Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Overview

The Central Alaska Range is made up of the peaks and valleys that surround Denali, Mount Hunter, and Mount Foraker. In the deep glacial gorges that drop from Denali's flanks sit some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring mountains in world.

Alpinist worldwide have been drawn to the Alaska Range since the early sixties, when climbers like Lionel Terray and the Harvard Mountaineering group made auspicious and ground breaking ascents on Denali and other peaks in the range.  

This trend continues to this day with single-push ascents of some of the biggest alpine walls in the world. Despite the allure of the range to elite alpinists, the Alaska Range has equally as much to offer to mountaineers interested in moderate to intermediate glacier climbs, as well as to climbers looking to advance their level of skill by trying to climb progressively more serious routes in a spectacular setting.

Climber gaining a ridge on the Moose's Tooth above the Ruth Gorge. Photo by Tad McCrea.

Climber gaining a ridge on the Moose's Tooth above the Ruth Gorge.
Tad McCrea

Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Moderate

Ascents in the Alaska Range

The peaks and routes listed below represent a few handpicked routes of the almost limitless possibilities available to climbers of all ability levels in the Alaska Range. Choosing an objective in Alaska warrants personal consultation and even in this day and age, there are possibilities for first ascents throughout the Alaska Range. AAI has some of the best resources available for anyone interested in climbing and exploring Alaska.

  • Explorer's Peak (8,540') 7 days, moderate glacier climbing
    Explorer's Peak sits on the edge of the immense Ruth Glacier Amphitheater well above the gateway to the Ruth Gorge and the Moose's Tooth. For this climb we fly into the Mountain House (an established hut on the Ruth Glacier), then ski four miles to the base of the route. The climbing route starts in a broad gully and eventually gains a scenic, lightly corniced ridge. From the summit, we have a full panorama of the Main Fork and West Fork of the Ruth Glacier, including Mount Dan Beard, the Rooster Comb, Mount Barrill, and the Moose's Tooth, among others.
  • Consolation Peak (7,272') 7 days, moderate glacier climbing
    Consolation Peak is on the way to Explorer's Peak, and often these two are combined in one climbing trip if weather and conditions permit. Consolation can make a great ski mountaineering objective as well.
  • Kahiltna Dome (12,525') 7-10 days, moderate glacier climbing
    The Kahiltna Dome sits above Kahiltna Pass on Denali's West Buttress Route. From Denali Base Camp we follow the West Buttress Route to a point below Kahiltna Pass, at which point we climb to a broad and heavily glaciated ridge. We'll make a high camp here before attempting to reach the summit. Grand views are granted from the summit, and we look directly at the west side of Denali, the Kahiltna Peaks, and back to Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter above Denali Base Camp.
Mount Crosson from Denali Base Camp. The climbing route is the sunlit ridge at center.

Mount Crosson from Denali Base Camp. The climbing route is the sunlit ridge at center. Coley Gentzel

  • Mount Crosson (12,800') 7-12 days
    Mount Crosson sits directly across the Main Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier from Denali Base Camp. Even though Crosson is somewhat dwarfed by its neighbors (Foraker, Hunter, Denali), a climb of this peak offers almost 6000 feet of climbing on moderate ground to reach the summit. Crosson's position between the three largest peaks in the range offer climbers some of the best panoramas of Denali, Hunter, and Foraker in the area. The Southeast Ridge gets a lot of sun and can be subject to temperature gradient snow conditions. As such, climbs of Crosson should take place early in the season, typically April - May.
  • Radio Control Tower (8670') 5-7 days
    The Radio Control Tower has been called the perfect mini-alpine climb by AAI guides. From Denali Base Camp, the climb is doable in one long day. The route itself involves an approach of a few miles on (on skis or snowshoes), and then builds into increasingly exciting climbing along a narrow ridge crest. This crest leads to a small summit, from which you look directly into the imposing North Face of Mount Hunter and to the Kahiltna Peaks below Denali's South Face. On a week-long trip to the Kahiltna aea, climbers can combine this climb with Mount Frances for two stellar Alaska summits in a fairly short time frame, weather permitting.
  • Backcountry and Ski Mountaineering 3-10 days
    The valley and gorge glaciers of the Alaska Range offer perhaps the most scenic ski touring venue in the planet. In the Ruth Glacier Gorge, there are a number of possibilities for ski ascents and descents of moderate ski mountaineering objectives. For skiers who want to simply see the area, the Ruth and Kahiltna glaciers offer miles upon miles of touring possibilities on gentle terrain.

Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Intermediate

Ascents in the Alaska Range

The peaks and routes listed below represent a few handpicked routes of the almost limitless possibilities available to climbers of all ability levels in the Alaska Range. Choosing an objective in Alaska warrants personal consultation and even in this day and age, there are possibilities for first ascents throughout the Alaska Range. AAI has some of the best resources available for anyone interested in climbing and exploring Alaska.

An AAI Guide settles in for some afternoon reading below Mount Barrill.

An AAI Guide settles in for some afternoon reading below Mount Barrill. Coley Gentzel

  • Mount Barrill (7,650') Japanese Couloir, 5-7 days 
    Mount Barrill sits on the western side of the gateway to the Ruth Gorge. The granite peaks of the Ruth Gorge, including Mount Barrill, Mount Dickey, and the Moose's Tooth, are some of the most dramatic and formidable glaciated granite peaks in the world. Home to a number of very difficult routes, Mount Barrill's East Face (over 3000 feet tall) is split by a narrow gully that offers an easier route to the spectacular summit. The climb is primarily on steep snow and ice up to 55 degrees. Below the summit there is a traverse to the Southwest Ridge that can involve some mixed climbing before you gain the broad but heavily corniced ridge to the summit.
  • Peak 11,300 (11,300') Southwest Ridge, 8-12 days
    Peak 11,300 has become one of the most sought after, ultra-classic alpine routes in the Alaska Range. The elegant Southwest Ridge offers climbers over 4000 feet of climbing along an exposed and at times challenging ridge line. Five hundred feet below the summit, the ridge blends into the mountain and the climbing turns from mixed into ice climbing for the last few hundred feet to the summit. Additionally, the descent from Peak 11,300 is no trivial matter. It takes most parties the better part of a day to sort out the rappels and down-climbing before getting back to camp, usually 2-3 days after having left. The difficulties are short lived on this route, but the climbing is always engaging. There are rock steps up to 5.7 or 5.8 and short bits of technical mixed climbing, as well as a lot of moderate snow climbing.

An AAI guide skis towards the Southwest Ridge of Mount Frances on the Kahiltna Glacier.

An AAI guide skis towards the Southwest Ridge of Mount Frances on the Kahiltna Glacier. Coley Gentzel

  • Mount Frances (10,450') Southwest Ridge, 5-7 days 
    Mount Frances is the closest peak to Denali Base Camp, and it sits at the confluence of the Southeast and Southwest Forks of the Kahiltna Glacier between Mount Hunter and Denali. There are two high quality routes of intermediate difficulty on this peak. The Southwest Ridge is a mixed climb that involves snow climbing up to 50 degrees and rock climbing along a narrow ridge up to 5.7 or 5.8.

    The Northeast Ridge of Mount Frances is a snow and ice climb along the crest of a narrow and exciting ridge. The difficulty is moderate throughout, but there are steps of steep ice climbing along broken sections of the glaciated ridge.

Mount Foraker from Denali Base Camp. The upper part of the Sultana Ridge forms the righthand skyline.

Mount Foraker from Denali Base Camp. The upper part of the Sultana Ridge forms the righthand skyline. Coley Gentzel

  • Mount Foraker (17,400') Sultana Ridge, 14-20 days 
    The Sultana Ridge on Mount Foraker is among the classic big mountain routes in the Alaska Range. Many climbers compare this route to the West Buttress on Denali even though the nature of the climbing is very different.

