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West Buttress
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West Buttress

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West Buttress

Page Type: Route

Location: Alaska, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 63.06920°N / 151.0036°W

Object Title: West Buttress

Route Type: Mountaineering, Scrambling, Skiing

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Time Required: Expedition

Difficulty: Advanced Snow Climb, Extreme Ski Descent

Grade: II

Route Quality: 
 - 22 Votes
 

 

Page By: Brian Kalet

Created/Edited: Dec 27, 2003 / Jun 18, 2014

Object ID: 159690

Hits: 46502 

Page Score: 91%  - 38 Votes 

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Overview

The West Buttress is the easiest way to climb Denali.  The Muldrow Glacier route on the north side of the mountain is just as technically demanding, but does not have an option of flying into a base camp, making the approach very long.  Barry Bishop, Bill Hackett, Bradford Washburn, Henry Buchtel, Jerry More, Jim Gale & Mel Griffiths first climbed Denali’s West Buttress in 1951. Today, over 90% of climbers attempting Denali climb the West Buttress. On average, out of the 1000 people attempting the West Buttress annually, only about 50% are successful, 100 acquire altitude sickness or frostbite and 12 rescues are made. About 40 people have died on the West Buttress.  Do not underestimate this route despite its non-technical nature.

Brian Kalet on the West Buttress at about 17,000'. Photo: photo61guy

Climbers typically camp at 7,200' (basecamp), 7,800', 9,500', 11,000', 14,200' and 17,200'.  Sometimes camps are established at 12,500' and 16,000', but these locations are not recommended since the camp at 12,500' is located in an avalanche runout zone and the campsite at 16,000 is generally very windy.  Ranger stations are established at 7,200' and 14,200' during the general climbing season, which is early May through early July.  To ensure success, you should allow for three weeks on the mountain.  Most climbers fail because bad weather prevents them from summiting and they simply run out of time.

Getting There

Basecamp is at 7,200 feet on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  The easiest way to get to the basecamp is via air taxi from Talkeetna, Alaska and the most logical way to get to Talkeetna if travelling from out of state is via Anchorage, Alaska.  Transportation from Anchorage International Airport to Talkeetna costs $75-290 one way and is usually done using a shuttle service.  Transportation from Talkeetna to basecamp via air taxi generally costs $400-500 roundtrip.  Larger groups and early reservations save money.
Shuttle Services

Air Taxi Operators


Denali's West Buttress Route

Route Description

Basecamp to 7,800’
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000’
Elevation Loss: 400’

Descend Heartbreak Hill and ascend the main Kahiltna Glacier to 7,800’. It is common to travel at night to avoid the heat and increased danger of falling into crevasses.

7,800’ to 11,000’
Distance: 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 200’

Climb Ski Hill, then turn east below Kahiltna Pass and north just below 11,000’. Unacclimatized climbers should take at least three days to get to 11,000’ in order prevent altitude-related illness.

11,000’ to 14,200’
Distance: 2.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,200’

Climb Motorcycle Hill, traverse north of Squirrel Point, navigate around Windy Corner and up to 14,200’. Most people double carry above 11,000’ in order to aid acclimatization. A popular cache site is at 13,500’ just beyond Windy Corner.

14,200’ to 17,200’
Distance: 1.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,000’

Climb a moderate slope to the base of the 55° headwall (15,400’). The headwall has two fixed lines unofficially maintained by the guiding companies. The right (east) is for the ascent and the left (west) is for the descent. Climb the headwall and gain the West Buttress.  This is the steepest section & the crux of the entire route.  Use of an ascender will assist the climb, but is not necessary.  Follow the West Buttress east to 17,200’.

17,200’ to Summit
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,120’

Ascend just south of Denali Pass (~18,200') , follow the ridge south-southeast to the Football Field (~19,500'). Climb Pig Hill to Kahiltna Horn. Follow the summit ridge to the summit.


Denali's West Buttress Route Map. Click here for a lower resolution map showing basecamp on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Click to enlarge.

Skiing

The West Buttress was first skied from its summit by Tsuyoshi Ueki in 1970. Skiing from the summit is uncommon today, but many climbers use skis on the lower glacier and cache them at 11,000’ or 14,200’. If you do plan to ski from the summit, expect difficult snow.

When to Climb

Teams usually plan their expeditions on the West Buttress from early May-early July.  That being said, Denali has been climbed via its West Buttress in winter and was first done so by Art Davidson, Dave Johnston, and Ray Genet  in 1967.

Attempting Denali via the West Buttress any later than early July is not advised because landing a bush plane on the southeast fork of the Kahliltna Galcier becomes too dangerous. The weather is typically more stable in May, but colder. And vice versa, the weather is typically warmer in June and July, but typically less stable. Also later in the season, the crevasses are much more exposed, especially on the lower part of the mountain.

