Check out our Top 20 Tips for Climbing Denali. We have designed a comprehensive guide with 20 essential tips for success. Our next trip will be in May 2025 and we will have 8 spaces open on each trip. Check out our upcoming trips.
Climbing Denali in Alaska is a formidable challenge that requires meticulous planning, unwavering determination, and a wealth of mountaineering skills. This article is drawing inspiration from the valuable insights shared by successful summiteers and guides who have led hundreds of trekking and mountaineering trips around the world.
Denali, in some peoples view a tougher proposition than climbing Mount Everest. Denali has everything, glacier travel, fixed lines, steep terrain, high and extreme altitude along with extremes in weather in a very harsh environment.
Reaching the summit of Denali requires excellent acclimatization and specific physical preparation. After careful consideration we only run trips with climbers we have seen in action in Nepal, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Ecuador. The more experience you have the better for climbing Denali.
Top 20 Tips for Climbing Denali
1). Team Dynamics and Communication
In our opinion Denali needs to be climbed by a team of climbers committed to team work and team safety. Safety, camaraderie and hard work should be core values of any team planning to climb Denali. All climbers need to be training hard to ready for a mountaineering battle.
Establishing clear communication channels within the team will be set in stone from day one. We need team members to be able to trust each other, practice effective decision-making, and cultivate a supportive environment to enhance the overall climbing experience. This is why we only accept team members who have climbed with us before.
2). Physical Conditioning and Endurance
To navigate Denali’s challenging terrain and unpredictable weather, you need to prioritize a comprehensive training program. We recommend taking a step by step approach. Starting with a fitness test, or vo2 max test to establish your specific heart rate training zones.
Building up slowly to carrying 25kg/ 55lbs pack and building your training hikes from 3 to 6 hours at sea level. Being comfortable hiking up and down 1,000m/ 3,300 feet on back to back days. It is important to carry weight in 70% of your training sessions but important to build slowly over months of preparation. You also need to supplement longer hikes, training sessions with daily training focused on building strength and endurance. Learn more about training for the downhill.
We can not emphasize how important your physical preparation is for this challenging trip at high and extreme altitude. Do not underestimate the training needed to be safe and successful on Cotopaxi. Learn more.
Without good acclimatization you have nothing. After 20 years of managing and leading trips, there is one thing that needs your highest consideration and that is the itinerary and the approach to high altitude. We always have additional acclimatization built into all our itineraries. Acclimatization is a critical component for safety and success on any high and extreme altitude expedition.
4). Technical Skill Proficiency
Hone your technical climbing skills, including ice and snow travel, crevasse rescue and self rescue. You also need to do a course covering fixed line climbing and self-arrest techniques to navigate Denali’s diverse and demanding terrain. We run mountaineering courses in Scotland and Colorado. These courses can help you build your mountaineering skills set for glacier travel.
5). When Is The Best Time To Climb Denali?
This is a million dollar question. Essentially Denali is climbed in May, June and July. The consensus is that you never know from year to year on Denali. Statistically, more climbers have reached the top during the first week of June than any other time. Maybe that is because more people are on the mountain at this time. Read more.
6). Gear Selection and Preparation
Invest in high-quality gear suitable for extreme conditions, including layered clothing, Double insulated boots, and tried and tested equipment. Ensure every piece of equipment is well-maintained and tested before embarking on the climb. We will send you a trip dossier with itemized kit list so you will know exactly what to bring on your Denali Expedition.
7). Nutrition and Hydration
Develop a nutrition plan that helps you come in the correct shape. You want to be light, lean and strong for a Denali expedition. On the mountain we will have food and diet plan to address the challenges of high-altitude climbing. Prioritizing hydration on the mountain is also critical for safety and success.
You can also carry a variety of energy-dense, easily digestible foods to sustain energy levels throughout the expedition.
8). Understand Altitude Sickness
If you have been on a number of altitude expeditions with us you will know all about altitude related issues and problems. Normally you are seeing these issues on other teams as we have adequate acclimatization built into our itinerary.
