• Jason Grove
  • Jason Grove
  • Jason Grove
  • Jason Grove
  • Jason Grove
  • Jason Grove

Mount McKinley

McKinleyMount McKinley: (also known as Denali) from Denali National Park
Location: in Alaska
Elevation: 20,320 feet (6,194 m)
Location: Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA
Range: Alaska Range
Prominence: 20,138 feet (6,138 m) Ranked 3rd
Coordinates: 63°4′10″N 151°0′26″W
First ascent: June 7, 1913
Hudson Stuck
Harry Karstens
Walter Harper
Robert Tatum
Easiest route: West Buttress Route (glacier/snow climb)

Mount McKinley or Denali ("The Great One") in Alaska is the highest mountain peak in North America, at a height of approximately 20,320 feet (6,194 m).[1] It is the centerpiece of Denali National Park.

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Notable Features

Mount McKinley has a larger bulk and rise than Mount Everest. Even though the summit of Everest is about 9,000 feet (2,700 m) higher as measured from sea level, its base sits on the Tibetan Plateau at about 17,000 feet (5,200 m), giving it a real vertical rise of a little more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m). The base of Mount McKinley is roughly a 2,000-foot (610 meter) plateau, giving it an actual rise of 18,000 feet (5,500 m).

The mountain is also characterized by extremely cold weather. Temperatures as low as −75.5 °F (−60 °C) and windchills as low as −118.1 °F (−83 °C) have been recorded by an automated weather station located at 18,700 feet (5,700 m). There is also a higher risk of altitude illness for climbers than its altitude would otherwise suggest, due to its high latitude.[2] At the equator, a mountain as high as Mount McKinley would have 47% as much oxygen available on its summit as there is at sea level,[3] but because of its latitude, the pressure on the summit of McKinley is even lower (42%).


Mount McKinley is a granitic pluton with a crystallization age of around 56 million years. Over tens of millions of years, Mount McKinley has been uplifted by tectonic pressure while at the same time, erosion has stripped away the (somewhat softer) sedimentary rock above and around it.

The forces that lifted Mount McKinley—the subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate—also raised great ranges across southern Alaska. As that huge sheet of ocean-floor rock plunges downward into the mantle, it shoves and crumples the continent into soaring mountains which include some of the most active volcanoes on the continent. Mount McKinley in particular is uplifted relative to the rocks around it because it is at the intersection of major active strike-slip faults (faults that move rocks laterally across the Earth's surface) which allow the deep buried rocks to be unroofed more rapidly compared to those around them.

Layout of the Mountain

Mount McKinley has two significant summits: the South Summit is the higher one, while the North Summit has an elevation of 19,470 feet (5,934 m) and a prominence of approximately 1,320 feet (402 m). The North Summit is sometimes counted as a separate peak (see e.g., the List of United States fourteeners) and sometimes not; it is rarely climbed, except by those doing routes on the north side of the massif.

Five large glaciers flow off the slopes of the mountain. The Peters Glacier lies on the northwest side of the massif, while the Muldrow Glacier falls from its northeast slopes. Just to the east of the Muldrow, and abutting the eastern side of the massif, is the Traleika Glacier. The Ruth Glacier lies to the southeast of the mountain, and the Kahiltna Glacier leads up to the southwest side of the mountain.  

Exploration and Naming


Numerous native peoples of the area had their own names for this prominent peak. The local Athabaskan name for the mountain, the one used by the Native Americans with access to the flanks of the mountain (living in the Yukon, Tanana and Kuskokwim basins), is Dinale or Denali (“the High One”). To the South the Dena’ina people in the Susitna river valley used the name Dghelay Ka’a (simplified to Doleika), meaning “the big mountain”, while the Aleuts called it Traleika.

The historical first European sighting of Mount McKinley took place on May 6, 1794, when George Vancouver was surveying the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet and mentioned “distant stupendous mountains” in his journal. However, he uncharacteristically left the mountain unnamed. The mountain is first named on a map by Ferdinand von Wrangell in 1839; the names Tschigmit and Tenada correspond to the locations of Mount Foraker and Mount McKinley. Von Wrangel had been chief administrator of the Russian settlements in North America from 1829–1835. The Russian explorer Lavrenty Zagoskin explored the Tanana and Kuskokwim rivers in 1843 and 1844 and was probably the first European to sight the mountain from the other site.

