Denali, Muldrow Glacier Route

By: Robert Lehman | Climbers: Robert Lehman, Doug Pape, Eric Chalumeau, Jason Merrill, Chuck Hudson |Trip Dates: April 29-May 30, 2001

Photo: Robert Lehman

® The author(s) and | Back to climb page NAC Home page

The Muldrow Glacier Traverse on Denali (Mt. McKinley) has many facets which lend to it's being one of the most classic routes on the mountain, and certainly make it the route of most historical significance. The Muldrow Glacier was used by the first ascensionists of both the North Peak (1910) and the South Peak (1913), and was for many years considered the 'normal route', before glacier landings were allowed in the southern reaches of the park. Because glacier landings aren't allowed north of the summit, you must fly to Kantishna, 21 miles from McGonagall Pass, and begin your climb there. This allows you to be free of the crowds of the West Buttress, while still giving you a taste of it on the descent. A more wilderness experience, better actual climbing while only slightly more technical than the W. Buttress, no trash or fecal contamination and the incredible changes in surroundings form the approach on, make this climb truly a magnificent adventure and a great alternative to the now 'normal route', the W. Buttress. The climbing involves extensive glacier travel and crevasse negotiation, steep snow & ice climbing, and classic Alaskan ridges, providing the climber with some of the most amazing scenery and vistas you will find anywhere in the world.

Our trip started on the 29th of April (I would suggest even earlier so the river is shallow or frozen over), encompassed 32 days and, including carries, covered over 90 miles. Over 60% of that distance was technical travel. We crossed a four-mile frozen lake, crossed rivers and streams, miles of snow covered tundra and muskeg, and beaver ponds, falling into one of the latter. We had one moose encounter, three crevasse falls, and a meager six storm days. Having climbed on the West Buttress twice and the NW Buttress before, this was the best trip on Denali I've been on, and I highly recommend it.

We contacted Will Forsberg to arrange dogsled transport of 24 days of food & fuel, 1 rope, all crevasse rescue equipment, crampons, overboots, and anything else we wouldn't need on the 6-day trip in to McGonagall Pass and then 3 more miles up the Muldrow. We constructed wooden boxes for this transport, burning them at the upper end. We also used snowshoes, reasoning that the efficiency gained by skis lower on the mountain would be more than offset by the need to carry them for so much of the upper elevations. You should be very well versed in glacier travel and crevassed rescue to consider this route. We had only 3 crevasse falls because of our experience with this kind of terrain. You must also have adequate time. If you can only take 3 weeks, you should consider a different route, since the Muldrow requires 30 to 35 days minimum with good weather. To give yourself the best chance of success, don't move up too quickly, and acclimatize for 3-4 days either at Parker Pass at 14,600' (exposed to weather) or around 15,100', the option we chose. We also found that from 17,300' to 17,800' is the best zone for your final camp. We pitched our tents in a filled-in bergschrund at 17,300', still on the north side. You can summit from that camp, return for the night and a rest day, then go down the West Buttress to the landing strip on the North Fork of the Kahiltna, where it is very easy to arrange your plane trip out. Last but not least, read everything you can find on Denali; it's informative and entertaining.