Read and understand the principles of acclimatization and altitude illness. By picking an itinerary with more acclimatization, you give yourself a safer journey into extreme altitude. You also need an itinerary with built in contingency days for bad weather.
The weather along with altitude and physical fatigue are usually the downfalls of many climbers on Denali. A lot of climbers get altitude sickness and struggle with the physical effort high on Denali.
The good thing is you can control both of these issues by training correctly and picking an itinerary with the best acclimatization.
9). Conserve Energy Early in the Trip
The pace of your trip is critical to recovery each day on a multi-day adventure. Taking your time of heavy load carry days is extremely important. Moving too quickly at altitude often leads to altitude illness and does not aid in your recovery.
Fatigue is not your friend on a multi day mountaineering expedition. Good recovery is critical for a safe and successful trip. A slow pace and slow movement to high and extreme altitude is very important.
10). Hydration, Hydration, Hydration
Out of all these Top 20 Tips for Climbing Denali, one of the most important tips we will give you is to make hydration a priority. Hydration at high altitude is extremely important. When you wake up you need to drink 1 liter of water before breakfast. You need to drink 2 liters before lunch and another 1 to 2 liters in the early afternoon. Using a water bladder system is ideal lower down because you can then drip feed water into your body on a regular basis.
This will be used on the lower on the mountain, however during the summit attempt it can not be used as it will freeze. Forcing water in, is not a good idea as you will just pee it out. You will need hyper hydration sachets, multi-vitamins and electrolytes while on this Denali trip.
11). Separate all Your Gear into Dry Packs
Manage your gear well and keep all items separated in dry packs. While you are on the mountain you will need to manage your gear.
Having a good routine is very important, keeping separate bags for gear is very useful. The dry bags are useful to keep your gear organized when you do gear drops up the mountain.
12). Make Sure you Eat Enough
We always have quality food on our trips and this is critical to your expedition. Sometimes at altitude, your appetite can dwindle, but you need to try and finish every meal. It will give you the strength and energy for each day on the trip.
You do not want to over pack snacks as you have to carry everything up and down the mountain. You should have some recovery and protein options.
13). Bring a -20 F Sleeping Bag
You need to have a lightweight down sleeping bag. We recommend a down -20 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag for climbing Denali. You need to be comfortable throughout the whole trip.
Sleep is a key ingredient to acclimatization and essential for success. Also, make sure that you have tested out your sleeping bag. Remember you can add your down vest and down jacket to your sleeping bag to add additional insulation.
14). Come With a Climbing Partner
Working as a unit and team is important in achieving groups goals. If you can come with a climbing partner this helps you know you are move of a rope with a team mate of the same level as you. High on the mountain you will be roped to a guide and one other climber. Climbing with someone of the same ability is important for safety and success.
Team work and working with your guide high on the mountain can only help if they know that you are struggling. Denali requires you to be a team player and maintaining a positive mental attitude at all times throughout the expedition. Encourage others and others will encourage you. We are much stronger as a group, not as individuals.
15). Bring Multi-Vitamins
We recommend taking multi-vitamins on a daily basis before and during the trip. These can either be the type that we dissolve in our water or as a tablet to take daily. You need to consider a range of supplements to maintain a strong immune system.
Bring hydration tablets for your water to take daily. If you sign up for one of our Denali expedition, we will send you a trip Dossier, that includes a complete kit-list for the trip.
16). Only Bring Essentials
Have a small medical kit that is easy accessible while climbing. This medical kit should have Ibuprofen, blisters plasters, tape, sunscreen, lip protection, medication, plasters and personal items.
Also, make sure you have your personal medication you take with you at all times. You need to streamline your medical kit, in the same way you would on any trekking and mountaineering expedition.
17). Come With the Correct Mental Training
Having the experience in harsh weather conditions, will be essential in your preparations. Also carry a weighted backpack in your training, in order to be physically ready for the summit.
Be mentally prepared for your Denali experience, for example, pushing the limit in your training sessions helps. Additionally, the more comfortable you are in a mountain environment, the more mentally prepared you will be. Staying positive with a good mental attitude on the mountain, is important for you and the people around you.
