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Mount McKinley or Denali ("The Great One") in Alaskamarker is the highest mountain peak in North America, at a height of approximately above sea level. It is the centerpiece of Denali National Parkmarker.

Notable features

Mount McKinley has a larger bulk and rise than Mount Everestmarker, although the summit of Everest is higher measured from sea level . Everest's base sits on the Tibetan Plateaumarker 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 for climbers than its altitude would otherwise suggest, due to its high latitude. 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. Mount McKinley has been uplifted by tectonic pressure while at the same time, erosion has stripped away the (somewhat softer) sedimentary rock above and around it.

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

Layout of the mountain

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

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

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 Yukonmarker, Tanana and Kuskokwimmarker basins), is Dinale or Denali ("the high one", ). To the South the Dena’ina people in the Susitna rivermarker valley used the name Dghelay Ka’a (anglicized as Doleika), meaning "the big mountain", while the Aleuts called it Traleika.

The historical first European sighting of Mount McKinley took place on May 6, 1794, when George Vancouver was surveying the Knik Armmarker of the Cook Inlet and mentioned “distant stupendous mountains” in his journal. However, he uncharacteristically left the mountain unnamed. The mountain is first named on a map by Ferdinand von Wrangell in 1839; the names Tschigmit and Tenada correspond to the locations of Mount Foraker and Mount McKinley, 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 Mountain 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. That changed when William Dickey, a New Hampshire-born Seattleitemarker 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 silver standard, inspiring him to retaliate by naming the mountain after a strong proponent of the gold standard. His report drew attention with the sentence “We have no doubt that this peak is the highest in North America, and estimate that it is over high.” Until then Mount Saint Eliasmarker was believed to be the continent’s highest point (Mount Loganmarker was still unknown and Mount St Elias’ height had been overestimated to beat Pico de Orizabamarker ). 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's behest, the Alaska Legislature officially requested that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, 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 Cantonmarker, where McKinley spent much of his life. At first, Board on Geographic Names consideration was delayed by resistance from Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton, under 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 Preservemarker. 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 Names.

In 2009, following the retirement of Congressman Regula, interest in renaming the mountain has renewed. Alaska State Representative Scott Kawasaki sponsored Alaska House Joint Resolution 15, which urges the U.S. Congress to rename the mountain Denali. Despite efforts in Alaska, U.S. Representatives Betty Sutton 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 McKinley."

Climbing history

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

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

In 1910, four locals (Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall), known as the Sourdough expedition, attempted McKinley, despite a complete lack of climbing experience. They spent approximately three months on the mountain. However, their purported summit day was impressive: carrying a bag of doughnuts, 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 1913.

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

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. Harry Karstens and Robert Tatum also made the summit. Tatum later commented, "The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven!"They ascended the Muldrow Glacier route pioneered by the earlier expeditions, which is still often climbed today. Stuck confirmed, via binoculars, the presence of a large pole near the North Summit; this report confirmed the Sourdough ascent, and today it is widely believed that the Sourdoughs did succeed on the North Summit. However, the pole was never seen before or since, so there is still some doubt. Stuck also discovered that the Parker-Browne party were only about 200 feet (61 m) of elevation short of the true summit when they turned back.

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

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


  • 1896–1902: Surveys by Robert Muldrow, George Eldridge, Alfred Brooks.
  • 1903: First attempt, by Judge James Wickersham.
  • 1906: Frederick Cook falsely claims the first ascent of McKinley.
  • 1910: The Sourdoughs ascend the North Summit.
  • 1912: The Parker-Browne attempt almost reaches the South Summit.
    McKinley in July 2006
  • 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 were climbed.)
  • 1947: Barbara Washburn becomes the first woman to reach the summit as her husband Bradford Washburn becomes the first to summit twice.
  • 1951: First ascent of the West Buttress Route, led by Bradford Washburn.
  • 1954: First ascent of the very long South Buttress Route.
  • 1959: First ascent of the West Rib, now a popular, mildly technical route to the summit.
  • 1961: First ascent of the Cassin Ridge, the best-known technical route on the mountain. This was a major landmark in Alaskan climbing.
  • 1963: Two teams make first ascents of two different routes on the Wickersham Wall.
  • 1967: First winter ascent, via the West Buttress, by Dave Johnston, Art Davidson and Ray Genet.
  • 1967: Seven members of Joe Wilcox's twelve-man expedition perish, while stranded for ten days near the summit, in what has been described as the worst storm on record. Up to that time, this was the third worst disaster in mountaineering history in terms of lives lost.
  • 1970: First solo ascent by Naomi Uemura.
  • 1972: Sylvain Saudan, "Skier of the Impossible", 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. Mckinley.
  • 1984: Uemura returns to make the first winter solo ascent, but dies after summitting. Tono Križo, František Korl and Blažej Adam from the Slovakmarker Mountaineering Association climb a very direct route to the summit, now known as the Slovak Route, on the south face of the mountain, to the right of the Cassin Ridge.
  • 1988: First solo winter ascent with safe return, by Vern Tejas.

Weather station

The Japan Alpine Club installed a meteorological station on a ridge near the summit of Denali at an altitude of 5710 m in 1990. In 1998, this weather station was donated to the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanksmarker. 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 peaks are:

  • South Buttress, ; mean prominence =
  • East Buttress high point, ; mean prominence =
  • East Buttress, most topographically prominent point, ; mean prominence =
  • 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 States Fourteeners on Wikipedia.)

Nearby important peaks include:

See also


  1. Denali information at the 7summits website
  2. An interactive high altitude pressure model
  3. Ward, Milledge and West, High Altitude Medicine and Physiology, 2002.
  4. Fred Beckey Mount McKinley: Icy Crown of North America (Mountaineers Books 1993, paper 1999, ISBN 0-89886-646-4)
  5. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Mount McKinley Name Change Gets New Wave of Support
  6. Bill Sherwonit Denali: A literary Anthology, particularly the chapter Discoveries in Alaska 1897 by William A Dickey, pages 52-61, ISBN 089886710X
  7. 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 Process.”
  8. The Bryan Times: " Mount McKinley Remains Named Mount McKinley"
  9. Seattle Times: " Mount McKinley Moniker Debated"
  10. Juneau Empire: " Battle Renewed over McKinley's Name"
  11. The New York Times: "What's in a name." November 16, 1980
  12. U.S. Board on Geographic Names. [ Principles, Policies, and Procedures]. “Policy I: Names Being Considered By Congress.” Page 18
  13. Loewen, James. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Got Wrong. Pages 37-40.
  14. H.R. 229.
  15. Coombs 1997
  16. Glickman, Joe, Man Against the Great One, New York Times, 24 August 2003
  17. Tabor, Forever on the Mountain (see sources, above)
  18. Denali National Park and Preserve - Historical Timeline (U.S. National Park Service)
  19. Denali National Park and Preserve - Historical Timeline (U.S. National Park Service)
  20. American Alpine Journal, 1985, p. 174.


  • Colby Coombs and Bradford Washburn, Denali's West Buttress: A Climber's Guide to Mount McKinley's Classic Route
  • 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 Denali
  • 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 0-8109-3611-9
  • Jonathan Waterman, High Alaska, AAC Press, 1988.
  • Jonathan Waterman, In the Shadow of Denali: Life and Death on Alaska's Mt. McKinley (1994)++
  • Jonathan Waterman, Surviving Denali: A Study of Accidents on Mount McKinley 1903-1990 (American Alpine Club, 1991)

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