Denali National Park: Mount McKinley

Sample the perils of North America's tallest peak in this Q&A with mountain guide Mike Haugen. Plus, downloadable GPS coordinates and photos.
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Sample the perils of North America's tallest peak in this Q&A with mountain guide Mike Haugen. Plus, downloadable GPS coordinates and photos.

Last spring, BACKPACKER outfitted Mike Haugen with a GPS and asked him to map an expedition to Alaska’s 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley. He made two climbs: a successful ascent with clients up the standard West Buttress Route, and a storm-abbreviated attempt with friends on the more technical Cassin Ridge.

BACKPACKER: You’ve made four expeditions to McKinley. What keeps you going back?
MIKE HAUGEN: It’s just so beautiful. It has everything other mountains have, only on a much bigger scale. It has bigger crevasses, fiercer weather, steeper slopes, even more sunlight.
BACKPACKER: Do you use GPS on the mountain?
MIKE HAUGEN: It’s part of my standard guiding gear. I waypoint the whole route so I can keep traveling in a whiteout. It’s a buffer—it gives me a little more margin of error.
BACKPACKER: What’s your favorite view from McKinley?
MIKE HAUGEN: There’s a spot just outside the 14,000-foot camp called Edge of the World. You can see all these classic, intense peaks—Hunter, Foraker, and so on—and you’re looking down onto the Kahiltna Glacier, which sweeps out to the tundra where everything’s so green.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 38.2

Waypoints

Basecamp

Location: 62.968586, -151.175265

Mike at Basecamp

Location: 62.968742, -151.174407

Kahiltna Glacier

Location: 63.036324, -151.181831

Kahiltna Glacier

Location: 63.045468, -151.183891

Windy Corner

Location: 63.068024, -151.097546

Views east of Windy Corner

Location: 63.06989, -151.079693

Views east of Windy Corner

Location: 63.068957, -151.070766

Northeast Fork

Location: 63.042939, -151.070423

Northeast Fork

Location: 63.042277, -151.062956

Camp

Location: 63.047919, -151.031349

Camp

Location: 63.048327, -151.026843

WBR001

Location: 62.968508, -151.17578

Basecamp: Flown in by ski plane. For the West Buttress Route, head N on the Kahiltna Glacier. Or head E on the Northeast Fork Kahiltna Glacier for Cassin Ridge.

WBR002

Location: 63.001656, -151.199402

Kahiltna Glacier

WBR003

Location: 63.029162, -151.178806

Camp I (7800 ft.): This camp is well-protected in the middle of the Kahiltna Glacier.

WBR004

Location: 63.051594, -151.183167

Some climbers camp here to cut the distance between the camps at 7,800 ft. and 11,000 ft.

WBR005

Location: 63.065857, -151.178894

People tend to cache gear between this area and the top of Motorcycle Hill. Climbers typically haul gear from the 7800-foot camp and cache it near here in a deep snow hole, then return to 7,800 feet to sleep. This reduces the load when moving up to camp above ski hill or the 11,000-foot camp.

WBR006

Location: 63.075306, -151.168518

Turn corner before the base of the Kahiltna Pass.

WBR007

Location: 63.07444, -151.145493

11,000' Camp: This camp is relatively protected although avalanches and icefall have historically ripped through the camp.

WBR008

Location: 63.075687, -151.136169

Motorcycle Hill: It's a steep ascent to reach the base of the West Buttress.

WBR009

Location: 63.072845, -151.124067

Long relatively flat traverse at the base of the West Buttress.

WBR010

Location: 63.070572, -151.115097

Beginning of hill up to Windy corner

WBR011

Location: 63.068211, -151.109009

Windy Corner is well-known for the unusal weather patterns that blow through. This spot on the mountain can have perfectly clear weather on one side and huge storms on the other. Caution: Rock fall is common.

WBR012

Location: 63.067924, -151.099625

Traverse along the base of the West Buttress towards 14000' Camp. Many people cache gear along the route to shorten their "carry day" instead of hauling gear all the way to the next big camp. In summer, bottomless crevasses open up below.

WBR013

Location: 63.071293, -151.087524

Swing uphill to avoid the massive crevasse

WBR014

Location: 63.069702, -151.076004

14,000' Camp: This is a "home away from home" camp. There is a medical tent, pit toilets, and room to spread out. Expedition teams spend time at this camp getting acclimatized to the thin air.

WBR015

Location: 63.07626, -151.073273

This point at 14,928 ft. is just below the fixed ropes section up to the West Buttress. The giant serac nearby is nicknamed the "eyebrow."

