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Alaska Range
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Alaska Range

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Alaska Range

Page Type: Area/Range

Lat/Lon: 63.06920°N / 151.0036°W

Object Title: Alaska Range

Activities: Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Ice Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling, Skiing

 

Page By: Diggler

Created/Edited: Jan 12, 2006 / Feb 15, 2011

Object ID: 170857

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I felt part of some great movement, one of an infinite scale, too grand to see but only to feel in the night's wind.

- Mugs Stump, bivying on the N. Buttress of Mt. Hunter, 1981

Overview



While not comparable in length (the Rockies are over 4 times as long), nor having the same abundance of high peaks as some of North America's other ranges (the Colorado Rockies alone have over 50 14,000-ft peaks, while the Alaska Range has but 3), due to its great ruggedness, enormity of its greatest peaks, infamously severe weather & resulting glaciation, the Alaska Range is arguably the continent’s greatest mountain range. It is home to not only the continent’s highest peak, but many other rugged mountains, & is the site of the continent’s finest alpine testpieces. The range creates a 600 mile-long swath dividing the southern portion of Alaska and its interior. Its boundaries are defined by Iliamna Lake at the southwest end to White River in Canada at the southeast end. The region attracts tourists desiring to experience the amazing scenery for which Alaska is renowned, 7 summits aspirants, and world-class alpinists alike. Big-game hunters flock to the region to convince others of their virility by using high-powered rifles to kill enormous specimens of the animal kingdom, ranging from fearsome grizzly bears to the majestic Dall sheep.

Some of the US's, & indeed the world's, greatest climbers, have either cut their alpine teeth, or introduced testpieces, in this range: Mugs Stump, Fred Beckey, Steve House, Royal Robbins, Charlie Porter, Heinrich Harrer, Ricardo Cassin, & Reinhold Messner, among others, have their names etched into the climbing history of the area.

The Alaska Range acts as a barrier to the flow of moist air from the Gulf of Alaska, and thus creates some of the harshest weather in the world. The infamous conditions of the region are justifiably severe: some of the largest glaciers in the world are here, daylight hours can be as short as 6 hours during the winter, and timberline begins at elevations between 2,500 and 3,000 ft (by comparison, timberline in Colorado is approximately 11,000 ft!). The range belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire; the Denali fault running along the southern edge of the range is responsible for a number of earthquakes.

Given the wildness of Alaska as a whole, it is no surprise that stories of crushing defeat and personal triumph abound here. Jon Krakauer’s national bestseller Into the Wild, about a young man who came to Alaska looking to test his limits and escape his previous life, took place here (near Denali National Park).

Denali National Park (formerly known as McKinley National Park) occupies a noteworthy amount of the central portion of the range, and as one might surmise, is home to Denali (officially known as Mt. McKinley), at 20,320 ft (6,193 m) the roof of North America (and 3rd highest continental highpoint, behind Mt. Everest and Aconcagua). The range is centered at 62 degrees latitude.

Subranges & Noteworthy Peaks of the Alaska Range


map Copyright Raven Maps

The Alaska Range can be subdivided into 5 distinct subranges: starting from its western boundary, where the Aleutian Range ends, to the east:

· the Revelation Mountains: this heavily-glaciated subrange is located N of the Neacola Mountains & Stony River & Neacola drainages, west of the Kuskokwim River, & east of the Big River. Bad weather due to the area's proximity to the coast has left the area relatively unexplored, & makes for a solitary experience. Access is from Anchorage, Nikiski, Girdwood, or Talkeetna.

· the Kichatna Mountains: these peaks offer the most rugged terrain in a concentrated area in Alaska. They have what has been described as "an endless amount of climbing," characterized by imposing buttresses & steep walls & couloirs. None of the summits rise above 9,000 ft. Picture the Sierra Nevada or North Cascades on steroids. Although first spotted (by a white man) in 1899, it wasn't until the 1960s that the existence & location of these magnificent peaks was verified by climbers. The renowned poor weather & high flight costs from Talkeetna serve to deter most climbers from visiting this area.

· Central Alaska Range

Home to the giants of the Alaska Range, the central Alaska Range is best known for the continent's highest peak, Denali (Mt. McKinley). Mounts Foraker & Hunter are in the Central Alaska Range as well. Most of this subrange lies in Denali National Park. This part of the Alaska Range is the most popular climbing destination in Alaska. Broad Pass defines the eastern boundary of the Central Alaska Range, whence the headwaters of the Chulitna and Nenana Rivers flow south & north, respectively. Flatlands mark the range's northern & southern borders, while the west fork of the Yentna forms the western boundary of the range. The park's boundaries have been extended several times (the park size is currently 6,000,000 acres (!)), and the originally-designated park area has been declared a wilderness area. Difficulties range from Mt. Dickey's easy West Face (Alaska Grade 1; glacier travel & experience necessary) to world-renowned testpieces such as the Moonflower Buttress & Mt. Foraker's Infinite Spur (both Alaska Grade 6). Those interested in climbing in heading to the Central Alaska Range should familiarize themselves with the rules, regulations, & boundaries of Denali National Park.

