Denali (//; also known as Mount McKinley, its former official name) is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. With a topographic prominence of 20,194 feet (6,155 m) and a topographic isolation of 4,621.1 miles (7,436.9 km), Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Located in the Alaska Range in the interior of the U.S. state of Alaska, Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve.
|Elevation||20,310 ft (6,190 m) top of snow|
|Prominence||20,194 ft (6,155 m)|
|Isolation||4,621.1 mi (7,436.9 km)|
|Location||Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, U.S.|
|Parent range||Alaska Range|
|Topo map||USGS Mt. McKinley A-3|
|First ascent||June 7, 1913 by|
|Easiest route||West Buttress Route (glacier/snow climb)|
The Koyukon people who inhabit the area around the mountain have referred to the peak as "Denali" for centuries. In 1896, a gold prospector named it "Mount McKinley" in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley; that name was the official name recognized by the federal government of the United States from 1917 until 2015. In August 2015, 40 years after Alaska had done so, the United States Department of the Interior announced the change of the official name of the mountain to Denali.
In 1903, James Wickersham recorded the first attempt at climbing Denali, which was unsuccessful. In 1906, Frederick Cook claimed the first ascent, but this ascent is unverified and its legitimacy questioned. The first verifiable ascent to Denali's summit was achieved on June 7, 1913, by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum, who went by the South Summit. In 1951, Bradford Washburn pioneered the West Buttress route, considered to be the safest and easiest route, and therefore the most popular currently in use.
Denali is a granitic pluton, mostly pink quartz monzonite, lifted by tectonic pressure from the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the North American Plate; at the same time, the sedimentary material above and around the mountain was stripped away by erosion. The forces that lifted Denali also caused many deep earthquakes in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The Pacific Plate is seismically active beneath Denali, a tectonic region that is known as the "McKinley cluster".
Denali has a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level, making it the highest peak in North America and the northernmost mountain above 19,685 feet (6,000 m) elevation in the world. Measured from base to peak at some 18,000 ft (5,500 m), it is among the largest mountains situated entirely above sea level. Denali rises from a sloping plain with elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 ft (300 to 910 m), for a base-to-peak height of 17,000 to 19,000 ft (5,000 to 6,000 m).
By comparison, Mount Everest rises from the Tibetan Plateau at a much higher base elevation. Base elevations for Everest range from 13,800 ft (4,200 m) on the south side to 17,100 ft (5,200 m) on the Tibetan Plateau, for a base-to-peak height in the range of 12,000 to 15,300 ft (3,700 to 4,700 m). Denali's base-to-peak height is little more than half the 33,500 ft (10,200 m) of the volcano Mauna Kea, which lies mostly under water.
Denali has two significant summits: the South Summit is the higher one, while the North Summit has an elevation of 19,470 ft (5,934 m) and a prominence of approximately 1,270 ft (387 m). The North Summit is sometimes counted as a separate peak (see e.g., fourteener) 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 Glacier lies to the southeast of the mountain, and the Kahiltna Glacier leads up to the southwest side of the mountain. With a length of 44 mi (71 km), the Kahiltna Glacier is the longest glacier in the Alaska Range.
The Koyukon Athabaskans who inhabit the area around the mountain have for centuries referred to the peak as Dinale or Denali. The name is based on a Koyukon word for 'high' or 'tall'. During the Russian ownership of Alaska, the common name for the mountain was Bolshaya Gora (Russian: Большая Гора; bolshaya 'big'; gora 'mountain'), which is the Russian translation of Denali. It was briefly called Densmore's Mountain in the late 1880s and early 1890s after Frank Densmore, a gold prospector who was the first non-native Alaskan to reach the base of the mountain.
In 1896, a gold prospector named it McKinley as political support for then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who became president the following year. The United States formally recognized the name Mount McKinley after President Wilson signed the Mount McKinley National Park Act of February 26, 1917. In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson declared the north and south peaks of the mountain the "Churchill Peaks", in honor of British statesman Winston Churchill. The Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain to Denali in 1975, which was how it is called locally. However, a request in 1975 from the Alaska state legislature to the United States Board on Geographic Names to do the same at the federal level was blocked by Ohio congressman Ralph Regula, whose district included McKinley's home town of Canton.
