Take it to the Top: Ten Great Alpine Adventures

The Denali Expedition: Climbing Mt. McKinley
  |  Gorp.com

Fittingly called Denali, "the Great One," 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in North America, requiring stamina, a solid grounding in alpine skills, and a bit of luck with Mother Nature to conquer. The greatest challenges are the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions that can cause a white-out for days, or drop temperatures from comfortable to dangerously cold in a few hours.
While Denali can be climbed via several different routes, each with a different degree of difficulty, if this is your first big peak, we recommend the West Buttress approach. This can be done by most fit climbers who have completed a basic mountaineering course and have some high-altitude camping experience. However, you will have to haul lots of gear—50 pounds or more on your back, plus a sled.

The West Buttress Route is the most popular and least difficult path to the summit. This does not mean, however, that it is an easy climb. Climbers must walk 18 miles and ascend 13,000 feet to reach the top, coping with unpredictable weather, changing snow conditions, threatening crevasses, and steep, icy slopes.
Practically Speaking
As with every other major sumit, if there's the will, there's a way. Tragically, each season some climbers don't make it back from Denali. With rare exceptions, these were mountaineers who chose to make the climb in a self-guided group. The safety records of the best McKinley guide services, however, are exemplary. The message is clear—if you're smart, and want to reach the top of McKinley, go with a pro. Alaska-Denali Guiding (ADG) enjoys the best reputation among Mt. McKinley concessionaires.
ADG enjoys a high success rate on McKinley—more than 60 percent of its customers reach the summit. Groups are limited to nine climbers, with three guides. Participants must be in excellent physical condition, have extensive backpacking experience, and familiarity with the use of ice ax and crampons. An ADG McKinley expedition runs around $3,600. For more information, contact Alaska-Denali Guiding, Inc., P.O. Box 566, Talkeetna, AK 99676, (907) 733-2649; Fax: (907) 733-1362.


Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 12 Dec 2000 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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