Within the Central Alaska Range itself lie a few areas worthy of distinction:

* The Ruth Gorge is marked by a constriction in the Ruth Glacier where numerous steep & impressive peaks (& correspondingly noteworthy climbs, many of which are rock climbs on the scale of those found in Yosemite Valley) explode upwards. The ice underneath Mts Barrill & Dickey is a staggering 3,800' thick (moving 3 feet a day). If the "Global Warming" agreed upon by most of the world's educated people continues & were to melt out the Ruth Glacier, the elevation difference between the bottom of the valley floor & the summits above would be over twice that of the Grand Canyon!

* An area known as 'Little Switzerland' occupies the inner bend of the Kahiltna Glacier, some 20 miles from the glacier snout. The unofficially named (yet widely recognized) Pika Glacier flows past the central, most popular portion of the peaks, including Royal Tower, The Throne, & Middle Troll. While the area can be easily accessed by plane (generally from Talkeetna), it is possible to walk in from the end of the Petersville Rd (postmile 114.5 on the George Parks Highway).

· Eastern Alaska Range

This range is bounded by Broad Pass on the west, the Delta River on the east, & the Alaska tundra plains on the north and south. The notorious weather here has been known to strand climbers for weeks. The highest peak of the Eastern Alaska Range is Mount Hayes (13,832 ft), viewable on a clear day from Fairbanks. Access to this remote range is usually on skis in the springtime, when the rivers are frozen. When they are flowing, crossing by boat is necessitated.

· Delta Mountains: The Delta Mountains mark the western terminus of the Alaska Range. They are bounded by the Delta River on the west, the Tanana & Nebesna Rivers to the northeast, & tundra plains to the south. Access is much less of an issue for this subrange; most of the glaciers in the western Deltas are less than a mile away from the Richardson Highway. There are climbs & peaks suitable for climbers from beginners to experts here.


Mountain

Elevation (ft)

Elevation (m)

Subrange

USGS Quad

20,320

6,193

Central Alaska Range

Mt. McKinley

17,400

5,303

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna, Mt. McKinley

Mt. Hunter

14,573

4,441

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Mt. Hayes

13,832

4, 215

Eastern Alaska Range

Mt. Hayes

13,220

4,029

Central Alaska Range

Mt. McKinley

Mt. Moffit

13,020

3,968

Eastern Alaska Range

Mt. Hayes

Mt. Deborah

12,339

3,760

Eastern Alaska Range

Healy

Mt. Huntington

12,240

3,730

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Mt. Mather

12,123

3,695

Central Alaska Range

Mt. McKinley

Mt. Brooks

11,940

3,639

Central Alaska Range

Mt. McKinley

Mt. Russell

11,670

3,557

Cental Alaska Range

Talkeetna

McGinnis Peak

11,400

3,474

Eastern Alaska Range

Mt. Hayes

Peak 11,300

Take a guess

3,444

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna, Mt. McKinley

Mooses Tooth

10,300

3,139

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Mt. Kimball

10,300

3,139

Delta Mountains

Mt. Hayes

White Princess

9,800

2,987

Delta Mountains

Mt. Hayes

Mt. Dickey

9,545

2,909

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

The Thorn

9,200

2,804

Delta Mountains

Mt. Hayes

Eye Tooth

9,000

2,743

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Middle Triple Peak

8,835

2,692

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

Four Horsemen

8,600

2,621

Revelation Mountains

Lime Hills

Flattop Spire

8,400

2,560

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

North Triple Peak

8,400

2,560

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

Royal Tower

8,130

2,478

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Sugar Tooth

8,000

2,438

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Sunrise Spire

7,900

2,407

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

Mt. Barrill

7,650

2,331

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Whiteout Spire

7,600

2,316

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

Serenity Spire

7,500

2,286

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

Trinity Spire

7,500

2,286

Kichatna Mountains

Talkeetna

The Throne

7,390

2,252

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna

Middle Troll

6,900

2,103

Central Alaska Range

Talkeetna




Red Tape

Any climbers attempting to climb Mt. McKinley (Denali) or Mt. Foraker must purchase special-use permits ($200, as of March 2006) in addition to standard Denali National Park entrance fees. Registration must also be completed 60 days in advance of desired climb start. Check this out for further beta.