Essential Gear


Alpinist on the summit ridge. Photo: benb
Camping

Four Season Tent
Sleeping Bag (-40° recommended)
Closed Cell Sleeping Pad
White Gas Stove & Stand
Fuel Bottle
Water Bottles
Pee Bottle
Spoon
Shovel
Saw
Probe

Climbing
Ski Mountaineering or Plastic Double Boots
Skis or Snowshoes
Poles
Mountaineering Axe
Crampons
Rope
Harness
Prussiks
Sling
Rescue Pulley
Picket
Locking Carabiners
Carabiners
Backpack
Sled (Free Rental Comes With Glacier Flight)
Wands

Miscellaneous
Compass
Map
GPS and batteries
Sunglasses
Goggles
Sunscreen
Lip Balm
Food
Toilet Paper

Red Tape

Climbers attempting the West Buttress are required to register with the Talkeetna Ranger Station at least 60 days before their start date. The cost of registration is $350 for climbers over 24 years of age and $250 for climbers 24 and younger. In addition, a Denali National Park entrance fee of $10 is required. You will be provided with a clean mountain can (CMC) where you will store your solid human waste when you are not close to an appropriate location to dispose of it. You can dispose of your waste in biodegradable bags in deep crevasses away from the route or at basecamp and 14,200' camp where there are established outhouses. You are required to return your CMC to the Talkeetna Ranger Station after your climb.

Speed Records

The current speed record for the West Buttress route was done by Ed Warren on May 31, 2013 in 16 hours and 46 minutes roundtrip.  However, the current speed record for Denali was done by Kilian Jornet via the Rescue Gully route on June 7, 2014 in 11 hours and 48 minutes roundtrip.

Mountaineering Guides

If you decide to travel with a guided party, you are in luck because there are several mountaineering companies that guide on the West Buttress:

1. Alaska Mountaineering School
2. Alpine Ascents International
3. American Alpine Institute
4. Mountain Trip
5. National Outdoor Leadership School
6. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.

Literature & Map

Literature

Map

External Links

1998 Trip Report

Acknowledgements

I adopted this page from meepers on June 21, 2007.

Additions and Corrections

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Viewing: 1-3 of 3    
kovarpaRoute Comment

kovarpa

Hasn't voted

The part from Basin camp to the notch at 16,200 (the top of the Headwall) is the steepest part of the entire climb. Supposedly up to 55 degrees slope. There are fixed lines so bring an ascender if you have one. If not, you can still cliimb the Headwall no problem. During our first carry to 17,200 (High camp), there was a traffic jam on the fixed lines so I just climbed around the people for a good portion of the section - perfectly doable if you are confident with ice ax and crampons and use both your legs and hands...


Once at the notch, there is a ridge (called 16 Ridge) to your right leading to the small basin at 17,200 where the High Camp is located. This is probably most spectacular and technically most dificult part of the entire climb (still not technically demanding). There were fixed lines around Washburn Thumb (approx. in the middle of the ridge). The ridge is almost always at least couple feet wide so you get good footing, although the exposure on both sides is big - couple thousand feet.





At High camp (17,200), you have to use CMS cans to go to bathroom (I believe mandatory from 2004 season) - I praise NPS for enforcing that - when digging campsite we uncovered too many frozen feces from previous seasons. There is no ranger station here, NPS only stores rescue gear in a box at the top of the Rescue Gully here (we have witnessed this gear being used in getting a frostbitten climber down to Basin Camp for evacuation). Finding clean snow for melting water at this campsite was a challenge.


Summit day: From High camp ascend to Denali Pass at approx. 18,200. The route is pretty straightforward, you just traverse the slope. Be ready to self-arrest if you slip, the slope is a long one.


From Denali Pass continue below a ridge (usually marked with wands) to Football Field at approx. 19,500.





Once you cross the Football Field, you ascend the "summit headwall" which feels quite steep at this altitude to gain the summit ridge. Again, be ready to self arrest when ascending this "headwall". I have observed guided trips using running protection on this section.





In decent weather, views from the ridge are awesome. There is quite an exposure to the right of the ridge (direction when ascending). The ridge gains approx. 300 vertical feet and will take an average person 30 - 45 minutes to climb.





Then you are there. The summit is nothing spectacular, just a broad mountain top. No summit register either - :-))) There is a USGS marker - take a picture of it in case you need a proof you have made it to the top...





Roundtrip from High camp takes an average climber between 9 to 14 hours.





I highly recommend Colby Combs "Guide to West Butt" if you are thinking about this route.
Posted Jun 5, 2004 3:20 pm
chickentikkaRe: Route Comment

chickentikka

Hasn't voted

Thanks for taking the time to write that!
Posted May 28, 2013 7:49 am
KresserAir Taxi Service

Kresser

Hasn't voted

Our party used Sheldon Air Service to fly in to Base Camp this past June, of 2014. For all my future Alaska mountaineering trips, there is no other air taxi service I would use. Besides the flight, Sheldon let our party sleep at their hanger, fed us a meal, lent us bicycles to ride into town, and let us lay all of our gear out in their front yard to dry out upon return. Friendly, oddly the cheapest, and a good business to support. I can't speak highly enough of them.



http://www.sheldonairservice.com/
Posted Aug 12, 2014 7:00 pm

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