Alaska, United States of America
The United States’ highest mountain, Mount McKinley, is a beautiful and spectacular mountain, situated in the Denali National Park. Denali is the mountains’ name in local Native American language, and means the ‘great one’, and the highest peek (South Summit) reaches over 20,000 feet above sea level.
Mount McKinley is unusual amongst the worlds highest mountains in that it stands almost completely alone, and is not really surrounded by a mountain range as such, like, for example, Mount Everest or K2. It is, however, officially part of the Alaskan Range, though the other mountains in the range pale in comparison to Mount McKinley.
Climbers have been trying to reach the South Summit since the turn of the 20th century, with numerous failed attempts before success. The slopes of the mountain are often plagued with danger of avalanche and other problems, thus making any hiking and climbing a challenging and dangerous process. As a result, a successful scaling of the mountain has been the source of much controversy and disbelief at a number of climbers’ claims.
Previous attempts had been thwarted by frequent avalanches along Peters Glacier, dangerous weather conditions, earth tremors and of course other dangers associated with climbing mountains at altitude. Such dangers include altitude sickness and Acute Mountain Sickness, as well as the possibility of falling and slipping due to the difficulty of performing standard bodily functions due to lack of oxygen.
Given the dangers, it is no surprise that there are frequent accidents on the mountain, and of course the occasional death, which averages out at about one per year. The climb is, however, popular amongst many international climbers, who have a success rate of about 50% of reaching the summit, with the majority coming very close to a successful scale of the mountain.
The weather is known to be extremely cold on Mount McKinley, and the accompanying dangers of hypothermia and frostbite are very real and must be taken seriously, so appropriate measures must be developed. This includes, amongst others, adequate equipment and clothing. To the sub zero temperatures (some of which have dipped to minus 75 degrees Celsius) add some horrendous winds and general bad weather, and you’ve got a pretty challenging climb ahead of you!
The West Buttress is the pretty standard route up Mount McKinley, and others include the West Rib and the Cassin Ridge. Guides normally factor in about 5 days extra into the total climb of around 21 days, in order to cover some days spent sheltering against the cold and waiting for a bad weather front to move on.
The ascent does, however, award hikers some fabulous views over the beautiful Kashwitna Lake, as well as some of the other mountains in the area, including Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter, as well as the surrounding area.
(Image by nicmcphee on Flickr)