    From Denali Base Camp on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna, the route crosses the main fork of the Kahiltna and climbs up and over Mount Crosson to gain the ridge that eventually leads to Peak 12,472 and to the Sultana Ridge proper. From the typical high camp on the Sultana, the summit is over 4000 feet away, making the summit day a very long and arduous one.

  • Mount Russell (11,670') North Ridge, 8-10 days
    Mount Russell is a comparatively short climb that is not without difficulty or excitement. Mount Russell sits on western edge of the Central Alaska Range. Climbers flying to Denali and other peaks in the Kahiltna area almost without question ask what the beautiful, perfectly pyramid-shaped peak to the West is. Mount Russell is the answer.

    For climbs of Mount Russell's North Ridge, we land on the Yentna Glacier at or above 8,000 feet. Groups typically make a camp on the ridge at just over 10,000 feet, leaving just under 2000 feet of climbing on summit day. The ridge is continually challenging and offers very consistent 50 to 60-degree snow and ice climbing with a few steeper and more exposed sections. Despite its smaller scale, a climb of Mount Russell is a committing undertaking and a very rewarding challenge.

  • Little Switzerland Alpine Rock Climbing, 7-14 days
    Little Switzerland is a compact group of peaks above the Pika glacier. The low elevation and mild weather make the area a fantastic destination for alpine rock climbing in the late spring and early summer months. As with all climbs in the Alaska Range, we land on the glacier in a plane. Once on the glacier, we can choose from a number of multi-pitch alpine rock climbs from low 5th class to longer, hard routes on the bigger features in the area.

Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Advanced

Ascents in the Alaska Range

The peaks and routes listed below represent a few handpicked routes of the almost limitless possibilities available to climbers of all ability levels in the Alaska Range. Choosing an objective in Alaska warrants personal consultation and even in this day and age, there are possibilities for first ascents throughout the Alaska Range. AAI has some of the best resources available for anyone interested in climbing and exploring Alaska.

An AAI guide high in the Ham and Eggs couloir on the Moose's Tooth.

An AAI guide high in the Ham and Eggs couloir on the Moose's Tooth. Coley Gentzel

  • Mooses Tooth (10,335') Ham and Eggs Couloir 
    8-10 days 
    Ham and Eggs has become the route to do in the Ruth Gorge. Once thought of as a modern test piece, the route has now become a classic for climbers that are competent on multi-pitch water ice routes in the mountains.

    Most climbers attempting the Ham and Eggs route fly directly into the glacial basin below the route called the Root Canal. From here, the climb can be done in one very long day by fast parties. For parties starting in the Ruth Gorge, it will take one day to climb to the Root Canal from the Ruth Glacier below.

    The difficulty of this route varies quite a bit with the amount of snow and ice in the gully. When there is a lot, the climb involves snow and ice up to about WI3+ in difficulty. In leaner conditions, there can be mixed steps and ice climbing to solid WI4. More often than not there is a little of everything on this climb, and climbers need to be comfortable on hard WI4 and capable of making moves over mixed snow and ice. The route gains nearly three thousand feet from the base to the summit and so the climbing day is a long and strenuous one. The descent is done by rapelling the route, usually over 20 double rope rappels, and the round trip from camp often takes 20 or more hours. 

  • Mount Huntington (12,240') West Face Couloir, 10-14 days 
    Huntington is often called the most beautiful mountain in the world. Unlike a lot of peaks, Huntington is dramatic from every direction at which it is viewed. The West Face Couloir has become the standard and easiest route to the summit of Huntington, but that by no means implies that it is an easy climb.

    Like all snow and ice climbs in the mountains, the difficulty of the route varies with the condition of the route. In some years, the West Face Couloir can have thin ice and mixed climbing at the entrance. In most years, the couloir is straightforward albeit strenuous climbing on snow and in places on very hard water ice.