Special Considerations

Due to its remoteness, great annual precipitation, & proximity to the Arctic Circle, there are many special considerations that should be taken into account when entertaining the thought of planning a climb here.

· Weather
The incredible snow accumulation and enormous glaciers of Alaska do not happen without reason. The storms that can roll through the Alaska Range have pinned innumerable climbers at the bases of their intended routes (or on them for the unfortunate ones) for days on end, and are not unheard of even during the summer, especially at higher elevations. Climbers should anticipate this, and have enough food (& appropriate clothing & gear) for numerous days beyond the desired minimum climb duration. The most stable months are April through June.

· Cold:
If this comes as any kind of major surprise to you, any serious ideas of planning a climbing trip to Alaska should perhaps be reconsidered. During the first winter ascent of Denali in February of 1967, 3 climbers were pinned down at 18,200 ft on McKinley Pass, where the temperature including wind chill worked out to a testicle-numbing -148°F (-100°C). “It’s colder than all the peaks I have attempted in the Himalaya,” proclaimed Austrian climbing legend Peter Habeler once after climbing on Denali. It should be noted that cold makes climbers more susceptable to both high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) as well.

· River Crossings
While this may seem straightforward, obvious, or even trivial, the rivers here that require crossing to reach the base of one’s desired mountain(s) can be the most dangerous part of the approach. Combined runoff from various glaciers can create braided channels more than a mile in width, while the till contained in the river can make judging the river’s depth & subsurface conditions difficult. A glacially-fed river’s volumetric flow is frequently the lowest in the morning, after the coldest temperatures of the day (i.e. the night before) have frozen some of the river’s source at higher elevations, & highest during the heat of the day when daytime temperature-induced melting is at its highest. Seasonal flow-rates are highest from April through August, when the highest degree of melting occurs; winter, while offering passage above frozen river waters, can prove dangerous as well, when the unfortunate traveler risks breaking through the potentially large gap between the frozen surface & the actual water below.

· Glaciers and crevasses:
Due to the cold average temperatures encountered & high annual snowfall, there are glaciers in the Alaska- lots of ‘em. Some of these rank among the largest mountain glaciers in the world, & the crevasses encountered here merit consideration when travel across them is desired. The deepest measured glacier in the Alaska Range is the Ruth Glacier, at 3,805 ft. Due attention should also be given to hanging glaciers, which can pose a threat both on the approach as well as on sections of one's actual climb that might go directly beneath seracs.

· Daylight (or lack thereof):
Due to the extreme northern latitudes in which the range lies, daylight can be un/limited. Daylight hours at Denali vary from approximately 6 hours in December/January to virtually all day in June/July (during the summer solstice the sun is present the entire day except for approximately 2.5 hours of twilight). Check here for sunrise/sunset times (need to input the latitude/longitude)!

· Beasts:
Unlike most places in the contiguous United States, brown bears (grizzlies) and the inherent dangers that they present must be considered when traveling here. Voracious mosquitoes can pose a considerable threat in the warmer months as well.

· Remoteness:
While Alaska’s mountainous regions are much more accessible to climbers (as a result of the standard small fixed-wing aircraft used for transport) than in many other secluded areas of the climbing world, would-be climbers should also realize that access is entirely weather-dependent. Extra time should be allotted for the chance that climbers might become marooned (for at least multiple days) in the event of inclement weather rendering flights impossible.

· Less Air!
Believe it or not, due to Alaska’s proximity to the Arctic Circle (where the atmosphere is thinner), elevations here seem approximately 2,000 – 3,000 ft higher than equivalent elevations at the equator. It has been claimed that, due to the lower barometric pressure, an ascent of Denali (6,194 m) is comparable to climbing a 7,000m peak in the Himalaya.

The Alaska Factor

Due to the extreme cold, ferocity of the storms, remoteness, often high commitment levels required, & overall badassedness involved, veteran climber Boyd N. Everett Jr. devised a rating system specifically for big mountain climbs in Alaska. This was unveiled at a presentation entitled The Organization of an Alaskan Expedition at a 1966 Harvard Mountaineering Club seminar. The presentation on which the book was based was written over a period of 2 weeks. Alaska veteran & mountaineering author Jonathan Waterman furthered the useage of Everett's system in his book High Alaska.

This system is intended to impart the combined seriousness, difficulty, and overall commitment level of a climb in an Alaskan big mountain environment; the creation of this system implies the differences in difficulty, risks, & overall higher commitment in Alaska & other mountain ranges of the world. The rating does not include the approach difficulty (often formidable, especially for brave or foolhardy parties attempting by foot), nor the explicit technical rock difficulty of the climb- this is usually stated in addition to the route's Alaska Grade rating.