The first English name the peak enjoyed, locally, was Densmore’s Mountain, after the gold prospector Frank Densmore who in 1889 had fervently praised the mountain’s majesty. The mountain did not get much press until William Dickey, a New Hampshire-born Seattleite, who had been digging for gold in the sands of the Susitna River, wrote, after his return to the lower states, an account in the New York Sun that appeared on January 24, 1897. He wrote “We named our great peak Mount McKinley, after William McKinley of Ohio, who had been nominated for the Presidency”. By most accounts, the naming was a pure political one; he had met many silver miners who zealously promoted Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan's ideal of a silver standard, inspiring him to retaliate by naming the mountain after a strong proponent of the gold standard. His report drew attention with the sentence “We have no doubt that this peak is the highest in North America, and estimate that it is over 20,000 feet (6,100 m) high.” Until then 18,000-foot (5,500 m) Mount Saint Elias was believed to be the continent’s highest (Mount Logan was still unknown, while Mount St Elias’ height had been overestimated to beat Pico de Orizaba). Though later praised for his estimate, Dickey admitted that other prospector parties had also guessed the mountain to be over 20,000 feet (6,100 m).

Mount McKinley is commonly referred to by its Athabaskan name Denali, which is the name currently recognized by the State of Alaska. When Denali National Park and Preserve was established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, December 2, 1980, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain back to Denali. However, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names maintains the name McKinley, ostensibly to help visitors avoid confusion between the mountain and the park. Use of the name "McKinley" remains common, particularly in the Lower 48; however, Alaskans and mountaineers generally use the name "Denali" to refer both to the park and to the mountain.

Following the retirement of U.S. Congressman Ralph Regula of Ohio who opposed such changes since 1975, there has been renewed interest in renaming the mountain, spearheaded this time by Alaska State Representative Scott Kawasaki, the prime sponsor of Alaska House Joint Resolution 15. From 1973–2009, Regula represented Ohio's 16th district, which includes Canton, the hometown of President McKinley, who never set foot in Alaska.

Climbing History

Hudson Stuck led the first successful summit of the mountain in 1913.The first recorded attempt to climb Mount McKinley was by Judge James Wickersham in 1903, via the Peters Glacier and the North Face, now known as the Wickersham Wall. This route has tremendous avalanche danger and was not successfully climbed until 1963.

Famed explorer Dr. Frederick Cook claimed the first ascent of the mountain in 1906. His claim was regarded with some suspicion from the start, but was also widely believed. It was later proved fraudulent, with some crucial evidence provided by Bradford Washburn when he was sketched on a lower peak.

In 1910, four locals (Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall), known as the Sourdough expedition, attempted McKinley, despite a complete lack of climbing experience. They spent approximately three months on the mountain. However, their purported summit day was impressive: carrying a bag of doughnuts, a thermos of cocoa each and a 14-foot (4.2 m) spruce pole, two of them reached the North Summit, lower of the two, and erected the pole near the top. According to them, they took a total of 18 hours — a record that has yet to be breached (as of 2006). No one believed their success (partly due to false claims that they had climbed both summits) until the true first ascent, in 1913.

In 1912, the Parker-Browne expedition nearly reached the summit, turning back within just a few hundred yards of it due to harsh weather. In fact, that probably saved their lives, as a powerful earthquake shattered the glacier they ascended hours after they safely left it.

High camp (17,200 feet / 5,200 m) of the West Buttress Route pioneered by Bradford Washburn, photographed in 2001The first ascent of the main summit of McKinley came on June 7, 1913 by a party led by Hudson Stuck. The first man to reach the summit was Walter Harper, an Alaska Native. Harry Karstens and Robert Tatum also made the summit. Tatum later commented, "The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven!" They ascended the Muldrow Glacier route pioneered by the earlier expeditions, which is still often climbed today. Stuck confirmed, via binoculars, the presence of a large pole near the North Summit; this report confirmed the Sourdough ascent, and today it is widely believed that the Sourdoughs did succeed on the North Summit. However, the pole was never seen before or since, so there is still some doubt. Stuck also discovered that the Parker-Browne party were only about 200 feet (61 m) of elevation short of the true summit when they turned back.

See the timeline below for more important events in Mount McKinley's climbing history.

