Mount McKinley or
Denali ("The Great One") in Alaska is the
highest mountain peak in North
America, at a height of approximately above sea level. It is the centerpiece of Denali National
- "Denali" redirects here. For other meanings, see
McKinley has a larger bulk and rise than Mount Everest, although the summit of Everest is higher measured
from sea level . Everest's base sits on the Tibetan Plateau at about , giving it a real vertical rise of a
little more than .
The base of Mount McKinley is roughly a
2,000-foot (610 meter) elevation, giving it an actual rise of
The mountain is also characterized by extremely cold weather.
Temperatures as low as and windchills as low as have been recorded
by an automated weather station located at . There is also a higher
risk of altitude illness
climbers than its altitude would otherwise suggest, due to its high
. 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, but because of its latitude,
the pressure on the summit of McKinley is even lower (42%).,
Mount McKinley is a granitic pluton
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
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 and a
of approximately . The North
Summit is sometimes counted as a separate peak (see e.g., the
List of United States
) 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
lies on the northwest
side of the massif, while the Muldrow
falls from its northeast slopes. Just to the east of
the Muldrow, and abutting the eastern side of the massif, is the
. The Ruth Glacier lies to the southeast of the mountain, and the
Glacier leads up to the southwest side of the
History, exploration and naming
Numerous native peoples of the area had their own names for this
prominent peak. The local Koyukon Athabaskan name for the mountain, the
name 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
(anglicized as Doleika), meaning "the big mountain", while
the Aleuts called it
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
1839; the names Tschigmit and Tenada
correspond to the
locations of Mount Foraker and Mount McKinley, respectively. Von
Wrangell 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 side.
The first English name applied to the peak was Densmore’s
or Densmore's Peak
, for the gold prospector
Frank Densmore who in 1889 had fervently praised the mountain’s
majesty; however, the name persevered only locally and informally.
changed when 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.
Dickey 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
politically driven; Dickey had met many silver miners who zealously
promoted Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan
's ideal of a
, 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 high.” Until then Mount Saint
Elias was believed to be the continent’s highest point
Logan was still unknown and 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 .
, Mount McKinley is commonly referred to by its Koyukon Athabaskan
name Denali, especially by Alaskans, mountaineers, and Alaska Natives
. The Alaska Board of Geographic
Names officially changed the name of mountain to Denali and, in
1975 at Governor Jay Hammond
the Alaska Legislature
requested that the U.S. Board on Geographic
, the federal governmental body responsible for naming
geographic features in the United States, change the name of the
mountain from Mount McKinley to "Mount Denali."
Action by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names was staved off by
the determined political maneuvering of Ohio congressman Ralph Regula, whose district includes Canton, where McKinley spent much of his life.
first, Board on Geographic Names consideration was delayed by
resistance from Secretary of the
Interior Rogers Morton
whose purview the Board on Geographic Names fell, as he personally
disfavored a change of the mountain's name. Later, in 1977, with
Secretary Morton no longer at the helm of the Department of the
Interior, the Board on Geographic Names again prepared to consider
the name change, but Congressman Regula gathered signatures from
every member of the Ohio congressional delegation warning against
renaming Mount McKinley and the Board on Geographic Names again
held off on making a ruling. On December 2, 1980, with President Jimmy Carter's signing of the Alaska National
Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), McKinley National
Park — which had been created on February 26, 1917 — was
incorporated into a larger protected area named Denali
National Park and Preserve.
Naming the new, larger park Denali while
retaining the name Mount McKinley for the actual mountain was
thought to be a compromise by many "Mount McKinley" partisans.
However, "Denali" advocates, including Alaska Congressman Don Young
, vehemently disagree that the 1980
action constitutes a real compromise and instead argue that naming
the mountain and park by different names only creates confusion.
While the Board on Geographic Names was originally set to make a
ruling on December 10, 1980, with the passage of ANILCA on December
2, the Board on Geographic Names opted to defer their ruling.
The following year, Congressman Regula devised a new tactic to
support the Mount McKinley name. Capitalizing on a Board on
Geographic Names policy that states the Board cannot consider any
name-change proposal if congressional legislation relating to that
name is pending, Regula began a biennial legislative tradition of
either introducing language into Interior Department appropriation
bills or introducing a standalone bill that states that the name of
Mount McKinley shall not be changed. This effectively killed the
Denali name-change proposal pending with the Board on Geographic
In 2009, following the retirement of Congressman Regula, interest
in renaming the mountain has renewed. Alaska State Representative
sponsored Alaska House
Joint Resolution 15, which urges the U.S. Congress to rename the
mountain Denali. Despite efforts in Alaska, U.S. Representatives
and Tim Ryan
, both of Ohio, have assumed Regula's role
as congressional guardians of the Mount McKinley name and
introduced H.R. 229 which reads: "Notwithstanding any other
authority of law, the mountain located 63 degrees 04 minutes 12
seconds north, by 151 degrees 00 minutes 18 seconds west shall
continue to be named and referred to for all purposes as Mount
The first recorded attempt to climb Mount McKinley was by Judge
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
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,
each a thermos of hot chocolate, and a 14-foot (4.2 m) spruce pole,
two of them reached the North Summit, the 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
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.
The 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
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
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
- 1903: First attempt, by Judge James Wickersham.