    From the top of the couloir, we traverse on mixed ledges to the base of the summit icefield. The summit icefield can be the crux of the route depending on its condition. When it is snow, protection can be hard to find. When it is ice, the protection is better but the climbing is very strenuous and sustained. From the top of the icefield the summit is a short walk along the crest of the ridge with another short ice step just below the top.

The North Face of Mount Hunter above Denali Base Camp. The upper West Ridge is the righthand skyline.

The North Face of Mount Hunter above Denali Base Camp. The upper West Ridge is the righthand skyline. Coley Gentzel

  • Mount Hunter (14,570') West Ridge, 12-14 days 
    Along with the Sultana Ridge and the West Buttress of Denali, the West Ridge of Mount Hunter is the standard route on the third and is perhaps most dramatic of the big three (Hunter, Foraker, Denali) of the Alaska Range.

    The West Ridge is a very demanding mountaineering objective that combines a long approach with technical difficulties, exposure, and some objective danger. Most parties gain the route from the toe of the West Ridge, but during periods of stable snow conditions, the Northwest Basin approach is shorter and more direct, though also more difficult.

    The climbing on the ridge is on snow and ice throughout. Low on the ridge climbers can encounter a mixed step going through a rock feature that resembles rabbit ears. Higher on the ridge we traverse enormous cornices generally staying on the south side of the ridge. On summit day we climb an ice dome that involves nearly 800 feet of sustained ice climbing that averages 60 degrees. Above the ice dome the angle starts to ease, and after we thread our way through a band of seracs we gain the summit plateau. The walk across the summit plateau to the base of the final ridge gives climbers an incredible chance to relax and take in the panoramic views of virtually every peak in the range. 

  • Kahiltna Queen (12,380') West Face, 5-7 days
    The Kahiltna Queen sits at the head of the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and overlooks Denali Base Camp. The Kahiltna Queen is a steep pyramid of granite with a system of complex gullies that split its south and east faces. The climbing route starts in a broad gully that eventually tapers down to offer some fun climbing at a reasonable angle. Above the couloir we gain the crest of an ice ridge that leads to the summit. This route is typically climbed in one long day from a camp below the route. 

  • Mini Moonflower Central Gully, 5-7 days
    The Mini-Moonflower Buttress is a tower in Mount Hunter's Northeast Ridge. The name comes from its resemblance to the North (Moonflower) Buttress of Mount Hunter. The Mini-Moonflower is split by a snaking gully of snow and ice that leads to a point just below the summit. The climbing is steep and strenuous and climbers should be very comfortable on WI4 terrain with the potential for some mixed climbing as well.

The Direct West Buttress above Motorcycle Hill on the West Buttress route of Denali.

The Direct West Buttress above Motorcycle Hill on the West Buttress route of Denali.
Coley Gentzel

  • Denali (20,237') Direct West Buttress, 10-14 days
    There are a number of lines on the true West Buttress of Denali that offer quality climbing on snow and ice routes and mixed climbing along granite and ice ridges. The most commonly climbed line starts at Windy Corner on the West Buttress and follows a feature know as Thunder Ridge. All routes on the Direct West Buttress end at the top of the fixed lines at 16,200 feet on the West Buttress Route. 

AAI Denali Expeditions

Denali - West Buttress

Denali - West Rib

Denali - Cassin Ridge

Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Dates and Details

Please contact the AAI office at 360-671-1505 or email at info@alpineinstitute.com to arrange dates for this program.

Mooses Tooth from the Ruth Gorge

Mooses Tooth from the Ruth Gorge. Coley Gentzel.

Program Cost

  • $290 - 3:1 Ratio
  • $390 - 2:1 Ratio
  • $570 - 1:1 Ratio

 

*Cost is per person per day and includes food.

 

Prerequisites

Varies depending on climb. See climb descriptions

 

Program Cost Inclusions and Exclusions

The stated guide fees include food and group gear for the trip. Glacier flights, in-town expenses, and travel expenses are not included. Please contact AAI to receive a formal estimate of trip costs.

Guided Alpine Climbing in the Alaska Range

Related Courses

Program Finder