The mountain is regularly climbed today, with just over 50% of the expeditions successful, although it is still a dangerous undertaking. By 2003, the mountain had claimed the lives of nearly 100 mountaineers. The vast majority of climbers use the West Buttress Route, pioneered in 1951 by Bradford Washburn, after an extensive aerial photographic analysis of the mountain. Climbers typically take two to four weeks to ascend the mountain.


1896–1902. Surveys by Robert Muldrow, George Eldridge, Alfred Brooks.
1903. First attempt, by Judge James Wickersham.
1906. Frederick Cook falsely claims the first ascent of McKinley.
1910. The Sourdoughs ascend the North Summit.
1912. The Parker-Browne attempt almost reaches the South Summit.
Mt. McKinley in July 20061913. First ascent by Hudson Stuck, Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Robert Tatum.
1932. Second ascent, by Alfred Lindley, Harry Liek, Grant Pearson, Erling Strom. (Both peaks were climbed.)
1947. Barbara Washburn becomes the first woman to reach the summit as her husband Bradford Washburn becomes the first to summit twice.
1951. First ascent of the West Buttress Route, led by Bradford Washburn.
1954. First ascent of the very long South Buttress Route.
1959. First ascent of the West Rib, now a popular, mildly technical route to the summit.
1961. First ascent of the Cassin Ridge, the best-known technical route on the mountain. This was a major landmark in Alaskan climbing.
1963. Two teams make first ascents of two different routes on the Wickersham Wall. 1967. First winter ascent, via the West Buttress, by Dave Johnston, Art Davidson, and Ray Genet.
1967. Seven members of Joe Wilcox's twelve-man expedition perish, while stranded for ten days near the summit, in what has been described as the worst storm on record. Up to that time, this was the third worst disaster in mountaineering history in terms of lives lost.
1970. First solo ascent by Naomi Uemura.
1972. Sylvain Saudan "Skier of the Impossible" skies down the sheer southwest face, conquered for the first time by skier or climber.
1982. Dr. Miri Ercolani is the first woman to solo Mt. Mckinley.
1984. Uemura returns to make the first winter solo ascent, but dies after summitting. Tono Križo, František Korl and Blažej Adam from the Slovak Mountaineering Association climb a very direct route to the summit, now known as the Slovak Route, on the south face of the mountain, to the right of the Cassin Ridge.
1988. First solo winter ascent with safe return, by Vern Tejas. 

Weather Station

The Japan Alpine Club installed a meteorological station on a ridge near the summit of Denali at an altitude of 5710 m in 1990. In 1998, this weather station was donated to the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In June 2002, a weather station was placed at the 19,000-foot (5,800 m) level. This weather station was designed to transmit data in real-time for use by the climbing public and the science community. Since its establishment, annual upgrades to the equipment have been performed with instrumentation custom built for the extreme weather and altitude conditions. This weather station is one of only two weather stations in the world located above 18,000 feet (5,500 m).

The weather station recorded temperatures as low as −75.5 °F (−60 °C) on December 1, 2003. On the previous day, November 30, 2003, a temperature of −74.4 °F (−59 °C) combined with a windspeed of 18.4 miles per hour to produce a North American record windchill of −118.1 °F (−83 °C).

Even in July, temperatures as low as −22.9 °F (−30 °C) and windchills as low as −59.2 °F (−51 °C) have been recorded by this weather station.

Subpeaks and Nearby Mountains

Mount McKinley, here shrouded in clouds, is large enough to create its own localized weather.Besides the North Summit mentioned above, other less significant features on the massif which are sometimes included as separate peaks are:

South Buttress, 15,885 feet (4,842 m); mean prominence = 335 feet (102 m)
East Buttress high point, 14,730 feet (4,490 m); mean prominence = 380 feet (116 m)
East Buttress, most topographically prominent point, 14,650 feet (4,465 m); mean prominence = 600 feet (183 m)
Browne Tower, 14,530 feet (4,429 m); mean prominence = 75 feet (23 m)

None of these peaks is usually regarded as worthwhile objectives in their own right; however they often appear on lists of the highest peaks of the United States. (Only one appears on the List of United States Fourteeners on Wikipedia.)

Nearby important peaks include:
Mount Foraker
Mount Hunter
Mount Huntington
Mount Dickey
The Moose's Tooth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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