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[TR] Denali - Cassin Ridge 6/2/2012

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Trip: Denali - Cassin Ridge


Date: 6/2/2012


Trip Report:

Our trip started like any other trip to Denali, months / years of training including three prior trips into the Alaska Range countless hours of cascade slogging, driving to Cody, Canada, Colorado and Montana to go ice climbing, long trail runs in the Columbia RIver Gorge / Forest Park, early morning pre dawn trips to Teacup Nordic Center for some skate skiing, doing laps on the Palmer “glacier,” mountain biking in Moab, road biking to work, bouldering at SBP (Eric), laps at Smith ect.... and it all came down to 5 days of “fun,” anywhere between Level 1-3 on the Kelly Cordes fun scale. The Cassin Ridge is truly a North American Classic that lives up to it's reputation.


My partner Eric and I arrived at 14K with clear skies and warm temps after six days of pulling heavy sleds full of pancake mix, eggs, tortillas, wood fire pizza and home made cinnamon rolls (from my parents house), we were determined to gain weight on this trip! After a rest day Eric and I made it up to Washburn's thumb approx, 16,700’ for an acclimatization trip and came down to 14K to rest and pack for a summit bid via the popular West Buttress route. On May 28th with clear skies and cold early morning temps Eric and I left 14k at 0600 and summited 7hrs and 40min later with great conditions and the summit to ourselves. The last 600’ was pretty brutal, brining us both to our knees as we struggled to catch our breath. The decent was pretty uneventful as we made it back to the tent around 1800 (12hrs tent to tent). Eric did suffer a little from hypoxia on the decent and became somewhat confused (more than he is normally) and a bit dizzy. After a night back at base camp and loads of pancakes with Nutella and cream cheese he felt much better.


On the ridge above the fixed lines






















After feeling pretty good with a successful summit bid from 14K we decided to take a few rest days to fully hydrate, replenish the food stores and get some good quality sleep. As we rested we met two guys from Ogden, Shad (aka the Ogden Moose for his ability to punch though any crevasse and ultimate post holing ability), and Brian who where on the same acclimatization schedule and were also looking to get on the Cassin. After some taking we decided to climb in two teams of two since which would allow us to break trail for each other since we were going to be the fist teams on the route for the 2012 climbing season. This decision turned out to be the best decision we would make of the entire trip.


On June 2nd (Approach the Cassin) and with a pretty good forecast we decided to launch. Their are a few ways to approach the Cassin and after much thinking and debate we decided to use the “206 Ramp” as Mr. Haley wants it called. This turned out to be a good option, but DO NOT take this as some easy decent ramp! It is full of dangers including house size seracs from above, and difficult crevasse navigation, we each punched in at least a dozen times some to the knee and some waist high, as well as considerable avi danger as well. This was not an average year in the Range, super high snow year as well as significant winds maybe made this approach more difficult that it usually is. After talking to Colin, he said that he never once punch through a crevasse during the approach so maybe this year was more difficult than usual. Anyways their are lots of options, some better than ever so choose your own adventure..... The approach via the 206 ramp took us 7.5hrs from 14K to the base of the route, defiantly longer than expected, we made two rappels as well. High winds the night before we left filled in the boot pack up to the West Rib cut off so we had to break trail in knee deep snow which added to the fun.














Looking down the 206 Ramp.



Approaching the base of the Cassin, you can see the Japanese Couloir.



Cowboy Traverse seen from about 14K on the decent down the 206' Ramp





Setting up a repel on the 206' Ramp, their is a fixed stopper to rap off of.







206' Ramp viewed from our camp below the Japanese Couloir













Day 2 (or day 1 on route) 12K-14K we started in the Japanese couloir with great ice and some good Neve as well! Above the Cassin ledge was a great mixed pitch and after the mixed pitch started a very slow and stormy slog across the Cowboy Traverse. This section was undoubtedly the worst section of the entire route, with knee high to chest high sugar snow and 40mph winds made it some slow going. Shad lead the fist section, flowed by Brian then I lead the remainder of the ridge, all in all this took about 5-6hrs on something that should have taken less than one hour. I consider myself a seasoned veteran of Alaskan “Technical Wallowing” and this was right up their with our ascent of Peak 11,300 two years ago where knee / chest high snow is all we climbed..... After 17-18 hrs on the move getting to the 14K camp below the hanging glacier was a good feeling, we camped under a serac to help block us from the epic winds.











"Crux" pitch in the Japanese Couloir, about 3 body lengths of 85 degree ice.








Brian moving up the Japanese couloir.



Shad climbing though the sugar to reach the Cassin Ledge.



Daniel and Brian on the Cassin Ledge



Chilling at the Cassin Ledge getting ready for the mixed pitch / Cowboy Traverse



Brain at the start of the 5.8 crux before the Cowboy Traverse.



Brian part way up the 5.8 Crux.



Climbing through deep sugar on the Cowboy Traverse, it only go deeper...









