Our Alaska 2000 trip report is divided into two parts. Part 1 contains the mountaineering expedition to Denali, and part 2 contains our following trip through Alaska. The same applies to the corresponding "practical hints" pages.

Practical hints for organizing your own trip

Part 1: Climbing Denali (Mount Mc.Kinley), Alaska

Denali and the Alaska Range

With an altitude of 6193 m, Denali (Athabaskan: "The big one"), earlier called Mount McKinley, is the highes mountain of the U.S.A. and of North America. It is the highest peak of the Alaska Range, which is practically the bow-shaped continuation of the Rocky Mountains through Southcentral Alaska towards the Aleutian Range, which then ends in the Aleutian island chain. The Alaska Range is an important weather divide in Alaska, separating the drier interior from the humid south.
All 5000 and 6000 m peaks of North America are situated in the Alaska Range or its neighbor in the southeast, the Wrangell-St.Elias-Mountains, which partly belong to Canada.
Although being situated on the "fire circle" around the pacific ocean, the Alaska Range shows no vulcanism, and it never did, unlike the lower Aleutian Range. The mountain chain was folded already before vulcanism evolved in this region. The magma that later pushed upwards could not reach the surface through the thick crust of the already existing mountains. It cooled in its funnels, partly mixed with the sedimentary rock of the mountains. Later erosion exposed the single funnels; therefore the Alaska Range has only few, very high mountains, throughout consisting of very solid granite. The softer sedimentary material around these mountains is more eroded and forms lower, softer mountain shapes. The highest peaks (Denali with 6193 m and Mount Foraker with 5300 m) are standing in the center as isolated mountains, besides some 4000 m peaks (e.g. Mount Hunter which is also a steep granite peak). All other mountains only reach the 3000 m line. The two hight mountains are therefore not protected from storms, and bad weather can come in quickly and with big intensity.

Permit regulations

Denali and Foraker are situated in the core zone of the national park. For these two mountains a permit is necessary; it must be applied for 60 days before the scheduled expedition beginning. The form is found online for printing. The fee is US$ 150 which is used for the ranger station. (There are also rangers at Medical Camp, and they have to be paid somehow.)

Travel to Talkeetna

General facts about travel to Alaska can be found on the separate hints page about Alaska.
Since Talkeetna is not directly on the Parks Highway, there are only two reasonable ways to get there:
a) by rail, because the railroad leads through Talkeetna. Speaking against this way: the strict baggage limit and the high prices of Alaska Railroad.
b) by shuttle service. There are several; links on the WWW see below. A price of US$ 80 per person round trip is considered usual. As far as we could find out, there are no scheduled buses.

Registration at the ranger station Talkeetna

The ranger station is at the end of the village. To reach it on foot: enter the village, turn left at the famous "Welcome to downtown Talkeetna" sign to the main street and trun left where nothing interesting would follow. At first the registration and payment are handled (US$ 125 per person, because $25 were already paid with the preregistration before the 60 day limit; cash or credit card). After that there is an introduction to the route and the rules at the mountain. This is meanwhile implemented as a Powerpoint presentation on a PC that is shown by a ranger, giving - depending on the alpine experience of the "clients" - more or less urgent hints. Unlike reported in earlier years, this is not a horror show but rather a well-differenciated information procedure.

Flight to the base camp

The base camp cannot be reached on foot. In May it might be possible, a one or two weeks foot hike, but the way back after the snow has melted would be very complicated. Therefore people fly from Talkeetna. There are several air transport companies, the prices don't vary much.
We had paid $275 per person for the round trip flight to the base camp. Fuel for the stove and marker wands add to that. Since we had made a reservation, we could fly immediately after the registration. In case of bad weather one might have to wait several days, since the mountains have to be passed on sight, correspondingly a queue might build up.
Arrived in the basecamp, the basecamp manager checks the permit (issued by the rangers) and the basecamp card (issued by the flight company, indicating the amounts of fuel, marker wands, and sleds paid for). The corresponding goods are given then.

