At 20,320 feet Denali, sometimes called Mount McKinley, is North America’s highest mountain. An expedition up Denali is a multi-faceted commitment. It can take up to three weeks on the mountain to make the summit. This is due to the high altitude and time it takes to safely acclimatize to the thin air and the nasty weather that can pin climbers in camp for days at a time. Climbing Denali is not for the inexperienced climber so months to years of training and experience are needed to make the top. Denali is also part of the Seven Summits: The highest mountain on each continent and within this group some say it is even harder to climb than the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.



Denali sits in the Alaska Range in the middle of Alaska and rises more than 18,000 feet from the surrounding landscape. The mountain is so large it creates its own weather and storms can stay in the area for a week or more at a time.



While Denali isn’t a technical mountain to climb, proper training is still required before you attempt the mountain. Crevasse rescue and self-rescue skills are a must before travel along the mountain’s glaciers. This climber is practicing ascending the rope in case he falls into a crevasse while on the mountain.



Climbers start in the tiny town of Talkeetna and take a small ski-equipped plane to base camp. The 45-minute flight takes you from the forest and tundra of the Alaskan bush into a world of only rock and ice in the Alaska Range.


Base Camp

From Denali base camp at 7,200 feet on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier Denali loops over 13,000 feet above you. On a clear day this is one of the first views you get when the plane lands on the glacier.


Lower Glacier

The majority of the distance, almost 10 miles, but only 4,000 feet of elevation gain, are along the Kahiltna Glacier. At 44 miles in length, this glacier is the longest in the Alaska Range.



It can take up to three weeks to climb Denali so with over 100 pounds of food, fuel and gear per person a sled is essential to shuttle everything up the mountain.



Food, especially bacon, is one of the most important parts of the climb. Some days you’ll burn close to 10,000 calories while carrying a heavy pack in the cold weather. Since Denali is so cold it is easy to take ‘fresh’ and hearty food on an expedition.


West Buttress

Denali’s easiest and most popular route is the West Buttress. It was first climbed in 1951 by Bradford Washburn and now sees over 1,000 climbers each year.


Advanced Base Camp

Climbers spend lots of time building elaborate camps at the advanced base camp situated at 14,200 feet. Most climbers spend four to five nights there to acclimatize before the final push to high camp and then onto the summit.



It seems as if solar panels adorn every tent on the mountain. In the summer climbing season — May through July — the sun only sets for a few hours, which leaves plenty of time to charge phones and cameras.


Fixed Ropes

Ropes are fixed on the steepest section of the West Buttress route above the advanced base camp. Long lines of people can form along this section because it takes so long to climb up the section of fixed ropes.


The Ridge

The narrowest and most exposed section of the route is along 'The Ridge' at 16,000 feet on the way to high camp. Many climbers say this is their favorite section of the whole mountain.


High Camp

High camp sits on a small plateau at 17,200 feet. Walls are often built around tents to protect from high winds. The temperature rarely gets above 0° F at this camp.



A group of climbers enjoy a few moments on top of North America after a long summit day. Perfect weather is needed for a safe and successful summit attempt.



After weeks on the mountain suffering through bad weather and carrying heavy packs the summit is often a very emotional place. Denali usually has to be attempted several times before a successful summit. Each year the success rate is about 50 percent, but can drop as low as 30 percent during seasons full of bad weather.


Flight Home

At the end of the climb the flight from base camp back is a wonderful feeling. Fresh food and a long-needed shower await climbers in Talkeetna after a few brutal weeks on Denali.