Denali’s West Rib Expedition
A Climber’s Route
An aesthetic line sweeping up alongside the massive South Face of Denali, the West Rib is a challenging route for climbers with good technical experience, wishing to push themselves on what definitely qualifies as a “Big Route”. Steeper, more exposed, more committing, and more serious than its neighbor, the West Buttress, the Rib is all about the climbing. Complex glacier travel is required to access the base of the route, which quickly rears back to provide 50 -60 degree snow and ice climbing up the famed “Chicken Couloir” which affords access to the ridge and the rest of the climbing challenges ahead.
Since its first ascent in 1959, the West Rib has continued to provide beautiful alpine climbing in a spectacular setting. Its rich history and moderately technical terrain still attracts the best climbers as they hone their skills. The West Rib feels more remote than the neighboring West Buttress, which in combination with the inherent technical challenges gives the route it’s mystique and allure for climber’s looking for a different way up North America’s most sought after summit.
Alpine or Expedition Style?
There are generally two ways to attempt the Rib. One is to hike out of base camp will all your kit and climb the route expedition style, ferrying loads between camps, while you acclimatize on the route. Another style involves ascending the West Buttress route to gain acclimatization and to perhaps put a cache in at the high camp on the Rib. The team then descends back to the North East Fork of the Kahiltna at about 7,800 feet to access the route and climb it in alpine style. There are pros and cons to each method, and conditions of the route may ultimately dictate which style we pursue. The outlined itinerary reflects an alpine style attempt.
SJMG runs this trip in conjunction with our friends at Mountain Trip; an authorized Denali concessionaire.
As a blind climber, I’ve done expeditions all around the world and dealt with all kinds of local outfitters and guide services; San Juan Mountain Guides is the best! – Erik Weihenmeyer
West Rib Expedition Itinerary
As with all climbs in the Alaska Range, it’s best to approach this expedition with a flexible attitude and be prepared to move camp, climb, and generally get things done when the opportunity presents itself. Weather, route conditions, team dynamics, and a host of other factors can influence how our team decides to adjust the itinerary to give us the best chance for success and safety while on the mountain.
Meet in Anchorage. Stay in a hotel.
Drive to Talkeetna and check in with the NPS. Fly into Base Camp.
Move to Camp 1 at 7800′
Carry to 10,000′ and return to sleep at Camp 1 (7800′)
Move to Camp 2 at 11,200′
Back-carry kit from the cache at 10,000.
Carry supplies around Windy Corner at 13,500′. Return to and sleep at camp 2 (11.200′)
Move to Camp 3 – Genet Basin – at 14,200′
Back-carry from Windy Corner and sleep at Camp 3 (14,200′)
Carry supplies to cache at 16,400′ on the West Rib and return to sleep at Camp 3 (14,200′)
Descend back to Camp 1 (7800′) and the entrance to the NE Fork of the Kahiltna
Move up the NE Fork of the Kahiltna to the base of the Chicken Couloir.
Fix lines up the Chicken Couloir. Then return to camp at 11,000′.
Ascend the Chicken Couloir and to Ice Dome Camp (13,400′)
Continue up the West Rib!
Continue up the West Rib to High Camp and our cache at 16,400′
Days 19 – 24
Contingency days for weather, descent, etc.
West Rib Expedition Equipment List
- Backpack: Internal frame, 50-80 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Aether 60
- Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
- Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
- Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
- Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
- Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
- Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua
Clothing and Personal Equipment
- Hiking boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
- Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
- Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
- Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Soft shell jacket: light weight. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Insulated vest: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
- Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
- Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
- Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
- Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
- Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
- Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
- Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
- Crampons: General mountaineering crampons (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
- Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
Training & Follow Up Climbs
As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.
1Before Your Expedition
The Denali West Rib Expedition is a serious undertaking and it is essential that you prepare thoroughly both mentally and physically. In addition, the West Rib Expedition requires a higher level of technical skill so previous steep alpine climbing and/or ice climbing experience is required. Previous completion of our Denali Prep Course, and other high altitude expeditions such as Ecuador’s Volcanoes is suggested prior to enrolling in this expedition. Our Ice Climbing Courses also represent an excellent investment for the technical skills you need to have for this program.
For the West Rib Expedition you should be ready for:
- 18 – 24 days on a glaciated high-altitude mountain
- Carrying a pack loaded with food and gear up to 65 lbs.
- Fickle weather, cold temperatures, warm temperatures, delays, other factors beyond our control
2Follow Up Climbs
- Moose’s Tooth – Ham n’ Eggs
- Private Ice Climbing – Ouray, CO
- Cody, WY Ice Climbing
- Artesonraju – Peru
I hope that I might be able to get out to Ouray again before ice season ends. If so, I’ll definitely get in touch with you. Working with the local experts really makes a difference. Thanks again for everything! – N. Subashki. 2011 Private Program
Talkeetna, Alaska: Getting There
Talkeetna, Alaska is the gateway to Denali National Park and the myriad of mountaineering objectives found within. The small historic town swells during the climbing season (April – July) as mountaineers from all backgrounds attempt climbs in the Alaska Range. The town boasts a few good restaurants, hotels, and plenty of small planes!
Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Anchorage, Alaska. We will pick you up at the airport in a rental car, or you may arrange your own transportation to Talkeetna.
Driving: Driving to Alaska is an experience like no other. If you’re into the “full experience” consider driving up to Alaska on the AlCan. It might just turn out to be the highlight of your trip!
- Seattle, WA to Anchorage, AK: 34 hours
- Ouray, CO to Anchorage, AK: 48 hours
Hotels: If flying into Anchorage early you’ll want to arrange lodging for at least 1 night in Anchorage. Beyond that we’ll be staying in Talkeetna for 1 night. We arrange for lodging in Talkeetna, typically at the Swiss Alaska.
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and trip leadership with AMGA Certified Guides
- Round trip Transportation from Anchorage to Talkeetna
- 1 night of lodging in Talkeetna
- Bush flights from Talkeetna round trip
- Breakfasts and dinners on the mountain
- Group camping and cooking equipment (tents, stoves, etc.)
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Anchorage, AK
- Additional hotel costs before or after the program
- Personal Lunch Food
- 3% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal alpine climbing clothing
- Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
- Guide gratuity
- Registration and Cancellation:
- You will need to fill out our Expedition Application, cancellation policy agreement, and liability waiver, and send it to us with a 50% deposit as early as possible prior to the expedition date. Balance is due on the first day of the course. Please click on our Registration/Travel link to access the required forms.
He was very thorough and safety conscious. I would highly recommend Nate to anyone and would love to travel again with him on another trip. Happy adventuring! – Tanya H. Expedition 2010