Day 3 (day 2 on route) 14K-15,800K. Another slow moving day in super windy conditions, we made it up the hanging glacier and through the first rock band and managed to find a bivi spot right below the second rock band, sorry not too many pics where taken this day, things got a little desperate....




Daniel and Eric getting ready to climb at 14k



Shad leaving 14K camp, headed up to the hanging glacier below the 1st rock band



Getting Closer to the First Rock Band







Cowboy Traverse viewed from above.



Daniel Starting into the first Rock Band



Brian climbing through the first rock band above the "M" shaped rocks.



Day 4 (day 3 on route) 15,800-17K After getting minimal sleep due to the high winds that threatened ripping us and our tents of the precarious ridge that we were perched on we climbed through the second rock band and up to the 17K bivi camp. This was a good place to camp, but did not offer much as far as protection from the high winds.






High winds at 17K





Brian Traversing Big Bertha to the camp at 17K



Bivi at 17K



Daniel & Eric at 17K bivi



Brian Stoked at 17K bivi







Day 5 (day 4 on route) 17K-Summit-Base Camp.

Our only goal was to get back to base camp and we had to move as quickly as possible because we did not know how deep the snow was going to be on the last 3K which is notorious for being quite a slog. Luckily the winds died down a bit and some light clouds rolled in, but still stayed fairly warm and most of the upper section was pretty devoid of snow due to the high winds. Their was a second below 19K where it almost seemed impossible to make upward movement due to the depth of the snow. We did a quick brew stop at what we thought was 19K, but ended up more like 19,600’ and we pushed to the top of the “Kahiltna Horn” and excitedly dropped our packs and walked the ridge to the summit in less than ideal conditions, but after 4 days we were just psyched to be on the summit ridge! From the summit it took about 4hrs to walk back to base camp.


Shad enjoying the nice weather, finally!



Daniel & Eric moving above 18K









Downclimbing the West Buttress.












The next morning after the climb Shad and Brian came over to our cooking tent and Shad made some serious breakfast!!



And finally an huge shout out to Mark Westman for all of the help over the past few years, very much appreciated!! Colin Haley for making us feel inferior... And the "weatherman" for giving us confidence to get on the route even though we had mega winds that were not in the "forecast." John Frieh for some weather hookups on the Sat phone! Graham at Cilogear for making some super rad packs!! My wife Elisif for putting up with my shenagains this past few months and for being unbelievably supportive! And last but NOT least a GIANT thanks to Eric, Shad, and Brian for keeping to stoke alive when things were down, being supportive, and being great climbing partners ! Defiantly owe the Ogden boys some drinks!





Gear Notes:

Here is two video's we made for Cilogear "Whats in your Pack"






Rack: Yellow C3-#2 Camelot, set of nuts (could try bringing just even or odd sizes?), 60M Stearling 9.2mm, two pickets (worthless), 7 screws 13cm x3, 16cm x4.

Edited by DanielHarro

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I will be updating this TR with more photos, I can only upload 40 per day, I will also be adding more content as well including descriptions of each photo.



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Fuck yeah!


Thanks for snapping some stunning photos for us pack monkeys back in Oregon to lust after. Glad to see you guys had fun and climbed her in good style.

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Nice, great photos. Sounds like after you did the second rock band you went up the ridge a bit farther than we did in 2000. We had a nice camp at round 16,700 that was in a rock out cropping that protected us from the wind.


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Thanks for making time to put this up - we're all jealous as hell right now. Awesome effort, inspirational.

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John!!! I'm calling you from 17k to see if my tent is going to be blown off the mountain :laf: :laf: :rawk:


So stoked for you all dudes! Crazy to think you made your first AK trip in 2009. Onward!

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Re: "This section was undoubtedly the worst section of the entire route, with knee high to chest high sugar snow..." Did you consider the option of taking a pair of racing snowshoes for the entire group, then decide that would be too much weight?

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Re: "This section was undoubtedly the worst section of the entire route, with knee high to chest high sugar snow..." Did you consider the option of taking a pair of racing snowshoes for the entire group, then decide that would be too much weight?


...and the hits keep coming

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Yeah never really thought of the snowshoe idea, could be a good option though. I wish I could catch a break one of these years and have some good neve on route...

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Wow!! Absolutely great write up and stunning pics. Great story, 7hrs from bc to summit is awesome. Congrats on doing the Cassin, thanks for sharing.

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Hey nice job on the climb guys. Way to thread the needle between all the shitty weather this year. I did a late night photo flight over the range a week before you guys summited. I shot a bunch of photos of some of the more well know routes including the Cassin, and though you might want to have a look at the Cassin photo. A low res version is here...




congrats on a proud send.





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Nice work. I climbed the Cassin back in 2006 with my friend John (Jedi on here), and it remains my best and most intense climb ever. You have much to be proud of, now and forever.

Edited by evanmfreeman

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Nice job Daniel! Woot! Classic and epic in a single bundle. Awefriggan some. Way to get on it and get it done youse guys. Wow! Good job. How the hell did I miss this TR?

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