On August 30, 2015, just ahead of a presidential visit to Alaska, the Barack Obama administration announced the name Denali would be restored in line with the Alaska Geographic Board's designation. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued the order changing the name to Denali on August 28, 2015, effective immediately. Jewell said the change had been "a long time coming". The renaming of the mountain received praise from Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who had previously introduced legislation to accomplish the name change, but it drew criticism from several politicians from President McKinley's home state of Ohio, such as Governor John Kasich, U.S. Senator Rob Portman, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, and Representative Bob Gibbs, who described Obama's action as "constitutional overreach" because he said an act of Congress was required to rename the mountain. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that the Secretary of the Interior has authority under federal law to change geographic names when the Board of Geographic Names does not act on a naming request within a "reasonable" period of time. Jewell told the Alaska Dispatch News that "I think any of us would think that 40 years is an unreasonable amount of time."
Indigenous names for Denali can be found in seven different Alaskan languages. The names fall into two categories. To the south of the Alaska Range in the Dena'ina and Ahtna languages the mountain is known by names that are translated as "big mountain". To the north of the Alaska Range in the Lower Tanana, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Holikachuk, and Deg Xinag languages the mountain is known by names that are translated as "the high one", "the tall one" (Koyukon, Lower and Middle Tanana, Upper Kuskokwim, Deg Xinag, and Holikachuk), or "big mountain" (Ahtna and Dena'ina).
Asked about the importance of the mountain and its name, Will Mayo, former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an organization that represents 42 Athabaskan tribes in the Alaskan interior, said "It’s not one homogeneous belief structure around the mountain, but we all agree that we’re all deeply gratified by the acknowledgment of the importance of Denali to Alaska’s people."
|Literal meaning||Native language||Spelling in the
local practical alphabet
|Spelling in a
|'the tall one'||Koyukon||Deenaalee||Diinaalii||/diːˈnæli/|
|Lower Tanana||Deenadheet, Deenadhee||Diinaadhiit, Diinaadhii||/diˈnæðid/|
|Deg Xinag||Dengadh, Dengadhi||Dengadh, Dengadhe||/təˈŋað, təˈŋaðə/|
|'big mountain'||Ahtna||Dghelaay Ce'e, Deghilaay Ce'e||Dghelaay Ke'e, Deghilaay Ke'e||/dʁɛˈlɔj ˈkɛʔɛ/|
|Upper Inlet Dena'ina||Dghelay Ka'a||Dghelay Ka'a||/dʁəˈlaj ˈkaʔa/|
|Lower Inlet Dena'ina||Dghili Ka'a||Dghili Ka'a||/dʁili ˈkaʔa/|
The Koyukon Athabaskans, living in the Yukon, Tanana and Kuskokwim basins, were the first Native Americans with access to the flanks of the mountain. A British naval captain and explorer, George Vancouver, is the first European on record to have sighted Denali, when he noted "distant stupendous mountains" while surveying the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet on May 6, 1794. The Russian explorer Lavrenty Zagoskin explored the Tanana and Kuskokwim rivers in 1843 and 1844, and was likely the first European to sight the mountain from the other side.
William Dickey, a New Hampshire-born resident of Seattle, Washington who had been digging for gold in the sands of the Susitna River, wrote, after his returning from Alaska, an account in the New York Sun that appeared on January 24, 1897. 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 20,000 feet (6,100 m) high." Until then, Mount Logan in Canada's Yukon Territory was believed to be the continent's highest point. Though later praised for his estimate, Dickey admitted that other prospector parties had also guessed the mountain to be over 20,000 feet (6,100 m). These estimates were confirmed in 1898 by the surveyor Robert Muldrow, who measured its elevation as 20,300 feet (6,200 m).
On November 5, 2012, the United States Mint released a twenty-five cent piece depicting Denali National Park. It is the fifteenth of the America the Beautiful Quarters series. The reverse features a Dall sheep with the peak of Denali in the background.
