Denali East Buttress Washburn Route

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Alaska, United States, North America
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Denali East Buttress Washburn Route
Created On: Dec 19, 2017
Last Edited On: Dec 19, 2017


This route offers significant climbing challenges, including segments of steep ice and negotiating a safe route past crevasses and seracs. My impression is that the hazards and difficulty of this route are extremely changeable. During our ascent there were two major crevasses between Camp I and Camp II, but both had thin bridges that were negotiable. The seracs over the route appeared relatively stable and unlikely to fall, however between the time that we summited the buttress on July 11th and when we returned to descend it on July 19th, there had been major avalanches down the chute in the middle of the buttress' south face to the left of our ascent route. We actually chose to spend about a half hour in that chute in descent to avoid down-climbing the icefall that we had ascended above Base Camp. Climbing the ice fall above Base Camp avoids the chute to the left that drains probably the most active avalanching from the buttress south face, but it involved at least one pitch of very steep (70 degree) ice. The buttress between Camp I and Camp II was broken by two large crevasses that extended across the entire ramp up the buttress, except for thin bridges. If those had not been there the alternatives included much climbing and traversing on steep ice. I question whether our expedition would have been successful if the crevasses were not bridged. Above Camp II there was a large overhanging serac which was worrisome. Digging in Camp II revealed chunks of ice, indicating that when there is a fall from that band the debris carries on to the shoulder where the Camp was placed. That band of seracs was passes on the right on steep (60 deg) solid ice. Above that the angle drops off and then steepens as it passes the rocks near the crest to the left on a extended smooth 45 degree slope to the crest. The composition was a couple of inches of aged snow over ice, which was easy to kick step in, but hard to drive snow picket into. I stayed well away from the edge on the right after passing the rocks to avoid suspected cornicing, which was revealed after summiting the buttress.
The route to the summit, following the ridge surrounding Thayer Basin was relatively straight forward, except for passing rocks on the ridge to the right, which put us on very steep snow, possibly prone to avalanching.
Descending the buttress was relatively easy, using the fixed 3/8" polypropylene lines, leaving snow pickets behind as rappel anchors. The lines from the crest had been buried slightly in snow, but were easily pulled out for rappelling. We recovered the lines from the lower angle sections, but left the lines over the steepest long sections. I had some trouble with the lower crevasse, as I didn't place the anchor in line with the bridge, which couldn't be seen from above, and had to rappel into the inside lip of the crevasse and climb back out. Descending during the day there was some trouble with our crampons balling up with snow, leading to uncontrolled sliding.
It is interesting to note that this route is not being attempted anymore (since 2005). My impression is that the long list of unsuccessful attempts since 1986 (30 years!) have discouraged further attempts. I would recommend a reconnaissance of ice and crevasse conditions on the buttress before seriously considering an attempt.

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Route Description

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Denali East Buttress Washburn Route

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