Located in Alaska, Denali is North America’s highest mountain, peaking at 20,310 feet above sea level. Denali is the third highest mountain of the Seven Summits after Mount Everest and Aconcagua, making it a popular climb for those with experience in glacier travel and steep ascents. When climbing Denali, be prepared for great lengths of glaciated terrain while battling extreme weather.
Each day of ascent on Denali will provide you with breathtaking scenery of the Alaska Range. At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with a phenomenal panoramic view of Mt. Hunter, Mt. Huntington and Mt.Foraker - just to name a few.
Quick Facts about Mount Denali
- Mount McKinley is Mount Denali’s former official name. The mountain was originally named after President William McKinley, who had never actually visited Alaska.
- Sitting at 20,310 feet above sea level, Denali is North America’s highest mountain and the third-highest of the Seven Summits. Denali has also been titled the third most isolated peak on Earth.
- Denali faces some of the most extreme weather conditions, including 100mph winds and -60°C temperatures. However, when the sun shines, it can do so for 20 hours. Prepare for all sorts of weather!
History of Denali
Scientist Alfred Brooks was the first person to ignite an interest in climbing Denali, way back in the summer of 1902. He was originally exploring the flanks of the mountain as part of a geological study, but soon became intrigued by how high he could climb. However, after facing a sheer ice obstacle at 7,500ft, he had to descend. He later published a very popular article in National Geographic, stating that all future expeditions should begin at the north, rather than the south where he began.
After many years of attempted climbs and false summit claims, a successful summit finally occurred. On June 7th 1913, a party with co-leaders Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens made it to the main summit of Denali.
Things went quiet between 1913 and 1932, but soon picked up again as more and more expeditions had successful climbs to the summits. History was made again in 1951, when Bradford Washburn partook in the first ascent on the West Buttress route; one of the most popular routes used when climbing Denali today.
Experience Required for Climbing Denali
Climbing Mount Denali is a serious experience.
The most popular West Buttress route on Denali is not considered to be heavily technical, however it is still physically demanding. Near enough all climbers encounter extreme weather conditions and glaciated terrains on the lower mountain, and 35° to 45° steep slopes higher up.
With this in mind, reaching the summit of Denali is for those with advanced glacier travel skills. All climbers require glacier travel experience as well as technical snow and cold weather skills to reach the summit. You also need to be familiar with climbing to altitudes above 15,000ft and be physically fit enough to carry large amounts of backpack weight.
Main Routes at Denali
There are four main routes to choose from when climbing Mount Denali. These are known as West Buttress, Muldrow Glacier, West Rib and Cassin Ridge.
The West Buttress route is by far the most popular - the ascent tends to start from Kahiltna Glacier base camp. This route is the most straightforward one to take, and also has the lowest risk of an avalanche.
The second most popular route is the Muldrow Glacier route, which begins from the north of the Muldrow Glacier. This route actually joins the West Buttress route at the Denali Pass before reaching the summit. Although on the same level of difficulty, more planning is required as accessing the north side is not easy.
The West Rib and Cassin Ridge routes require a high level of expertise, as both involve rock climbing and ice climbing to reach the summit.
Useful information about Denali
Weather: Weather is extremely unpredictable at Denali. For the most part, the mountain is extremely cold (temperatures can reach as low as -60°C with wind chills reaching -80°C!). However, when the sun is out, it can suddenly become t-shirt weather.
Peak Climbing Season: End of April to the middle of July
Summit Window: Due to the unpredictable weather, finding a summit window for Mount Denali is quite tricky. However, late April to early May tends to have higher pressure days (although it will be incredibly chilly during this time).
Average Expedition Length: 17-18 Days
Accepted Currencies: American Dollars
How To Get To Denali
Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.
Most Denali expeditions begin by flying to Talkeetna Airport. From here, you will take another flight to base camp. This second flight takes about an hour and will provide beautiful views of the world’s longest glacier.