Alaska offers some of the best terrain for mountaineering adventures to be found in North America. You don't need to go to the Himalayas to test your mettle. There are enough summits here to keep a mountaineering calendar filled for a lifetime.
The mountaineering season runs more or less from April through the end of July, depending on the particular summit in mind. When people think of Alaska mountaineering they usually think first of Denali. Being the tallest always gets lots of attention. But Denali is just one of many possible objectives.
Alaska Mountaineering: Classes & Instruction
You may not be ready for a solo, winter ascent of Denali and feel the need for some training and supervised experience. There are scores of schools and companies that offer Alaska mountaineering courses and guided expeditions. Look for one that is based in Alaska or who's guides are Alaskans or have many years of experience in the mountains here in all seasons and all sort of weather.
If new to mountaineering then consider a course that offers a solid introduction to basic skills such as:
- Self belay/self arrest
- Building anchors
- Setting up and operating various belays
- Crevasse Rescue
- Avalanche avoidance and rescue
- Setting up a snow camp
- Glacier travel
- Knots and rope technique
- Crampon usage
- Winter route finding
- ... and more
Mountaineering courses typically are offered as 6 or 12 day courses. Llonger course provide more in-depth training and probably the opportunity to do a moderate Alaskan summit as part of the course.
Alaska Mountaineering: Guided Climbs
Many guide companies offer guided climbs of just about any Alaskan mountaineering objective. Some of these include training and instruction and others assume at least a basic mountaineering skill set to more advanced experience. Be very clear on your level of experience and skill and what will be expected on these more advanced courses and climbs. Some of the Alaska mountaineering summits included in such courses include...
- Mt. Drum
- Mt. Bona
- Mt. Foraker
- Mt. Hunter
- Moose's Tooth
- ... and many many others
A guided climb is perfect for someone who has some experience but doesn't feel ready to take lead responsibility on an mountaineering expedition. This is especially true if the objective is Denali. It is not uncommon to encounter those who regard the primary route up Denali (West Buttress) as a "walk up" or an easy climb. While the technical difficulties of the route are moderate, Denali is a major undertaking by any route. Weather is one of the primary challenges to be met on this classic Alaska mountaineering climb. Weather can be severe and it can change very rapidly. Those without skills and experience can be caught unawares and find their bright and shiny summit day suddenly turned into a screaming whiteout.
See our reading list at right for some books that will whet your appetite for planning an Alaska mountaineering adventure.