Behavior at the mountain

Since Denali is besieged by 1200 people every year, most of them at the West Buttres route, one easily understands that the rangers have defined certain rules that have to obeyed in the interest keeping the mountain clean.
The most important are mentioned here:

Route and anticipated time

About 3/4 of the mountaineers climb Denali via the technically easiest way, the West Buttress. The time one spends on the normal route is mainly determined by the weather. The average time of a successful expedition at Denali is - according to the rangers' statistics in Talkeetna - 21 days, of an unsuccessful expedition 17 days. For the West Buttress one should consider 10 to 24 days; the main problem at the mountain are the rapid weather changes, suddenly bringing very cold temperature together with strong storms.
The stages of the route:
In order to be compatible to the map, heights are given in feet(') here. In summary, everything up to Kahiltna Horn is just hiking terrain, except for the 200 meters on the fixed ropes and a couple of steps in the traverse to Denali Pass. Of course, a good walking technique with crampons is prerequisite.
Literature about this topic:


Mid-May to mid-June is supposed to be the best time. Before, it is colder, and afterwards the weather becomes even more instable, and the snow on the lower glaciers gets wet, increasing the crevasse danger.
The weather forecast given by the rangers in Medical Camp is not too well correlated with the real weather of the next days. The Medical Camp is higher than (except for Mount Foraker) all other mountains in 100 km distance. Therefore, storms can hit the mountains with all their power. The weather forecase can warn of bad weather approaching, but an exact cloud and precipitaton forecast is hardly possible, because the mountain has a very strong local influence on the weather. The strongly glaciated environment also often seems to cause something like a freezing of the moisture of the incoming air, creating fog-like clouds that reach up to 3500-4500 m altitude.
Temperatures are convenient during the day on Kahiltna glacier; during night (as far as one can call it night) -10 to -15°C. At camp 11000' it becomes distinctly colder for the first time, at night here it is often -20°C. At Medical Camp the nights are often -25°C, and during the day it is not much warmer in the shadow. At High Camp we regularly had -35°C or less at night.
The wind was rather weak during our ascent, never more than 70 km/h. But even that would be dangerous at the exposed spots with a heavy backpack. It is said that storms of over 100 miles per hour occur at the high camp. In those cases, of course one has to hold out and hopefully the snow walls around the tent are high and solid enough.

Special equipment

Equipment that I deem special about Denali:

Appendix: Short temperature overview

The following table gives an overview about the lowest temperatures that we encountered while we were on our way. These are not the minimum night temperatures (which are lower). You also find the estimated maximum wind speed for the corresponding days.
DateStagemin. Temp. °CWind km/h
16.05.2000Base Camp - Ski Hill-1210
17.05.2000Ski Hill - 11000'-1330
18.05.200011000' - Depot - 11000'-1860
20.05.200011000' - Medical Camp - 11000'-1130
21.05.200011000' - Medical Camp-2010
22.05.2000Medical Camp-2510
23.05.2000Medical Camp - High Camp-2120
24.05.2000High Camp-2640
25.05.2000High Camp - Denali - High Camp-3530
26.05.2000High Camp - Medical Camp-2570
27.05.2000Medical Camp - Base Camp-180

Appendix: Our times

Base Camp - Ski Hill6 h
Ski Hill - 110005 1/2 h
11000 - Medical Camp4 to 6 h
Medical Camp - High Camp6 1/2 h
High Camp - Denali7 1/2 h
Denali - High Camp2 1/2 h
High Camp - Medical Camp2 h
Medical Camp - Base Camp8 h

Appendix: What did it cost

At the end, find here a short cost table, per person.
Amountin DM (US$ rate 2.00 DM)
Food, purchased in GermanyDM 5050
Medicine, purchased in GermanyDM 3030
Equipment, purchased in GermanyDM 2525
High camp food etc., purchased in GermanyDM 7575
National Park Service, Denali Mountaineering Fee$ 150300
Talkeetna Shuttle$ 80160
Doug Geeting Aviation$ 281.25562.50
Hostel (3 nights)$ 4590
Food purchase for expedition, Anchorage$ 2346
Food purchase Anchorage$ 1530
Maps, postcards$ 1122
Equipment$ 1326
Restaurant$ 3060
Bicycle rent, Anchorage$ 510
Those were our expenses until our return to Anchorage. The cost of the complete trip was of course higher, as we traveled through Alaska for two weeks, rented a car etc. The amount mentioned above should, however, be sufficient for Denali alone. Our food supplies would easily have lasted 1 1/2 weeks longer; we gave away most of it before descending from Medical Camp.

WWW-Links about Denali

Separately mentioning the enterprises we used, doesn't mean that the others would be worse. We chose those enterprises, were content with them and can recommend them. We simply don't have any experience with the others.

Other Denali trip reports on the WWW

The link list above will not be updated in future. Newer Denali reports will then be found in my Link List under "Expeditions/7 Summits", "Alaska" or "Personal Homepages". That page will also be updated in regular intervals.
Hartmut Bielefeldt
Sonnhalde 8
D-88699 Frickingen
© 2000 Hartmut Bielefeldt

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Last updated January 16, 2001 by Hartmut Bielefeldt