The system goes from Alaska Grade 1 (can be accomplished in 1 day from base camp; experience on snow & glaciers should be considered essential, & the route may involve 3rd to 4th class scrambling; example- W ridge of White Princess) to Alaska Grade 6 (an extremely large, sustained, technical, risky, difficult, & committing climb- about as hard as it gets, anywhere; example- Infinite Spur, Mt. Foraker). A more complete description of the system (itself derived from Waterman's High Alaska) can be had here. Coombs & Wood's Alaska- A Climbing Guide (see 'Additional Resources') also provides a modern interpretation of the system.

Access

• To reach the standard Denali basecamp (i.e. for the West Buttress route), climbers typically take a 40-minute flight from Talkeetna, 60 mi S. of Denali, to the Kahiltna Glacier (7,100 ft).

• The Richardson Highway (from Valdez to Fairbanks) & the George Parks Highway (from Anchorage to Fairbanks) pass through low parts of the Alaska Range. Entrance is gained to Denali National Park from the George Parks Highway at McKinley Village. From the Parks Highway, the Denali Park Road (conditions; it is closed from mid-September until June) goes 90 miles west to Kantishna & Wonder Lake, providing overland access to Mounts Silverthrone, Mather, & Brooks, on the north side of the range. Access by private car is possible until Savage River, at which point buses are available.

by air
Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, airplanes are not surprisingly a fundamental part of many climbers' access to the range.

• Climbers headed for the south side of the Central Alaska Range typically fly in from Talkeetna.

Following is a list of some of the flight services offered in and around various parts of the Alaska Range:

Talkeetna:
• Doug Geeting Aviation
PO Box 42
Talkeetna, AK 99676
phone: 907.733.2366
fax: 907.733.1000
email: airtours@alaska.net

• Hudson Air Service
PO Box 648
Talkeetna, AK 99676
phone: 907.733.2321
fax: 907.733.2333

• K2 Aviation
PO Box 545
Talkeetna, AK 99676
phone: 907.733.2291
fax: 907.733.1221
email: explore@alaska.net
website

• McKinley Air Service
phone: 907.733.1765 or (toll-free)800.564.1765

• Talkeetna Air Taxi
Talkeetna, AK 99676
phone: 907.733.2218
fax: 907.733.1221
email: flytat@alaska.net

Fairbanks:
• Frontier Air
5245 Airport Industrial Road
Fairbanks, AK 99709
phone: 907.474.0014 or (toll-free) 800.478.6779
email: info@frontierflying.com

• Wright Air Service, Inc. (Robert Bursiel)
PO Box 60142
Fairbanks, AK 99706
phone: 907.474.0502

Glennallen:
• Ellis Air Taxi
Mile 118 Richardson Highway, PO Box 106
Glennallen, AK 99588
phone: 907.822.3368 or (toll-free) 800.478.3368

Tok:
• 40 Mile Air
flight services to Alaska & Wrangell-St. Elias regions
Backpacking & mountaineering
email (Rik Anderson): ra7302@msn.com
website: www.40-mileair.com

by land
For land access to Denali National Park and the Central Alaska Range, highway 3 (the George Parks Highway) is the single solitary road connecting the park with the outside world, running some 330 miles from Fairbanks (in the north) to its junction with Palmer (in the south) at highway 8 (approximately 40 miles from Anchorage). In the process it skirts the eastern side of Denali National Park (the Denali Highway, going through Denali Park), then curves around the southeastern part of the park before turning south. If flying in seems too easy, the southern part of the Central Alaska Range can be accessed by walking in from the end of Petersville Road (at postmile 114.5 on the George Parks Highway). Click here for current Denali National Park weather & road conditions.

Check here for current road closures.

Check this for an Alaska highway map.

• Another land possibility is the Alaska Railroad, which skirts the eastern side of the park through the same river valley as the Denali Highway. Service to Denali Park and Talkeetna is seasonal.

Wildlife & Plants

Due to the harsh winters, limited daylight, & the resulting sparse vegetation, there are only 39 species of mammals in huge Denali National Park. There are no reptiles there. These range from tiny mice & shrews to caribou, moose, wolves, & grizzly bears. Because of the limited variety (and overall number) of animals living in this brutal environment, if one link in the food chain is disrupted, all of the populations suffer. Despite the limited number of species, those that exist here are well adapted to the remorseless environment. A brief summary of some of the area’s more noteworthy animals is as follows:

Little Critters:
Much of the larger, more well-known wildlife of the region depends on the smaller, less visible creatures for sustenance. There are many kinds of rodents that inhabit the area, including the collared pika (a distant relative of snowshoe hare), the hoary marmot, mouselike voles, shrews, & lemmings (7 different species are found in Denali National Park), and the snowshoe hare, found in the low-lying spruce forests and brush country of Denali National Park, its main predators being the lynx, fox, owl.

