Mount Foraker, is Denali National Park's second highest mountain and sixth highest in North America. Located 8 miles from Denali, it rises above the Kahiltna Glacier like a towering cathedral. Foraker, by any route, is a formidable mountaineering challenge of the highest caliber. AMS chooses to climb the Sultana Ridge over other routes for its aesthetic appeal but also to avoid exposure to hanging avalanches; the Sultana Ridge is a worthy objective for a seasoned Alaska Range climber. To gain access to the Sultana Ridge, we first climb the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Crosson, which is a good climb in itself. A rise on the backside of Crosson is then climbed before traversing 1.5 miles on a classic, double-corniced ridge to the base of the Sultana Ridge proper.
There are unique qualities inherent in Alaska's arctic environment, such as temperature, wind, and snow pack, which create climbing conditions unlike any other mountains in the world. Alaska Grade III is given to the Sultana because of its high altitude, exposure, cornicing, crevasses and sustained climbing. Foraker is a difficult mountain to climb and demands all the strength, commitment, and mountaineering savvy one could expect from such a classic Alaskan big mountain.
Route: Sultana Ridge, Alaska Grade III, 17,400 feet / 5300 meters, 9400'elevation gain, 18 miles.
Deposit: $2,000 Balance Due: 120 days prior to starting date
Group Limit: 4 expedition members, 2 AMS guides, maintaining a 2:1 ratio
Cost Includes: AMS guides, glacier flights, field food and fuel, group camping and climbing equipment, personal issue sleds, base camp fee, camping at AMS in Talkeenta.
You are responsible for: Transportation to and from Talkeetna, lodging in Talkeetna , National Park Service mountaineering special use fee and entrance fee to be paid in Talkeetna during the first day of the expedition, travelers' cancellation insurance, personal equipment and clothing, rental items from AMS, gratuities.
Sultana, which means "woman" or "wife" (of Denali) is the Tanaina name for Mt. Foraker. In March 1979, Brian Okonek, Roger Cowles, and Dave Johnston made the first ascent of the Sultana which was also the second winter ascent of Mount Foraker. Rising above the Kahiltna Glacier, the Sultana is an awesome sight from anywhere on the West Buttress route.
It is said that the greatest challenge of an Alaska mountaineering expedition is not the climbing, but the storms. Unlike most of the world's highest mountains, Mt. Foraker is 200 miles south of the Artic Circle at 63° North Latitude. Its location on the planet places it in the sub-artic and 35° north of Everest, the same latitude as northern Hudson Bay and central Scandinavia. The average climate around Foraker's summit is probably more severe than any spot on earth. The weather on Foraker will dictate our every move. It will force us to be flexible, patient, and spontaneous. Weather is one thing we cannot change, but we work with it.
AMS' expedition climbing strategy is concerned with giving everyone the best chance to acclimate to a lower oxygen environment. Foraker does not pose as big a threat as Denali for altitude-related problems due to its lower elevation at 17,400 feet, but altitude-related illnesses are still a major concern. Different strategies to accelerate acclimatization, such as climbing high and sleeping low, will be used. AMS expeditions carry a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation levels and prescription drugs to treat life-threatening conditions. Advanced signs or symptoms of pulmonary and/or cerebral edema are serious, life-threatening conditions that require immediate descent. Each year AMS is briefed by our medical director Dr. Peter Hackett, who pioneered high altitude medical research on Denali, on any advancements in the research, prevention, and treatment of altitude-related illnesses. Our training supervisor Lance Taysom, a life-flight nurse and Park Service mountaineering VIP, certifies AMS instructors in wilderness emergency medicine. Together they wrote our medical protocols and standing orders that allow AMS instructors to evaluate and treat within the scope of their Wilderness First Responder training. Guides teach classes on altitude illnesses, discuss the use of Diamox and touch base with everyone individually, but your self-monitoring is paramount to early detection.
