Climb Denali with Alpine Ascents

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. – 2019 Climber

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! – 2019 Climber

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! – 2019 Climber
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Excellent short film by Alpine Ascents climber Andrew McCarthy from our June 2018 expedition:

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 20 years. 2019 proved to be one of our best seasons with all teams but one reaching the summit; and perhaps our highest climber summit success to date. Our 2018 season was also  great success with 9 teams reaching the summit. Both early and late season saw good weather giving most of our teams the chance to summit. Denali saw some harsh weather early in the 2017 season, yet we were one of the few teams to see summit success. As the weather cleared, our success rates turned to expected levels with nearly all climbers of the final three teams reaching the summit. With an 86% summit success rate, 2016 was a banner year in terms of overall climber success. We attribute this to the quality of our guide staff, logistics, and climber training and screening. We look forward to having similar success in 2020 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 2020 season.

Our Denali climb was recommended by Lonely Planet, 2017.

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, safer, 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. – 2019 Climber

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.


A Brief History of Denali

The highest Mountain in North America, Denali has always been revered by native Athabascans who inhabit this northern region. 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.


As Everest is to the Tibetans, Denali is inseparable from indigenous Alaskan lore. Every native Athabascan who saw Denali towering over their horizon named it accordingly, “the great one” or “the high one.”

“Denali” is the native Athabascan word for North America’s highest peak. It was renamed Mt. McKinley for William McKinley, a one-time presidential nominee, by gold prospector, William Dickey. Common usage has reclaimed the native name, Denali.

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.

The Climb

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.

Denali Frequently Asked Questions

What is the skill level of this climb?

Climbers should have successfully completed our Denali Prep Course (this course is best for climbers with some prior experience, as early season conditions can prove difficult for learning basic skills); or our 6-Day, 8-Day, 9-Day, 10-Day, 12-Day, or 13-Day training course; or have equivalent skills and experience. This climb requires proficiency in glacier travel, crevasse rescue, cramponing, and expedition camping skills. It is our goal to have similarly skilled climbers on our expeditions. For more information, please see our Denali screening guidelines.

What is the physical conditioning level needed for this climb?

Climbers need excellent physical conditioning. Packs can weigh over 45 lbs. in addition to a 20-lb. sled. Travel is sometimes through deep snow in harsh weather conditions.

Any tips on how a climber can maximize their chances of success?

Along with the required crampon skills, review cardio training on the Training page of our website. Our itinerary provides a fair amount of time to acclimatize before attempting the summit. We strongly recommend following the advice of our guides to acclimatize properly. Please click here for the Denali Training regimen and accompanying article, “So You Want to Climb McKinley?” by Stacy Taniguchi.

Who is the guiding team composed of (How many guides? Climber to guide ratio?)

We utilize a 9:3 climber-to-guide ratio for added logistical support on the mountain. The most unique aspect of our climb is the 3:1 climber-to-guide ratio. Small group sizes not only improve your chance for summiting, but also provides a much richer experience.

What is the best season to climb / which dates will have the most chance for success?

May, June, and July are the best months to climb Denali. Harsh weather and storms are not uncommon on Denali, though the frequency and duration vary from year to year making it difficult to predict which trips will encounter such conditions.

How many climbers are on this expedition?

Our client-to-guide ratio for this climb is nine climbers plus three guides or six climbers plus two guides for all departures.

Will I be sharing a tent or lodging with other climbers?

Yes, you will share a tent. At the lower camps two people share a three-person tent. At High Camp, teams often go with three people to a tent to save weight.

How much will my pack weigh?

Your pack will weigh up to 40–60 lbs. with a 30–50 lb. sled (total weight combined, 65–70 lbs.) for up to six hours per day. Higher on the mountain where we don’t use sleds, your pack weight can be as high as 65 lbs.

What gear will I need?

Please review the Gear List.

How does your gear rental system work?

Those requesting rental gear must submit an expedition rental form with payment by fax or mail. All rental gear will be mailed to the climber prior to the climb. Climbers are expected to clean all rental gear and return it to us by mail following the expedition.

Any further advice on gear and using your gear list?

While all items are required, there may be times when some of the items on the Gear List may not be used (such as warm weather or changing conditions). The Gear List is created by our guides to assist in having climbers be prepared to summit in any conditions. When purchasing gear for Denali and other expeditions, we encourage you to contact us to discuss the best options for purchasing with future needs in mind.