Of particular interest is the arctic ground squirrel. This little creature is also known as the parka squirrel, pronounced “parky” by Alaskans & so named because its pelts were historically used to make parkas. While hibernating during the winter, the arctic ground squirrel’s temperature hovers only few degrees above freezing, & its heartbeat is reduced from 200 – 400 beats per minute to five to 10! Its disappearance for 6 months of the year brings hardships to many of its summertime predators, which usually lose weight as a result. The delicious flesh of the arctic ground squirrel makes for good eatin’ for other animals in the Park: it supplies up to 90% of the golden eagle’s nourishment, is an important dietary element of the gyrfalcon, & can make up to 50% of the food eaten by the fox. Grizzlies also enjoy a meal of parka squirrel when they can get it, by attempting to dig them out of their burrows with their massive forepaws and claws; they’re too ponderous to be effective predators of the swift (adult, at least) caribou, moose, & Dall sheep.

Birds
Migratory birds that frequent the Alaska Range include the majestic golden eagle, golden plover which arrives from Hawai’i to lay eggs in hollows in ground, the wheatear which migrates from Asia, & the wandering tattler. Other birds found in the region include the owl & gyrfalcon, a large, graceful arctic hawk.

Omnivores:
Perhaps the two most prominent omnivores present are the black & grizzly bears.

Grizzly (brown) bears, behind polar bears, are the largest land carnivores. Males can reach up to 1,200 lb (550 kg). This is a big reason why they have no natural enemies. Crossing the land bridge from Asia some 30,000 years ago, they have spread to Alaska, large parts of Canada, and can be found on a limited basis in the contiguous United States. There are up to 50,000 living in Alaska and western Canada. Brown bears rely heavily on seasonal foods, those in the Alaska Range on migrating caribou in particular. Grizzlies have large ranges- an Alaskan male grizzly’s home range may cover up to 190 mi2 (500 km2)! In the springtime & early summer, grizzlies also hunt the young of caribou & Dall’s sheep. Brown bears are lovers and fighters, copulating for up to an hour (!).

Black bears arrived in North America several million years before their much larger relatives, the grizzlies. An adult male black bear can weigh up to 600 lb (270 kg). Like the grizzlies, black bears eat most anything a mammal could consider food: insects, roots, sedges, grasses, berries, fungi, moss, salmon, mice, marmots, ground squirrels, eggs of turtles & birds, carrion, & the young of elk, moose, deer & caribou. They are much more likely to browse or fish than they are to hunt big game, however, and are less reliant on seasonal foods. Human garbage is frequently considered part of the menu as well. Due in large part to their smaller size, black bears are much more adept at climbing trees than grizzly bears- when the two meet, a black bear will usually retreat or climb a tree to avoid trouble.

Grazers:

- Dall’s sheep: These relatives of the bighorn sheep of the American & Canadian Rockies may weigh up to 200 lb, and are some of the most impressive animals that inhabit the area. They typically dwell high in the mountains, and are expert climbers. Because of this, they have few predators; they are most at risk (from bears and wolves) when forced to descend from their high range because of snow & ice or overgrazing. There are approximately 3,000 sheep in Denali National Park, and visitors there have a good chance of seeing some up close.

- Caribou: These are the indigenous variants of the reindeer brought over from the Old World in the 1890s to provide the local Inuits with a food supply and additional economic resource (by selling their meat and hides). Ungainly when viewed up close, they are nonetheless quite capable creatures in their natural environment. They are can swim 4 - 5 mph & gallop 30 - 40 mph on snow or the soft ground of tundra. Both sexes carry antlers. In a herd numbering in the thousands, they enter Denali National Park in the early spring from the forested areas to the north & west, move south across the Alaska Range, & return northward through the park in July, August, & September. Always feeding as they go, they do not damage the delicate vegetation on which they subsist by grazing too long in one area. Caribou are more numerous than sheep or moose.

- Moose: These enormous grazers are second in size only to the bison and can weigh up to 1,750 lb (800 kg). Despite this enormity, they are shy like other kinds of deer, and seldom stray far from a pond or lake. They can outswim wolves, their primary predators, and retreat to the water when harassed. Moose are most vulnerable to both predators and starvation in the harsh subarctic winter.

Predators:
Predators native to the area include the lynx (which feeds on ptarmigans, ground squirrels, & mice), red fox, grizzly (brown) bear, mosquito, wolverine, & wolf.

