Denali (Mount McKinley) Route Photo – West Buttress

Post by blogger | July 19, 2010      

Several readers have asked if we could post a route photo to go along with all our Denali posts. So here you go. When I’m editing the Denali blog posts this summer, I’ll throw in some links to the photo, or just add it in to some of the posts. Denali experts out there, if I made any mistakes with the labeling please let me know. Click image to enlarge.

Denali West Buttress route as viewed from west.

Denali West Buttress, upper part of route as viewed from west. Base image for this is the Bradford Washburn photo we used in my Wild Snow book, and is used here as a derivative work to promote book sales.


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17 Responses to “Denali (Mount McKinley) Route Photo – West Buttress”

  1. Nick July 19th, 2010 10:55 am

    Thanks Lou – very helpful to put everything into context. I would be interested to know which legs you booted (v. skinned) and what you skied v. downclimbed.

  2. Lou July 19th, 2010 11:16 am

    Nick, the style of ascent and descent varied quite a bit during different days. For example, Washburn ridge (part above headwall to 17,200) is the only part of the route that has any mandatory booting vs skiing given good snowy (vs icy) conditions. Just a few hundred feet of knife ridge, and a couple more really short sections of rock scrambling. I was kind of bummed at first when there was too much avy danger and/or ice for the big lines and we had to do the ridge, but after being on skis on the ridge I really dug it and realized it makes a totally legit very cool ski descent if you get the conditions. Of course if it’s blue ice all over the place, forget it, as the exposure is serious and people do fall off it.

    During one of our acclimation days I skied quite a bit of the Washburn ridge, when heading down after summit day I skied a bit less of it as I was too tired to switch my skis on and off more than a few times. The other guys skied even more of it than I did, even most of the knife ridge. they did some very intricate and bold skiing that impressed the heck out of me (not to mention scared me as well).

    Another thing about Washburn Ridge is it is indeed incredibly aesthetic. The views blow you away, amazing photography, etc. Now that all is said and done, I’m really glad we did the classic historical line put in by Washburn so long ago. Yet another thing that made our trip very special to me.

    In terms of the uphill, we swapped between skins and crampons quite a bit, and in different ways on different days. Too many variations to list, but I can say that we were easily on skins all the way to the 11,000 foot camp, and quite a bit up to 14,200 camp. After that, we’d skin to the base of the headwall then boot uphill for the rest of the route. Skins could actually be nice in certain places on the upper route, but if you’re cold and tired at that altitude you don’t get too motivated to be switching back and forth.

  3. Caleb July 19th, 2010 4:45 pm

    Washburn’s photography was so far ahead of it’s time. Route looks correct to me Lou, though it seems from the photo that the Peters Glacier is even farther down there than I thought. Glad we didn’t get blown down there.

  4. Kelly July 19th, 2010 4:49 pm

    Lou – this is great! Thanks for taking the time – really helps a fool like me to see the relationship of the places and events in your trip reports to the actual mountain.
    Some of the route looks like potentially major exposure – any close calls up there? (sorry, had to ask!)

  5. Lou July 19th, 2010 4:49 pm

    Caleb, yeah, I was thinking the same thing! More serious than it seemed when going around squirrel point, but I can see how that guy fell off there earlier in the season.

  6. Caleb July 19th, 2010 5:26 pm

    Yeah I didn’t understand how that guy got pulled off of there until our descent, then it became pretty darn apparent, as I white-knuckled my whippets.

    As for close calls, we had a few, but I will reserve elaborating on them for the sanity of the loved ones. Nothing out of the ordinary for a trip like that though.

  7. Kelly July 19th, 2010 6:32 pm

    Good call Caleb – I can relate to that.

  8. Mark W July 19th, 2010 11:01 pm

    Another stunning Washburn photo. Nice route details too.

  9. Brad July 20th, 2010 9:21 am

    Who mean there’s someone that hasn’t read Wild Snow?

  10. Jim July 20th, 2010 10:18 am

    Beyond the Mountain by Steve House is a great read with descriptions of climbing the Father and Son wall on Denali and others in Himalayas. Recommended.

  11. Nick July 20th, 2010 11:13 am

    Lou – thanks. I figured the acsents/decents varied by conditions. By “bigger” lines I assume you mean Messner/Orient couloirs?

    Agree Washburn’s photos are amazing (share a last name, but to my knowledge, no relation)..

    Jim – that is a good book^^^

  12. Lou July 20th, 2010 1:26 pm

    Nick, yes, all those lines on the westerly face above 14,200 foot camp. When they’re in condition they’re big climbs but not that tough to ski, but they’re also super dangerous if you get some shield ice or possible avy conditions. We were being pretty cautious, perhaps more cautious then some other skiers might be, but then we did get snow nearly every day when we were up there so it was a bit different then the type of conditions Davenport and a few others have had.

    That’s the sweet pain of mountaineering, and there are lessons in there about patience and acceptance, and letting the mountains do the talking. In 1973 I skied most of Denali but didn’t ski from the summit. This time I skied from the summit and made a super cool descent along with the other guys, but those direct lines from the summit still loom in my mind. I’ll do them in my dreams, but highly doubt I’ll ever be up there again. I’d imagine Jordan and some of the other guys will get up there again. If they’re careful and patient, they’ll get the other lines.

  13. Lou July 20th, 2010 1:28 pm

    Jim, I’ve been wanting to read House’s book, soon I guess… thanks for reminding me.

    Father Son wall is that huge face at left, midway up/down the photo.

  14. Tobin August 7th, 2010 2:28 pm

    Thanks for the info… heading to Denali next spring and trying to decide whether or not to attempt skiing from the summit. Looks and sounds like a fantastic adventure.

  15. Lou August 8th, 2010 8:07 pm

    Tobin, if the conditions are good the summit ski is very feasible. Beyond conditions, I’d say much depends on your group and their focus, and your fitness level for lugging skis up to the summit.

  16. Tobin August 2nd, 2011 11:17 am

    Thanks… just to update…we made the summit which was great… but ended up ditching the skis at 14,000ft camp after advice from the rangers about the conditions. In retrospect it would have been quite skiable though… not to mention a much faster way down!

  17. Lou August 2nd, 2011 11:30 am

    We would have skied it in 1973 if we’d ignored the advice of the rangers (grin).

    And congratulations on your summit. Back home safe with a summit, skis or not, that is success and was our goal as well during last year’s trip.

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