Mount Brooks is located in the Alaska Range and is visible from the north as the prominent peak east of Denali. Brooks is situated at the confluence of the Muldrow, Traleika, and Brooks glaciers. The mountain was first climbed in 1952 by an expedition from the Harvard Mountaineering Club under Bradford Washburn’s direction. The approach and climb offer a true expedition experience including multiple river crossings and an extensive glacier crossing in the remote and beautiful wilderness of Denali National Park.
There is no airplane service to the northern glaciers in the Alaska Range. You can, however, take a 30-minute flight with Kantishna Air Taxi
from the park airport to the Kantishna air strip and begin the overland approach from there. From the Kantishna air strip, it is approximately 8 miles into the Wonder Lake area of the park. Another option is taking the park shuttle into Wonder Lake. Shuttle service typically starts early June once the road is clear of snow and takes about six hours.
The approach begins at the Wonder Lake Trail which leads to the McKinley River. The mile long river crossing can be the crux of the expedition – take time to scout the river bar and choose an appropriate route. Depending on the season or current weather conditions, the river can be an easy snow bridge based crossing or deep swift water crossing. It is often best to cross in the morning when temperatures are cool and the river volume is subsequently lower.
Once across the river, search along the bank to find a climber’s trail heading south. The trail winds to the east of Turtle Hill. From Turtle Hill, continue to head south to Clearwater Creek. Clearwater Creek is considerably narrower than the McKinley, but it is one concentrated flow as opposed to the many braids of the McKinley. Expect cold, deep, and swift water conditions for this crossing. Proceed on from Clearwater Creek to Cache Creek.
The climber’s trail follows Cache Creek south to a peak that causes a fork leading west to McGonagall Pass and east to Oastler Pass. You can approach Brooks from either pass, but Oastler is the most direct route and, therefore, will be used in this submission. If there has been recent snow, be wary of avalanche danger and potential terrain traps while hiking the valley to Oastler Pass. Ascend the obvious southeast slope to reach the top of the pass.
This pass will lead you onto the Muldrow Glacier with Mount Brooks directly in front of you to the south. From here, you can see the two mile Muldrow Glacier crossing and the north ridge of Mount Brooks. The moats on either side of the lateral moraines can be very high and take time to ascend. However, you may find snow bridges leading onto the glacier. Be very cautious in crossing the glacier. If you are not experienced with glacier travel and crevasse rescue, do not attempt this crossing.
Backcountry permits are required, bear barrels must be taken for food (provided free of charge by the NPS), the park road is not open until June for shuttle service and is never open for private vehicles – you can take the NPS shuttle or fly into Kantishna via Kantishna Air Taxi
in the early season. If flying, realize the flight will save time, but you’ll have to travel via foot into the park and onto Wonder Lake (approximately 8 miles one way).
More on permits - from the NPS:
Permits are available at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) located at the Riley Creek Entrance Area. Advanced reservations are not available. Once at the park allow approximately one hour for the permit process, which consists of four to five basic steps:
1. Plan your itinerary
2. Watch backcountry video
3. Safety talk
4. Delineate maps
5. Purchase Camper Bus tickets (if taking the shuttle)
There is a campground at Wonder Lake, all other camping will be backcountry. You must check in at the Backcountry Information Center to obtain your permit.
There are good locations south of Turtle Hill before Clearwater Creek with firm ground and small ponds. As you drop into the valley around Clearwater Creek the tundra becomes boggy and unsuitable for camping. However, you can also continue on towards Cache Creek and find some relatively good camping on the east side. You can camp on Oastler Pass, but be prepared for gusty winds and dig in. Many chose to camp at in the moraine at the base of the mountain. This provides a two-mile head start to the climb versus departing from the pass.
External Links, Etc.Shuttle Bus:
Kantishna Air Taxi:
Backcountry Permit Page:
Dog Sled Freight Services:
Denali Dog Freight Expeditions
P.O. Box 482
Healy, Alaska 99743
Alaska Climbing by Joseph Puryear
Alaska: A Climbing Guide by Michael Wood & Colby Coombs