Behind grizzlies, the infamous mosquitoes of Alaska may well be the state's most-feared carnivore. They are feared to such an extent that there has even been a book written about them. There is ample evidence to suggest why:
• there are 35 different species of mosquitoes in Alaska
• the unofficial number of mosquitoes killed with single swat is 78
• some call mosquitoes “the Alaska state bird”
Mosquitoes are the worst from the 2nd week in June until the last week in July. Consideration should be made to minimize the torture inflicted by these vampires: DEET as well as mosquito nets are probably the most effective deterants. Some websites offering advice or protective suggestions against mosquitoes include the following:
Biting insect management bulletin
Anchorage Daily News article on various types of stinging flying insects to be concerned about in Alaska
How mosquitoes overwinter in AK
MSNBC article on particularly bad summer for mosquitoes in AK (1995) (make sure to click on the link describing the 'flat beer' mosquito deterrant!)

The wolf is perhaps North America’s greatest predator, living & hunting in packs, and having one of the most complex social structures known. The subspecies of wolf found in the Alaskan interior is the largest in the world; the heaviest on record was a male weighing 175 lb! Packs consist of between 2 and 20 individuals. Wolves’ stamina allows them to travel up to 25 mph (40 kph) for up to 20 minutes, allowing them to wear their prey down before moving in for the kill. Their preferred prey in this region are Dall’s sheep, moose, & caribou, though rodents can form a large part of their diet when hoofed animals are scarce.

Plants
There are 754 species of plant species documented in Denali National Park, 8 tree species, & approximately 600 species of mosses, lichens, & liverworts. Most of the trees do not stand higher than a moose; birch comes up to a man's waist, while dogwood crouches at one's heel. There are 424 species of flowering plants in Denali National Park.

Legend and Lore

The Tanaina, the only northern Athabascan-speaking Native Americans occupying extensive portions of the seacoast, have a legend about the formation of the range. An ancient mythological figure, Raven, was being threatened by enormous waves coming in from the sea. To defend himself, he threw his harpoon at them. As his weapon found its mark, the wall of water solidified, forming the extensive Alaska Range. The largest and most powerful wave became Denali.

Considerable Achievements

"I send my warmest congratulations to you and to the other members of the Italian team, who have achieved such a splendid mountaineering feat on Mt. McKinley." - President John F. Kennedy, in 1961, to Riccardo Cassin, following the first ascent of the Cassin Ridge

Following are a few of the more notable achievements in the Alaska Range:

· Dave Johnston traversed the entire Alaska Range from Wonder Lake to Talkeetna, with side trips to both summits of Denali & all 3 summits of Mt. Hunter. He later returned to do the first winter ascent of Denali.

· Mt. Hunter, West Ridge (Alaska Grade 4+, 5.8, AI3, 7,600' elevation gain over 4.5 mi): FA by Fred Beckey, Heinrich Harrer, & Henrey Meybohm on 5 July, 1954. While this is the standard way up Mt. Hunter & does not represent the current state of the art in Alaskan climbing, its relative difficulty at the time it was established, renowned first ascentionists, number & magnitude of objective hazards, & sheer size make this route noteworthy. It is characterized by miles of corniced ridge, crevasses, & avalanche-prone slopes. Serac falls are a hazard in some places as well. Also see Steck & Roper, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, naclassics.com.

· Denali, Cassin Ridge (Alaska Grade 5 5.8, AI 4, 9,000' gain): Since Riccardo Cassin & his party first summited Denali via this route on 19 July, 1961, it has become a major goal for many a skilled alpinist worldwide. The route was suggested to Cassin, who was looking to climb a major new Alaskan route, by Bradford Washburn, always interested in furthering climbing in Alaska. Charlie Porter soloed the ridge in a 36-hour push to the summit in the summer of 1976, while Mugs Stump did the same in an amazing 15-hour push (27.5 hours round trip) in 1991, starting at 14,200' on the West Buttress. The route saw its first winter ascent in March of 1982 by Roger Mear, Jonathan Waterman, & Mike Young. (free download of the Cassin Ridge from Supertopo here. Also see Steck & Roper, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, & naclassics.com.

· Mt. Foraker, Infinite Spur (Alaska Grade 6, 5.9, AI 4, 9,000' elevation gain): This is one of the classic testpieces of Alaskan climbing. First attempted by Alex Bertulis & a partner in 1968, it was not completed until the summer of 1977 by Michael Kennedy & George Lowe over a period of 7 days. In 2001, Steve House & Rolando Garibotti climbed the Infinite Spur in a blistering 25 hrs.

· Middle Triple Peak, East Buttress (V, 5.10, A2, 3,600' elevation gain): First climbed by Andrew Embick, Michael Graber, Alan Long, & George Shunk, from June 2-9, 1977. As of 2001, this beautiful & imposing line had been climbed less than half a dozen times. It is 28+ pitches in length.

