7 Things To Know About Denali (Mt. McKinley)


LOCATION: Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, located in Denali National Park in the state of Alaska. Denali is 20,310ft (6,190m) above sea level. The “base to peak” rise is higher than any other mountain in the world – rising 18,000ft from the base to the summit. Denali has two significant summits. The North Summit has an elevation of 19,470ft and the South Summit is the actual true high point of the mountain.

NAMESAKE: Denali was known for many years as Mt. McKinley. This name came about when a gold prospector named the mountain after then presidential candidate, William McKinley, in 1896. In August 2015, President Obama used his executive power to restore the Alaskan Native name – Denali – to the mountain.

According to the New York Times, “Denali’s name has long been seen as one such slight, regarded as an example of cultural imperialism in which a Native American name with historical roots was replaced by an American one having little to do with the place.”

The mountain was called Mt. McKinley for almost a century – officially named Mt. McKinley by the federal government in 1917. Efforts to restore the name Denali, meaning “great one” or “high one” by the state’s Native population, began in 1975. In 1980 the National Park surrounding the mountain was named Denali National Park but the mountain retained its name Mt. McKinley. In 2015, Obama restored the mountain’s original name and the peak is now called Denali.

Learn more. Read the article here. 

ROUTE: Colin had plans to climb the West Rib route on Denali. However, due to avalanche dangers on the lower portion of the route, they have elected to climb the West Buttress route instead. This route is considered the safest and most commonly climbed route. Unlike Himalayan expeditions where Sherpa support is common, climbers on Denali need to be completely self-sufficient. Colin flew to base camp at 7,200ft on Monday, May 23rd just four days after summiting Mt. Everest. He and climbing partner, Tucker Cunningham, climbed 5 miles to sleep the first night at 7,800ft. Climbers typically camp at 7,200ft (basecamp), 7,800ft, 9,500ft, 11,000ft, 14,200ft and 17,200ft. Instead, Colin climbed from 7,800ft to 14,100ft – “14 Camp” or “Advanced Base Camp” – where he is waiting a few days for weather to pass. When the summit window opens, Colin and team will make a straight shot for the summit from 14,200ft. Most climbers will move to high camp 17,200ft before pushing for the summit.

WEATHER: On Denali, climbers may encounter 100 mph winds and -40°F temperatures. The high winds are sporadic and greatly increase the risks of the already rigorous climb. Denali is known for its unpredictable weather. Snowstorms can last up to a week at a time. Colin is currently hunkering down at 14,000ft waiting for the high winds to pass so he can assess the best day to push for the summit. Denali is known as one of the coldest mountain in the world; cold temperatures exaggerated by the often fierce wind chill. However, the cold is often tempered by the fact the climbing season occurs in summertime with 20 hours of daylight since it is so far North. If it is sunny with no cloud cover, this can mean a warmer climb.

One source for general mountain weather is Mountain Forecast.

SAFETY: Colin is well prepared for this climb. He has experience with glacier travel, crevasse rescue, altitude and cold temps, and his expedition skills are on point right now after months of mountain life on this project! The team is climbing the West Buttress route, considered the safest, most well trodden route. Nearly 400 climbers are on Denali as of May 26th. Colin is climbing in the main climbing season – between early May and early June. There are National Park Rangers on the mountain and satellite phone connectivity enables them to hear weather updates. There is even Verizon cell service from above 14,000ft.

TEAM: Colin will be climbing with long time friend, Tucker Cunningham, and Drew Pogee. Tucker has climbed Denali several times and loves spending time in the backcountry, skiing and climbing. Both Tucker and Drew flew to Alaska on May 8th and have been on the mountain for several weeks acclimatizing and waiting for Colin’s arrival. Since Colin is already acclimatized from Everest, this ensures his climbing partners are ready for a rapid ascent of the peak when the weather opens for a summit bid.

FIRST ASCENT: There were several recorded ascents between 1903-1913, but some failed and others were later proved to be false. The first official verifiable ascent of Denali’s summit came on June 7, 1913 by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum.

Colin is currently on Denali! He’ll be making a summit attempt in the coming days when the weather is reasonable! You can track the journey live via GPS: TRACK LIVE HERE.

Also check out the daily National Park Denali Dispatches here

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