All applicants must adopt a goal of being in excellent physical condition at the start of the expedition. Please don't show up sick, injured, or out-of-shape. On any mountaineering expedition, some factors are completely out of anyone's control, namely weather and individual acclimatization rates. By joining a professionally run expedition, you leave expedition logistics, food, equipment and leadership to us. You are responsible for and have control over your physical fitness and climbing ability. It is imperative that everyone joining our expeditions be physically fit when the expedition begins. The better condition you are in, the more you will enjoy the climb, the safer it will be for you, and the better chance for summiting. The more climbing experience you have prior to the climb, the more comfortable you will be on Foraker.
Foraker is not the mountain on which you can "just get by" with mediocre equipment. Your gear will be put to the ultimate test. A carefully planned layering system will be more comfortable, efficient, lightweight, and hold up. "Quality" does not necessarily mean "expensive"; a trip to the Army surplus store often turns up many of the basics. Carefully read the equipment list written for this expedition; it answers most questions and gives recommendations for particular items. Try to have equipment questions answered by a knowledgeable salesperson in a local climbing store; they are often the most informed about the pros and cons of a particular brand or style. Please wait until the morning of the first day to check equipment at AMS, as we are busy preparing for the expedition a full three days before day one of the climb. Your guides will insure you are properly outfitted before you go.
AMS provides nearly all of the food for this expedition. To ensure satisfaction, we ask that you bring some of your preferred hot and cold drinks and four pounds of your favorite trail lunch or snack food to supplement the choices you have from the AMS rations. Part of this food will be saved for summit day. More information on food is provided on the expedition food sheet. Please contact us if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies.
We climb the Sultana Ridge of Mt. Foraker in a combination of expedition and alpine styles. We will climb expedition style, ferrying loads until establishing ourselves at the base of the Sultana Ridge. The first camp on the ridge will be made in a single move and be our high camp. The extra time built in is to accommodate for bad weather or conditions that might require a third camp on the ridge.
AMS' approach to guided climbs falls in line with our mission as a school of mountaineering. Mt. Foraker's summit is a logical end goal, but we will focus on the means of getting there, pushing every day to increase our mountaineering skills and performance. We expect all members to share a goal of becoming better climbers on our expeditions.
Weather and snow conditions will ultimately determine our progress on the mountain. This itinerary is a rough guide and outlines the anticipated schedule. Our style on the mountain is flexible and will fluctuate on a 24 hour basis.
Day 1: 2:00 pm meet at AMS for the expedition orientation, lunch packing, gear check and issuing
Day 2: 8:00 am meet at AMS for skills practice and National Park Service orientation at 4:30 pm fly to Kahiltna SE Fork Basecamp, 7,200', 60 mile flight, elevation gain: 6,850'
Day 3: Move to Advanced Basecamp 6,600’, at the base of Crosson's Southeast Ridge, distance: 3.4 miles
Day 4: Carry to Camp 1 (8,300') on Crosson's Southeast Ridge. distance: 1 mile, elevation gain: 1,700'
Day 5: Move to Camp 1 (8,300'), distance: 0.5 mile, elevation gain: 1,700'
Day 6: Carry to Camp 2 (10,400'), distance: 1.2 miles, elevation gain: 2,100'
Day 7: Move to Camp 2 (10,400'), distance: 0.6 mile, elevation gain: 2,100'
Day 8: Carry up and over Mt. Crosson to Camp 3, distance: 3 miles, elevation gain: 3,100'
Day 9: Move up and over Mt. Crosson to Camp 3, distance: 1.5 miles, elevation gain: 2,400'
Day 10: Carry up around peak 12,472' to a ridge cache site, distance: 3 miles, elevation gain: 1,700'
Day 11: Move up around peak 12,472' past the ridge cache to Camp 4 (Ridge Camp), distance: 2 miles, elevation gain: 600'
Day 12: Move to Camp 5 at the base of the Sultana Ridge, distance: 1.5 miles, elevation gain: 300'
Day 13-16: Summit days, distance: 1.25 miles, elevation gain: 5,900'
Day 17-19: Return to Kahiltna SE Fork Basecamp, fly to Talkeetna, distance: 9.5 miles, elevation gain: 2,400'
Day 20-22: Weather Days