Mt. McKinley, Alaska – North America’s Tallest Peak


Apparently only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska ever get to see Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest Mountain peak. It seems I was one of the lucky ones during my recent travels to that great state in the north. On my first day in the park it was very visible, shining in all it’s glory in the morning sunshine.

Mt. McKinley Denali National Park Alaska
My first view of Mt. McKinley

At 6,168 metres (20,237 feet) above sea level this granite mountain is an impressive sight and totally dominates the Alaska Range (when you can see it)! I am glad I did see it that first morning (albeit with some cloud cover over the south peak). Things changed by that afternoon and the mountain was not visible at all for the next 4 days that I was in the park!

Mt. McKinley Denali National Park Alaska Tallest Peak North America
Just a little cloud that morning

Alaskans know the mountain as Denali (native Athabaskan for “The High One” or “The Great One” ) but in 1896 gold prospector William Dickey named it in honour of the soon to be US President William McKinley. That name has officially stuck ever since but in recognition of the Athabaskan name, the National Park name was changed from McKinley to Denali in 1980 (when it was expanded in area to become the Denali National Park and Preserve).

Mt. McKinley Denali National Park Alaska
Mt. McKinley or Denali – your choice

The first official attempt to climb Mt. McKinley was in 1903 but failed. It was not until June 7th, 1913 that the first successful climb was completed. Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens were the leaders of the first successful ascent of the south peak (Karstens was later to become the was the first superintendent of the national park from 1921 to 1928).

Harry Karstens leads Robert Tatum on the first successful summit of Mount McKinley in 1913  Alaska
Harry Karstens leads Robert Tatum on the first successful summit of Mount McKinley in 1913 (Photo Source: Project Gutenberg)

It’s a tough climb even today and around one-third of all climbers who have attempted to scale McKinley’s mighty peak this year have failed due to adverse conditions or other issues. Mother nature can be very fickle and it seems she likes to keep the mighty mountain a secret!

Mt. McKinley Denali National Park Alaska
The South Peak is the one with some cloud cover
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