During the summer of 1902, scientist Alfred Brooks explored the flanks of the mountain as a part of an exploratory surveying party conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. The party landed at Cook Inlet in late May, then traveled east, paralleling the Alaska Range, before reaching the slopes of Denali in early August. Camped on the flank of the mountain on August 3, Brooks noted later that while "the ascent of Mount McKinley had never been part of our plans," the party decided to delay one day so "that we might actually set foot on the slopes of the mountain." Setting off alone, with good weather, on August 4, Brooks aimed to reach a 10,000 feet (3,048 m) shoulder. At 7,500 feet (2,286 m), Brooks found his way blocked by sheer ice and, after leaving a small cairn as a marker, descended. After the party's return, Brooks co-authored a "Plan For Climbing Mt McKinley," published in National Geographic magazine in January, 1903, with fellow party-member and topographer D.L. Raeburn, in which they suggested that future attempts at the summit should approach from the north, not the south. The report received substantial attention, and within a year, two climbing parties declared their intent to summit.
In the early summer of 1903, Judge James Wickersham, then of Eagle, Alaska, made the first recorded attempt to climb Denali, along with a party of four others. The group attempted to get as close to the mountain as possible via the Kantishna river by steamer, before offloading and following Chitsia Creek with a poling boat, mules and backpacks, a route suggested to them by Tanana Athabaskan people they met along the way. The party received further navigational assistance at Anotoktilon, an Athabaskan hunting camp, where residents gave the group detailed directions to reach the glaciers at the foot of Denali. On reaching the mountain, the mountaineers set up base camp on the lower portion of Peters Glacier. Aiming for the northwest buttress of Denali's north peak, they attempted to ascend directly; however, crevasses, ice fall and the lack of a clear passage caused them to turn and attempt to follow a spur via Jeffery Glacier where they believed they could see a way to the summit. After a dangerous ascent, at around 10,000 feet (3,048 m), Wickersham found that the route did not connect as it had appeared from below, instead discovering "a tremendous precipice beyond which we cannot go. Our only line of further ascent would be to climb the vertical wall of the mountain at our left, and that is impossible." This wall, now known as the Wickersham Wall, juts 15,000 feet (4,572 m) upwards from the glacier to the north peak of Denali. Because of the route's history of avalanche danger, it was not successfully climbed until 1963.
Later in the summer of 1903, Dr. Frederick Cook led a team of five men on another attempt at the summit. Cook was already an experienced explorer and had been a party-member on successful arctic expeditions led both by Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen. Yet he struggled to obtain funding for the expedition under his own leadership, eventually putting it together "on a shoestring budget" without any other experienced climbers. The party navigated up the Cook inlet and followed the path of the 1902 Brooks party towards Denali. Cook approached the mountain via the Peters Glacier, as Wickersham had done; however, he was able to overcome the ice fall that had caused the previous group to turn up the spur towards the Wickersham Wall. Despite avoiding this obstacle, on August 31, having reached an elevation of about 10,900 feet (3,322 m) on the northwest buttress of the north peak, the party found they had reached a dead end and could make no further progress. On the descent, the group completely circumnavigated the mountain, the first climbing party to do so. Although Cook's 1903 expedition did not reach the summit, he received acclaim for the accomplishment, a 1,000 miles (1,609 km) trek in which he not only circled the entire mountain but also found, on the descent, an accessible pass northeast of the Muldrow Glacier following the headwaters of the Toklat and Chulitna rivers.
In 1906, Cook launched another expedition to Denali with co-leader Herschel Parker, a Columbia University professor of electrical engineering with extensive mountaineering experience. Belmore Browne, an experienced climber and five other men comprised the rest of the group. Cook and Parker's group spent the bulk of the summer season exploring the southern and southeastern approaches to the mountain, eventually reaching a high point on Tokositna glacier, 25 miles (40 km) from the summit. During their explorations the party mapped out many of the tributaries and glaciers of the Susitna river along the mountain's south flank. As the summer ended, the team retreated to the coast and began to disperse. In September 1906, Cook and a single party-member, horseman Robert Barrill, struck out towards the summit again, in what Cook later described as "a last desperate attempt" in a telegram to his financial backers. Cook and Barrill spent 12 days in total on the attempt, and claimed to have reached the summit via the Ruth Glacier.