- 1906: Frederick Cook falsely
claims the first ascent of
- 1910: The Sourdoughs ascend the North Summit.
- 1912: The Parker-Browne attempt almost reaches the South
- 1913: 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
- 1947: Barbara Washburn becomes
the first woman to reach the summit as her husband Bradford Washburn becomes the first to
- 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
- 1970: First solo ascent by Naomi
- 1972: Sylvain Saudan, "Skier of
the Impossible", skis down the sheer southwest face, conquered for
the first time by skier or climber.
- 1979: First ascent by dog team achieved by Susan Butcher, Ray
Genet, Brian Okonek, Joe
Redington, Sr., and Robert Stapleton.
- 1982: Dr. Miri Ercolani is the first woman to solo Mt.
- 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.
The Japan Alpine Club installed a meteorological station on a ridge
near the summit of Denali at an altitude of 5710 m in 1990.
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 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 .
The weather station recorded temperatures as low as on December 1,
2003. On the previous day, November 30, 2003, a temperature of
combined with a wind speed of 18.4 miles per hour to produce a
North American record windchill of .
Even in July, temperatures as low as and windchills as low as 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
- South Buttress, ; mean prominence =
- East Buttress high point, ; mean prominence =
- East Buttress, most topographically prominent point, ; mean
- Browne Tower, ; mean prominence =
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
Nearby important peaks include:
- Denali information at the 7summits website
- An interactive high altitude pressure
- Ward, Milledge and West, High Altitude Medicine and Physiology,
- Fred Beckey Mount McKinley: Icy Crown of North America
(Mountaineers Books 1993, paper 1999, ISBN 0-89886-646-4)
- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Mount McKinley Name Change Gets New Wave of
- Bill Sherwonit Denali: A literary Anthology, particularly the
chapter Discoveries in Alaska 1897 by William A Dickey,
pages 52-61, ISBN 089886710X
- Norris, Frank. Crown Jewel of the North: An Administrative History
of Denali National Park and Preserve, Volume I. 2006.
Chapter 8, “New Highway Impacts and the Park Expansion
Bryan Times: " Mount McKinley Remains Named Mount
Times: " Mount McKinley Moniker Debated"
Empire: " Battle Renewed over McKinley's Name"
- The New York Times: "What's in a
name." November 16, 1980
- U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
[geonames.usgs.gov/docs/pro_pol_pro.pdf Principles, Policies,
and Procedures]. “Policy I: Names Being Considered By
Congress.” Page 18
James. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Got
Wrong. Pages 37-40.
- OpenCongress.org. H.R. 229.
- Coombs 1997
- Glickman, Joe, Man Against the Great One, New York Times,
- Tabor, Forever on the Mountain (see sources,
- Denali National Park and Preserve - Historical
Timeline (U.S. National Park Service)
- Denali National Park and Preserve - Historical
Timeline (U.S. National Park Service)
- American Alpine Journal, 1985, p. 174.
- Colby Coombs and Bradford Washburn, Denali's West
Buttress: A Climber's Guide to Mount McKinley's Classic
- Art Davidson, Minus 148°:
First Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley,
7th ed. (Mountaineers Books,
2004) ISBN 0-89886-687-1
- Kaye, G. D., Using GIS to estimate the total volume of
Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii, 98th Annual Meeting, Geological
Society of America, (2002).
- Dow Scoggins, Discovering
- R. J.
Secor, Denali Climbing Guide
(Stackpole Books, 1998) ISBN 0-8117-2717-3
- Hudson Stuck, D.D., Archdeacon of
the Yukon, The Ascent of Denali, The 1913 Expedition that First
Conquered Mt. McKinley, ((reprinted by) Wolfe
Publishing Co., 1988) ISBN 0-935632-69-7
- James M. Tabor, Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind
One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious
Disasters, W. W. Norton, 2007, ISBN 0393061744 [describing the
1967 tragedy of the Wilcox team]
- Bradford Washburn et al.,
Mount McKinley: The Conquest of Denali (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991) ISBN
- Jonathan Waterman, High Alaska, AAC Press, 1988.
- Jonathan Waterman, In the
Shadow of Denali: Life and Death on Alaska's Mt.
- Jonathan Waterman,
Surviving Denali: A Study of Accidents on Mount McKinley
1903-1990 (American Alpine
- Mt. Mckinley Weather Station
- SummitPost: Photos
- NOVA: Deadly Ascent
- H.R. 198: A bill to provide for the retention of the name of
Mount McKinley (introduced to the 110th Congress by Rep.
- Timeline of Denali climbing history, National Park Service
- Travel The Whole World Denali 2009 Denali Trip
Report - 75+ Photos
- Wilson, Rodman, William J. Mills, Jr., Donald R. Rogers and
Michael T. Propst, " Death on Denali: Fatalities Among Climbers in Mount
McKinley National Park From 1903 to 1976—Analysis of Injuries,
Illnesses and Rescues in 1976," Western Journal of
Medicine, 1978 June; 128(6): 471–476.
- Rodway, George W., " Paul Crews' "Accident on Mount McKinley"—A
Commentary," Wilderness and Environmental
Medicine: Vol. 14 (2003), No. 1, pp. 33–38.
- Freedman, Lew,"Dangerous Steps: Vernon Tejas and the Solo
Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley", Stackpole, 1990.