High on Denali is a mental and physical challenge. Staying positive in the face of harsh, challenging conditions is needed to be successful. Mental preparation starts at home in the hard training you do before the climb.
18). Expect Harsh Weather Conditions
Be ready to cope with diverse weather conditions. You may experience drastic changes in the weather from warm/dry conditions to freezing and windy weather. You could be digging out tents from snow, building snow walls and bathrooms. High winds are usually the biggest challenge on Denali, similarly freezing temperatures can cause you pain and discomfort.
Understanding that some factors are beyond your control, and weather being a big one of these. Focus on the elements of the trip you can control, for instance you can come with the right attitude, gear and physical preparation.
19). Know Your Limits
Know your limit on any mountain. One of the ways to achieve this is to hit the wall in your training at home. Remember your safety and the safety of others should be your number one concern on the mountain.
Make sure that you have pushed yourself hard in your training and have prepared correctly before stepping foot onto the mountain. While you are on Denali, don’t push yourself to the point of putting your life or the life of others in danger.
20). Respect the Team and the Mountain
Respect other climbers. You are climbing as a part of a team and therefore, you have to be aware that timelines have to be kept and differences have to be accepted. An expedition can be a multicultural experience with people joining our trips from all over the world.
That means different cultural backgrounds with different religious ideals or philosophies. Everyone in your expedition is struggling to reach the same goal, so respect the team. If you see your team member struggling on any given day, be there to help them. It could be you the next day that needs the extra support! Team work and relaxed attitude will be valuable assets on a trip like this, finally respect the mountain and extreme altitude.
The guides will work with the team to manage all aspects of the Denali Expedition with safety of all team members in mind. Our guides will continually review Denali’s ever-changing weather conditions. Regularly check forecasts and be prepared to alter your plans accordingly to ensure safety and success.
We will manage every aspect of your expedition meticulously, including transportation, permits, and logistics. Being well-prepared will minimize unexpected challenges during the climb.
Our team will optimize your camping setup for Denali’s harsh conditions. Choose suitable tent sites, secure gear against wind, and employ effective snow and ice anchoring techniques.
Equip yourself with only basic medical knowledge and we will have a comprehensive first aid kit. Understand the symptoms of altitude sickness and other common mountaineering ailments to address issues promptly.
Sled Rigging and Management
Efficiently rig and manage sleds to transport gear and supplies. Distribute weight evenly and secure loads to prevent mishaps while navigating challenging terrain. Our guides will cover this in preparation for moving onto the glacier.
Route Navigation and Decision-Making
We like to see climbers as self-sufficient as possible. Having strong route-finding skills and make informed decisions based on current conditions. Be ready to adapt plans to ensure safety and maximize summit opportunities.
Learn and practice crevasse rescue techniques. Self rescue using prusiks is a great skill to have. Our guides will carry the necessary equipment, but it is important to understand the principles of safe glacier travel to mitigate risks associated with crevasses.
Be vigilant for signs of altitude-related illnesses in the team. Educate yourself on symptoms, prevention, and treatment to address any issues promptly. Always inform the guides and do a daily check up as a team.
Leave No Trace Ethics
Adhere to Leave No Trace principles to minimize environmental impact. Respect the fragile ecosystem of Denali and practice responsible mountaineering.
Communication with Base Camp
Our guides will establish reliable communication protocols with Denali Base Camp. We will also have satellite devices to keep in regular contact. Regular check-ins provide vital updates on weather conditions and can be crucial for safety coordination.
We have developed a thorough emergency response plan. You should familiarize yourself with evacuation procedures and carry the necessary equipment for self-rescue or assistance to others in case of emergencies.
Permits and Regulations
Our team will manage all aspects for the permit requirements and park regulations. Respect the guidelines set by the National Park Service to maintain the integrity of Denali’s wilderness.
Conclusion – Top 20 Tips for Climbing Denali
Climbing Denali is a serious endeavor and should not be attempted by amateurs. Conquering Denali is a monumental achievement that demands physical prowess, technical proficiency, and unwavering determination. Contact us.
By incorporating these Top 20 Tips for Climbing Denali into your preparation and expedition, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of North America’s highest peak. Follow us on Facebook.