· Mt. Hunter, Moonflower Buttress (Alaska Grade 6, 5.8, A3, AI6, 6,100' elevation gain): After attempts to complete this route by a staggering number of premier climbers (including Charlie Porter, Dale Bard, & Jim Bridwell), the first ascent (to the top of the mountain; the route sans summit had been completed earlier by Mugs Stump & Paul Aubrey) finally went to Todd Bibler & Doug Klewin in 1983.

· Denali, Slovak Route (Czech Direct) 3rd ascent (5.9X, M6, WI6+, 9,000 ft. elevation gain): Climbed by Scott Backes, Steve House, & Mark Twight from 24 - 26 June, 2000. The men climbed sans tent or sleeping bags, doing the route in one push over 60 hours (!). The second overall, & first alpine ascent of the route came 1 mo. prior, by Kevin Mahoney & Ben Gilmore. Said House after the climb, "It was my first world-class route, but I'm not sure I've got another one in me." Fortunately, he has contradicted this modest statement (f$%# yeah Steve!!) multiple times since then. Further reading: American Alpine Journal #75, Vol. 43, 2001

· Denali, Canadian Direct FA (Alaska Grade 6, 5.9 M6 AI4, 8,000 ft. elevation gain): This route, put up by Maxime Turgeon & Louis-Philippe Ménard from 28-30 May, 2006, takes a direct line between the American Direct & the Japanese Direct. After 58 hours of almost continual climbing, the duo decided to forego the summit, 100 ft away, after being confronted with severe weather at the higher elevations. Notable moments during the adventure included a sketchy, rounded-out 5.9 groove at 16,500'; said white-out conditions; near vertical, unconsolidated crumbly snow; & a 2-person fall at 18,400' on the descent. Wow. Climbing mag's summary

The Great One & Denali National Park



Denali (Mt. McKinley) is the tallest, and one of the grandest peaks of North America. It is also the farthest north of the world’s major peaks. Visible from the sea, it was 'discovered' as early as 1794. Rising almost 20,000 ft from base to summit, it has one of the greatest vertical gains on Earth.

To reach the standard basecamp, climbers typically fly from Talkeetna, 60 mi S. of Denali, to the Kahiltna Glacier (7,100 ft), or “Kahiltna International Airport” as it is popularly known. Here there are a full-time medical center, a dispatch tent, and a variety of communal facilities.

The first ascent of the mountain was on 7 June, 1913 (after 82 days on the mountain!). The first ascentionists were Hudson Stuck, Walter Harper, Henry Karstens, and Robert Tatum.

The standard route for ascent on Denali is the West Buttress, favored by over 80% of climbers attempting the peak. This route was first ascended by a party led by the legendary Bradford Washburn in 1951. The mountain attracts over 1,000 would-be summiters per year.

Denali rises fittingly within Denali National Park, at 7,329 square miles larger than the state of Connecticut. Denali National Park lies in Alaska's interior approximately halfway between Fairbanks & Anchorage, & some 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Because Denali shelters it, to a large extent, from southerly moisture-laden winds, & because it is so far north, the park has a relatively dry though severe winter climate & broad expanses of tundra.

Etymology

The appellation "Alaskan Range" seems to have been first applied in 1869 by Dall. The designation eventually became 'Alaska Range' through local use. The name 'T schigmit' was applied to the mountains in 1849 by Constantin Grewingk. A map created by the United States Land Office in 1869 calls the southwestern part of the Alaska Range the Chigmit Mountains and the northeastern part the Beaver Mountains.

Additional Resources

· Denali National Park

· Mountaineering Club of Alaska

· Alaska Alpine Club (University of Alaska at Fairbanks)

· Alaska: A Climbing Guide, by Michael Wood & Colby Coombs (The Mountaineers Books; ISBN 0-89886-724-X)- an excellent resource; Recommended.

· Supertopo's new Alaska Climbs guide, by Joseph Puryear

· Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, by Allen Steck & Steve Roper (Sierra Club Books, CA, 1979, ISBN 0-87156-884-5)

· High Alaska, by Jonathon Waterman (American Alpine Club Press; ISBN 0-930410-41-6)

· Mt. McKinley Climber’s Handbook by Glenn Randall

· Alaska Ascents, by Bill Sherwonit & Fred Beckey (Alaska Northwest Books, ISBN 0882404792)

· wildlife on the Alaskan tundra

· National Weather Service, Alaska region

· Current conditions at Denali Ntl. Park HQ

· Alaska Dept. of Transportation

· Supertopo slideshow on snow & ice climbing in the Central Alaska Range

· Supertopo slideshow on rock climbing in the Central Alaska Range

· Supertopo slideshow on the Alaska Range by Joseph Puryear

· naclassics.com.