Upon hearing Cook's claims, Parker and Browne were immediately suspicious. Browne later wrote that he knew Cook's claims were lies, just as "any New Yorker would know that no man could walk from the Brooklyn Bridge to Grant's Tomb [a distance of eight miles] in ten minutes." In May 1907, Harper's Magazine published Cook's account of the climb along with a photograph of what appeared to be Barrill standing on the summit. By 1909, Barrill had recanted at least part of his story about the climb, and others publicly questioned the account; however, Cook continued to assert his claim The controversy continued for decades. In 1956, mountaineers Bradford Washburn and Walter Gonnason tried to settle the matter, with Gonnason attempting to follow Cook's purported route to the summit. Washburn noted inconsistencies between Cook's account of locations of glaciers and found a spot, at 5,400 feet (1,646 m) and 19 miles (31 km) southeast of the summit that appeared identical to the supposed summit image. Gonnason was not able to complete the climb, but because he was turned back by poor weather, felt that this did not definitely disprove Cook's story. In 1998, historian Robert Bryce discovered an original and un-cropped version of the "fake peak" photograph of Barrill standing on the promontory. It showed a wider view of surrounding features, appearing to definitively discount Cook's claim.
Given the skepticism surrounding Cook's story, interest in claiming the first ascent remained. Miners and other Alaskans living in Kantishna and Fairbanks wanted the honors to go to local men. In 1909, four Alaska residents – Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall – set out from Fairbanks, Alaska in late December with supplies and dogs that were in part paid for by bettors in a Fairbanks bar. By March 1910, the men had established a base camp near one of the sites where the Brooks party had been and pressed on from the north via the Muldrow glacier. Unlike some previous expeditions, they discovered a pass, since named McGonagall Pass, which allowed them to bypass the Wickersham Wall and access the higher reaches of the mountain. At roughly 11,000 feet (3,353 m), Tom Lloyd, old and less physically fit than the others, stayed behind. According to their account, the remaining three men pioneered a route following Karstens Ridge around the Harper Icefall, then reached the upper basin before ascending to Pioneer Ridge. The three men carried a 14-foot-long (4.3 m) spruce pole. Around 19,000 feet (5,791 m), Charles McGonagall, older and having exhausted himself carrying the spruce pole, remained behind. On April 3, 1910, Billy Taylor and Peter Anderson scrambled the final few hundred feet to reach the north peak of Denali, at 19,470 feet (5,934 m) high, the shorter of the two peaks. The pair erected the pole near the top, with the hope that it would be visible from lower reaches to prove they had made it.
Following the expedition, Tom Lloyd returned to Fairbanks, while the three others remained in Kantishna to mine. In Lloyd's recounting, all four men made it to the top of not only the north peak, but the higher south peak as well. When the remaining three men returned to town with conflicting accounts, the entire expedition's legitimacy was questioned. Several years later, another climbing group would claim to have seen the spruce pole in the distance, supporting their north peak claim. However, some continue to doubt they reached the summit. Outside of the single later climbing group, who were friendly with some of the Sourdough expedition men, no other group would ever see it. Jon Waterman, author of the book Chasing Denali, which explored the controversy, outlined several reasons to doubt the claim: There was never any photographic evidence. The four men climbed during the winter season, known for much more difficult conditions, along a route that has never been fully replicated. They were inexperienced climbers, ascending without any of the usual safety gear or any care for altitude sickness. They claimed to have ascended from 11,000 feet (3,353 m) to the top in less than 18 hours, unheard of at a time when siege-style alpinism was the norm. Yet Waterman says "these guys were men of the trail. They didn’t care what anybody thought. They were just tough SOBs.” He noted that the men were largely unlettered and that some of the ensuing doubt was related to their lack of sophistication in dealing with the press and the contemporary climbing establishment.
In 1912, the Parker-Browne expedition nearly reached the summit, turning back within just a few hundred yards/meters of it due to harsh weather. On July 7, the day after their descent, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake shattered the glacier they had ascended.
The first ascent of the main summit of Denali came on June 7, 1913, by a party led by Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens, along with Walter Harper and Robert Tatum. Karstens moved to Alaska in the gold rush of 1897, and in subsequent years became involved in a variety of endeavors beyond mining, including helping establish dog mushing routes to deliver mail across vast swathes of territory and supporting expeditions led by naturalist Charles Sheldon near the base of Denali. Stuck was an English-born Episcopal priest who came to Alaska by chance. He became acclimated to the often harsh Alaskan environment because of his many travels between far-flung outposts within his district, climbing mountains as a hobby. At 21 years old, Harper was already known as a skilled and strong outdoorsman, the Alaska-born son of a Koyukon-Athabascan mother and Irish gold prospector father. Tatum, also 21 years old, was a theology student working at a Tanana mission, and the least experienced of the team. His primary responsibility on the trip was as a cook.
