskokwim people

Athabascan History

Environmental Responsibility

Alpine Ascents is deeply committed to maintaining ecosystems at home and around the world. With each expedition, trek, and course, we not only attempt to leave the environment as we found it, but strive to assist the local population in protecting the land and people indigenous to that region. Alpine Ascents reaches for the highest ethical business practices at home and abroad. Each staff member is dedicated to environmentally sound alpine ascents.

At Alpine Ascents, environmental stewardship remains one of our core values and we take Leave No Trace ethics and practices very seriously. The mountains are our home and we are unwilling to sacrifice their preservation for human objectives. On every one of our courses and climbs we teach and follow the environmentally appropriate Leave No Trace principles and practices.

Over the years, with the assistance of our Sherpa teams, we have stepped up efforts to clean Mt. Everest. Our Wag Bag® program made a pioneering step in human waste management for the National Park System and Forest Service in the North Cascades. On Aconcagua, we pioneered a waste removal system on our climbs, utilizing the WAG Bag® system. And we continue our on-going maintenance and minimal impact plans wherever we guide. We believe that given the proper information, most people will do all they can to help protect and maintain the environment. Alpine Ascents is committed to developing risk cognizant, self-reliant, and environmentally conscious mountaineers.

Watch our in depth discussion of our Denali Expedition

Dominating the already immense landscape of the Alaska Range, Denali “The Great One ” is the tallest mountain in North America, rising a lofty 20,310’ above Denali National Park.  Mountaineers flock from across the globe to test their strength and climbing prowess on this ultimate alpine test piece.  If you have Denali on your list for 2023 or beyond, check out our Denali 2023 webinar hosted by guides Brooke Warren and Jonathon Spitzer.   They covered trip logistics, a detailed overview of the expedition, and essential gear considerations to set you up for success.  As always, they left ample time for a comprehensive Q & A session.  You can watch the full recording below.

I thoroughly enjoyed the expedition I was especially impressed with the management of details, such as planning a variety of delicious meals and the schedule on the mountain which put our group in the best position to summit. Overall I thought the expedition was fantastic!

Photo: Brad Washburn
Gear Check in the Alpine Ascents Hangar
Loading the plane at the Talkeetna airport
View from the plane on the way to Base Camp
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
View of fixed lines from 17K
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Victor McNeil
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Photo: Steve Tambosso
Above Washburn's Thumb
Midnight on the summit ridge.
The Fireweed Inn

Denali BLOG

  • Denali Webinar

    Dominating the already immense landscape of the Alaska Range, Denali “The Great One ” is the tallest mountain in North America, rising a lofty 20,310’ above Denali National Park.  Mountaineers flock from across the globe to test their strength and climbing prowess on this ultimate alpine test piece.  If you have Denali on your list […]

  • Denali: A Photo Essay

    by Brooke Warren Denali “The High One” is the third highest of the seven summits, right behind Everest and Aconcagua, at 20,310 feet. It is an “ultra-prominent” peak with soaring vertical relief of 18,000 feet, greater even than Mount Everest (a mere 12,000′ of vertical relief) when measured from its 2,000-foot lowlands to its lofty […]

  • Dear Alpine Ascents: Insulating Ice Axe Handles?

    Hey Alpine, I’m headed up to Denali this May (!!!!) and I heard that climbers insulate their ice axes? Interesting… What’s the rationale and how do I do it? Thanks in advance and see you in Talkeetna! Sincerely, Seeking Toasty Mitts Hi Toast Mitts, Thanks for reaching out and stoked you’re headed up to the […]

Partners & Accreditations

Alpine Ascents International is an authorized mountain guide service of Denali National Park and Preserve and Mount Rainier National Park.
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