Additions and Corrections

[ Post an Addition or Correction ]
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PellucidWombatSome helpful links

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

Dirk, this site is a good one for looking up information on Talkeetna:



http://www.explorenorth.com/library/communities/alaska/talkeetna.html



Some other things to mention - Talkeetna Air Taxi had been pretty stict on weight limits with our trip organizer in the past, and he felt that they acted rather condescending to his party. K2 treated us very well, were very courteous, and were willing to let us slide by being only a few pounds over their limit.



For weather - be prepared for warmer temperatures as well. When we were there we had highs in the 50s and 60s on the glacier. Obviously, this only holds for the lower altitudes in the range.



For recommended climbing periods at lower elevations (e.g. Ruth Gorge), plan on March-early May for snow/ice. Beginning early May it is likely to be too hot for mixed snow/ice/rock routes to be 'in' or safe, and climbing from May-June should be expected to be limited to pure rock routes.



One suggestions if you're coming to do a mixed route in May - bring a large trad rack and rock shoes - if the weather is too hot the trip can still be salvaged by being flow over to Little Switzerland for some alpine trad routes.
Posted Jun 15, 2006 11:55 pm
PellucidWombatmore info

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

West Rib Cafe and Pub is a great hangout. Their fish and chips are to die for and they have an excellent brew called the Ice Axe, which is something around 9% alcohol and it tastes sweet!

Posted Jun 15, 2006 11:57 pm
PellucidWombatRed Tape

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

Even if you're not climbing Foraker and Denali, you need to stop by the National Park station in Talkeetna to pay a park service fee, as you will still be entering the park. Have no fear, though, as most of the fees stay in the local system, so you are directly benefitting the area you will be climbing in.



Also, Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs) are required on any climbing trip to dispose of toilet paper and shit. You pick these up at the National Park Headquarters. At the end of your climb, they have a separate location at the station where you drop the cans off.



Posted Jun 16, 2006 12:05 am
PellucidWombatStaying in the Don Sheldon Mountain House

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

The following information is courtesy of By ELIZABETH MANNING

Anchorage Daily News(Published: April 20, 2003) and was found at: http://www.saveourtreehouse.com/SaveOurTreehouse/other/treehouse/anchorage/anchorage.htm



If you really want to get into the mountains and have good backcountry skills, a high-altitude option is Don Sheldon's Mountain House. It affords a room with a view like nowhere else. Built by the pilot at the 6,000-foot level of Mount McKinley on a rock and ice outcrop of the Ruth Glacier, the hut is now rented out by his wife, Roberta Sheldon. Sitting on a five-acre inholding inside Denali National Park and Preserve, it is primitive but offers bunks and a wood stove. Cost is $85 a night for groups of five or less plus about $300 per person to get there aboard a ski plane. The rate for groups of six or more is $100 per day. The cabin comfortably sleeps about five or six. Larger groups usually use the cabin as a base and sleep outside in tents.



Because the season is so short (March through mid-July), visitors are now booking a year in advance, according to Roberta Sheldon. She said she screens all potential guests to make sure they are comfortable in the backcountry.



"I wouldn't put the average tourist off the street there," she said.



Visitors should also be mentally flexible. You can expect solitude at the cabin, but on rare occasions you may find yourself sharing the space with pilots or climbers who are weathered in. This doesn't happen often, but several years ago, a honeymooning couple flying into the cabin got stranded for a couple of days with a university class plus two pilots.



"This poor couple," Sheldon said. "I don't think they had a very good time."



Those interested in renting the mountain house should write Roberta Sheldon at P.O. Box 292, Talkeetna 99676
Posted Jun 16, 2006 12:11 am
PellucidWombatTalkeetna Night Life

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

The Fairview Inn just re-opened in Talkeetna after being shut down for several years. For those who like a lively night life, they have a bar and live music. Some might consider this the seedier side of Talkeetna, but what a party!



http://www.mtdenali.com/index.html
Posted Jun 16, 2006 12:15 am
PellucidWombatTips for the Air Taxis

PellucidWombat

Voted 10/10

Its probably easiest to buy your fuel from them when you arrive in Talkeetna - or you can truck up your own fuel purchased in Anchorage. I don't know about the other services, but K2 rents snowshoes.



Fuel and sharp objects should be packed separately from the rest of the gear for loading into the plane. The services prefer gear to be packing in duffels and bags, and it is more convenient for them if you can give them a lot of small duffels that contain gear thay you have brought up in a larger case, rather than larger, heavier, single bags. There is a weight limit per bag and an overall team weight limit which includes the weight of the climbers. Exceeding this limit will incur additional costs. Please check with the air taxi used to find out what their weight limits are.
Posted Jun 16, 2006 12:18 am
Digglergot your additions, Mark.

Diggler

Hasn't voted

Will add them in shortly, when I have some time!
Posted Jun 22, 2006 3:16 pm

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