The team approached the peak from the north via the Muldrow glacier and McGonagall pass. While ferrying loads up to a camp at around 10,800 feet (3,292 m), they suffered a setback when a stray match accidentally set fire to some supplies, including several tents. The prior year's earthquake had left what had previously been described by the Parker-Browne expedition as a gentle slope ascended in no more than three days as a dangerous, ice-strewn morass on a knife-edged ridge (later named Karstens ridge). It would take the team three weeks to cover the same ground, as Karstens and Harper laboriously cut steps into the ice. On May 30, the team, with the help of some good weather, ascended to a new high camp, situated at 17,500 feet (5,334 m) in the Grand Basin between the north and south peaks. On June 7, the team made the summit attempt. Temperatures were below −20 °F (−29 °C) at times. Every man, and particularly Stuck, suffered from altitude sickness. By midday, Harper became the first climber to reach the summit, followed seconds later by Tatum and Karstens. Stuck arrived last, falling unconscious on the summit.
Using the mountain's contemporary name, Tatum later commented, "The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven!" During the climb, Stuck spotted, 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. Stuck and Karstens' team achieved the uncontroversial first ascent of Denali's south peak; however, the news was met with muted interest by the wider climbing community. Appalachia Journal, then the official journal of the American Alpine Club, published a small notice of the accomplishment a year later.
The mountain is regularly climbed today. In 2003, around 58% of climbers reached the top. But by that time, 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 Denali. It is one of the Seven Summits; summiting all of them is a challenge for mountaineers.
On August 4, 2018, five people died in the K2 Aviation de Havilland Beaver (DHC-2) crash near Denali.
From 1947 to 2018 in the United States "2,799 people were reported to be involved in mountaineering accidents" and 11% of these accidents occurred on Denali. Of these 2,799 accidents, 43% resulted in death and 8% of these deaths occurred on Denali.
The Japan Alpine Club installed a meteorological station on a ridge near the summit of Denali at an elevation of 18,733 feet (5,710 m) in 1990. In 1998, 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 19,000-foot (5,800 m) 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 the third-highest weather station in the world.
The weather station recorded a temperature of −75.5 °F (−59.7 °C) on December 1, 2003. On the previous day of November 30, 2003, a temperature of −74.4 °F (−59.1 °C) combined with a wind speed of 18.4 miles per hour (29.6 km/h) to produce a North American record windchill of −118.1 °F (−83.4 °C).
Even in July, this weather station has recorded temperatures as low as −22.9 °F (−30.5 °C) and windchills as low as −59.2 °F (−50.7 °C).
According to the National Park Service, in 1932 the Liek-Lindley expedition recovered a self-recording minimum thermometer left near Browne's Tower, at about 15,000 feet (4,600 m), on Denali by the Stuck-Karstens party in 1913. The spirit thermometer was calibrated down to −95 °F (−71 °C), and the lowest recorded temperature was below that point. Harry J. Liek took the thermometer back to Washington, D.C. where it was tested by the United States Weather Bureau and found to be accurate. The lowest temperature that it had recorded was found to be approximately −100 °F (−73 °C). Another thermometer was placed at the 15,000-foot (4,600 m) level by the U.S. Army Natick Laboratory, and was there from 1950 to 1969. The coldest temperature recorded during that period was also −100 °F (−73 °C).
Besides the North Summit mentioned above, other features on the massif which are sometimes included as separate peaks are:
Nearby peaks include:
The State of Alaska changed the name of the mountain to Denali in 1975, although the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has continued to use the name Mount McKinley. Today most Alaskans refer to Mount McKinley as Denali.
The name "Denali" is derived from the Koyukon name and is based on a verb theme meaning "high" or "tall," according to linguist James Kari of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in the book "Shem Pete’s Alaska." It doesn't mean "the great one," as is commonly believed, Kari wrote.
This earthquake was violent at Fairbanks and strong at Kennicott. The earth "heaved and rolled", at the north base of Mt. McKinley and the country was scarred with landslides.
The 124 highest major summits of greater North America
The 100 most prominent summits of greater North America
The 107 most isolated major summits of greater North America
Highest natural points of U.S. states and additional U.S. areas
|Additional U.S. areas|
State of Alaska
|Largest cities |
pop. over 25,000
|Smaller cities |
pop. over 2,000