WBR016

Location: 63.08049, -151.071457

West Buttress: Many teams will carry gear and cache it at this mid-point between high camps.

WBR017

Location: 63.080444, -151.066925

This large rock is named after Bradford Washburn, a legendary explorer and cartographer.

WBR018

Location: 63.079849, -151.056473

17,000' Camp: Most teams will start their summit bid from this camp. Expect high winds and lots of weather exposure. For this reason and the high altitude, teams generally don't hang out at this camp for very long.

WBR019

Location: 63.078865, -151.049026

Ahead is a long gradual traverse up and across slopes to Denali Pass.

WBR020

Location: 63.079933, -151.037277

The traverse continues on icy, steep slope. There are some anchors and snow pickets to put some running belays in.

WBR021

Location: 63.082954, -151.030777

A common place to take a short break

WBR022

Location: 63.076904, -151.033188

18,701': The route runs up a couple of steep slopes past a battered weather station.

WBR023

Location: 63.071583, -151.021515

Football Field: This is a giant flat area where teams break before the final summit push. Some climbers drop their packs and only take warm clothes, water, food, and camera to the summit.

WBR024

Location: 63.069252, -151.015472

Summit Ridge: Sparse oxygen and bitter cold adds extra challenge on the knife-edge approach to the top of North America. This last approach gets your adrenaline pumping.

WBR025

Location: 63.069256, -151.006622

Mt. McKinley (20,320 ft.): Icy peaks scrape the skyline and clouds drift below. The cold air is thin and harsh on the lungs. Take several glory photos and begin 13,000-foot, multi-day descent back to camp 1.

LWR001

Location: 63.068306, -151.06369

From 14,000' Camp, head E on the Lower West Rib, an advanced route with many large, and tricky-to-navigate crevasses.

LWR002

Location: 63.068102, -151.056175

Keep moving up the slope and traverse towards the rock of the West Rib.

LWR003

Location: 63.062309, -151.053429

There are several notches that will allow you to get from one side of the ridge to the other. Some are much steeper than others.

LWR004

Location: 63.062037, -151.052055

Rib Cutoff: Search for the best way to gain access to the other side of the ridge.

LWR005

Location: 63.058693, -151.05257

This is a common camp for people ascending the West Rib. You can tuck a tent or two near the bergschrund to offer a bit of protection.

LWR006

Location: 63.053463, -151.057465

Use the rocks as a visual "handrail" so that you do not get downslope too far.

LWR007

Location: 63.050518, -151.061401

This airy camp is little more than a flat spot before the snow drops onto several different cliffs. Fantastic views!

LWR008

Location: 63.047974, -151.063477

Rap Rib: Rappel down the large couloir towards the bottom of the West Rib. The snow/ice slope is steep (60 degrees) and hard. In a pinch, there is a small area for bivy on the top of the couloir.

LWR009

Location: 63.0462, -151.057449

This is the bottom of the West Rib access couloir. The glacier is quite broken up here and rock fall and avalanche are a major concern. Move swiftly but safely.

LWR010

Location: 63.045993, -151.049094

This area requires superb crevasse navigation (i.e. shucking and jiving) skills. From here, go W back to basecamp for the air taxi. Or, continue E on wrinkled glacier and pick up the Cassin Ridge route (your next point is CRR006).

CRR001

Location: 63.039932, -151.141342

The exit on or off the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.

CRR002

Location: 63.043697, -151.112732

Lots of amazing ups and downs illustrate how big the glaciers in Alaska actually are (9,022').

CRR003

Location: 63.044704, -151.084824

Glacier travel skills are pushed to the max in this cravasse-filled terrain.

CRR004

Location: 63.042912, -151.066467

On the return to basecamp, this ice cliff required a long rappel into a cravasse and then a climb back out of the other side.

CRR005

Location: 63.042568, -151.065063

This ice fall area is a major hurdle going up the northeast fork or walking out, especially later in the season.

CRR006

Location: 63.047901, -151.031616

This is a relatively protected camp below a bergshrund just below the entrance to the Japanese Couloir. This camp can be nerve-racking when major snowfalls trigger huge avalanches.

CRR007

Location: 63.048298, -151.028015

Just past the crux of the Japanese Couloir, you can take your pick at a 80-degree ice slope or a 5.6 mixed climb with snow and ice in alpine boots.

CRR008

Location: 63.048302, -151.027176

This narrow rock ledge barely has enough room to prop up a two person tent. Warm weather triggered huge avalanches near Cassin Ledge, forcing our map scout's team to retreat. Note: The rest of the route from here to the summit was not mapped.