While it is impossible for us to list all brands for certain gear, we do offer a wide variety of equipment in our Gear Store that has been handpicked by our staff of mountaineering experts. Please feel free to call our offices with any gear questions or substitutes. Plastic boots are required for this climb.

How is drinking water treated?

All water will be melted snow while the group is on the mountain. Melting will kill anything that can live at the altitude the camps are located.

What will the meals on the expedition be like?

Meals in the mountains consist of a diet rich in carbohydrates because our bodies do not process fat and protein efficiently at higher elevations, and to compensate the increase in caloric need that high altitude climbing involves. We try to make meals and breakfast varied and as normal as possible.

Can I bring some food from home?

You may bring power bars, Gu, Power Gel, cereal bars, or similar high-energy foods. Powder Gatorade is also recommended to fight dehydration. All meals will be provided on this expedition.

Are there any innoculation requirements?

No requirements at this time

What is the best air route to my destination?

Arrive in Anchorage by 4:30 p.m. the day before your course and take van shuttle to Talkeetna. Overnight at Talkeenta Denali View Lodge the evening before your course. The trip from Anchorage to Talkeetna takes approximately three hours. (Please coordinate with the shuttle service and your travel agent to arrive by 4:30 p.m. the day before your course to catch the shuttle from Anchorage to Talkeetna.) You must prebook your shuttle with the shuttle service. Details are located in the climber information sheet received in your registration materials.

When should I book my flight? Do I need to use your Travel Agent?

Fares are generally less expensive when booked early. You may use our travel agent (Charles Mulvehill 1-800-727-2157) or book flights yourself. Please note that flights booked online are often difficult to change. Please send us a copy of your flight schedule as early as possible as this allows us to book pickups and hotels.

What time should I arrive and leave and where do I meet the guides?

On day one of your expedition an Alpine Ascents guide will pick you and your belongings up at Talkeetna Denali View Lodge. If you choose other overnight accomodations, please call the Alpine Ascents Talkeetna office prior to your expedition to let us know.

What if I arrive early or depart late? Can you arrange extra night lodging? Is there a single room option for this expedition?

We are happy to make arrangements such as personalized tours, extra hotels rooms, airport pickups, and arrange for private rooms. Please indicate that you would like a private room on your application and we will contact you with information on single room supplement costs (for hotels only).

Is there any communication while we are on the mountain?

Our guides carry satellite phones and will give daily updates on our website as to how the group is progressing.

Where can I get more information on history, books, and additional activities in the region?

Check the Reading List on the Denali page of the website.

Can I contact the others on the climb? How about the guide?

You can always call our offices and one of the Denali guides will contact you, generally about one month before your trip departure. Thirty days prior to departure, we email a list of other team members to you.

How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?

$500 should easily cover any extra expenses and tips.

How much should I tip my guide and staff?

Guides and staff are permitted to accept — and greatly appreciate — tips. Tipping guidelines will be outlined in your confirmation package.

How do I register for this expedition?

The best way to reserve space on a course is to call our offices and place the deposit on a VISA/MC/AMEX. Our courses fill quickly on a first-come, first-served basis, and registering over the phone is the best way to ensure reserving the course dates you want. You may also submit an application by mail with a check, money order, or credit card number.

What paperwork do I need to send in?

Each climber should submit an application and flight information.

When is the money due for this expedition? What kind of payment do you accept?

We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, personal checks, and Alpine Ascents gift certificates. To reserve a space, the deposit is $1,500.00 and balances are due 120 days prior to departure. Unpaid balances can result in forfeiture of trip.

What is your cancellation policy? What is your refund policy?

You can read our policies here.

What happens if I need to leave the expedition early?

Our Denali guides carry two-way radios and cell phones at all times. In the event of an evacuation, our guides and local staff will make every effort to obtain the necessary transportation and reservations to get you home as quickly as possible. There are National Park rangers stationed on the mountain, and your team works in conjunction with other teams on the mountain.

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 with reviews.

Mount McKinley : The Conquest of Denali
by Bradford Washburn, Harry N Abrams

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 safe, self-reliant, and environmentally conscious mountaineers.

These guys consistently used every opportunity to teach us how to be better climbers. I was impressed how they would tutor us, but not treat us like children. They expected us to be experienced climbers and demanded that we rise to the occasion.

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


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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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