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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
• 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.
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:
• Doug Geeting Aviation
PO Box 42
Talkeetna, AK 99676
• Hudson Air Service
PO Box 648
Talkeetna, AK 99676
• K2 Aviation
PO Box 545
Talkeetna, AK 99676
email: email@example.com website
• McKinley Air Service
phone: 907.733.1765 or (toll-free)800.564.1765
• Talkeetna Air Taxi
Talkeetna, AK 99676
• Frontier Air
5245 Airport Industrial Road
Fairbanks, AK 99709
phone: 907.474.0014 or (toll-free) 800.478.6779
• Wright Air Service, Inc. (Robert Bursiel)
PO Box 60142
Fairbanks, AK 99706
• Ellis Air Taxi
Mile 118 Richardson Highway, PO Box 106
Glennallen, AK 99588
phone: 907.822.3368 or (toll-free) 800.478.3368
• 40 Mile Air
flight services to Alaska & Wrangell-St. Elias regions
Backpacking & mountaineering
email (Rik Anderson): firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
• 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.
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.
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.
- 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 native to the area include the lynx (which feeds on ptarmigans, ground squirrels, & mice), red fox, grizzly (brown) bear, mosquito, wolverine, & wolf.
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.
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.
"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.
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.