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.
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.
Air Taxi Operators
Denali's West Buttress Route
Basecamp to 7,800’Distance:
5.5 milesElevation Gain:
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 milesElevation Gain:
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 milesElevation Gain:
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 milesElevation Gain:
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 SummitDistance:
2.5 milesElevation Gain:
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.
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.
Four Season Tent
Sleeping Bag (-40° recommended)
Closed Cell Sleeping Pad
White Gas Stove & Stand
Ski Mountaineering or Plastic Double Boots
Skis or Snowshoes
Sled (Free Rental Comes With Glacier Flight)
GPS and batteries
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.
The current speed record for the West Buttress route was done by Karl Egloff on June 20, 2019 in 11 hours and 44 minutes roundtrip. The current women's speed record for the West Buttress route was done by Katie Bono
on June 13th - 14th, 2017 in 21 hours and 6 minutes roundtrip. I believe Katie's record is also the fourth fastest roundtrip time on Denali after Ed Warren
via the West Buttress route on May 31, 2013 in 16 hours and 46 minutes roundtrip and Kilian Jornet
via the Rescue Gully route on June 7, 2014 in 11 hours and 48 minutes roundtrip.
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
1998 Trip Report
I adopted this page from meepers
on June 21, 2007.