Mount McKinley (Denali), 6194 m / 20,320 ft
Normal Route, West Buttress - Alaska, USA
McKinley vu depuis le park du Denali (Wikipedia Common)
Mount McKinley (Denali), 6194 m (20,320 ft)
) is located in the national park of Denali
in the central portion of the Alaska Range, which spans much
of south central Alaska
. It is approximately 130 miles (209 km) north-northwest
of Anchorage and 155 miles (249 km) southwest of Fairbanks. Mount McKinley
two significant summits: the South Summit is the higher one, while the North
Summit has an elevation of 19,470 feet (5934 m). The mountain is characterized
by extremely cold weather, and by an unusually severe risk of altitude illness
for climbers, due to not only its high elevation but also its high latitude. At
the equator, a mountain as high as Mount McKinley
would have 47% as much oxygen
available on its summit as there is at sea level, but because of its latitude,
the pressure on the summit of McKinley
is even lower.
View of McKinley from the North (Wikipedia / NPS)
McKinley and North America's map (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Mount McKinley (Denali), West Buttress route
May 30: Anchorage - Talkeetna
We reached the small city of Talkeetna after 2 hours of bus (170km).
Base Camp, McKinley summit in the background (© P. Gatta)
May 31: Flight from Talkeetna to Kalhitna Glacier (2200m)
After several hesitations due to weather instability, we finally flew from
to the Kalhitna Glacier
(2200m). The small plane landed on the glacier
after 40 minutes of flight in not so good weather conditions. The base
camp is set at 2200m (7,200ft) on the Southeast fork of the Kalhitna Glacier
The plane and our gear on the Kalhitna
(© P. Gatta)
June 1: Base Camp on Kalhitna Glacier (2200m) - Camp 1 at bottom of Ski Hill
Early in the morning we took our tents down and buried some food and gear
for the return. We packed around 40kg of gear on our sled and 20kg in our
rucksack. It was snowing when we left the base camp in direction to our camp 1.
We started by a descent to 2100m to reach the main fork of the glacier. Then we
followed the Kalhitna glacier
toward the North for 9km, avoiding large crevasses
to finally reach up 2400m (7,800ft) where we set our camp 1.
It took us 4 hours from the CB to the C1.
On the way to McKinley's camp 3
(© P. Gatta)
June 2: Camp 1, Ski Hill (2400m) – Camp 3 (3400m)
We decided to skip the camp 2 and go directly from the camp 1 to the camp 3
located near Kahiltna Pass
at 3400m (11,100ft). Like the day before, it was
cloudy and snowy in the morning but the weather improved and was finally nice in
the afternoon. We spent quite some times build solid walls around our tent in C3
to protect them from the high wind.
C1 - C3: +1175m, 5h30.
Just under McKinley's camp 3, Mt. Foraker behind (© P. Gatta)
June 3: Camp 3 - Load carry to Windy Corner - Camp 3
We left the C3 at 7:30am to carry load to Windy Corner
at 4120m (13,500ft).
Tiring climb in deep snow but at least the weather was good and hot. We buried
some gear and food just after windy corner
and went back down to C3.
C3 - Windy corner: +710m, 3h10. Windy corner - C3: -710m, 35min
Load carry to windy corner (© P. Gatta)
June 4: Camp 3 - Windy Corner - Camp 4 (4330m)
We left camp 3 before 7am by -15ºC. With a lighter rucksack (15kg) we
reached Windy corner
in 2h20. The weather was nice and the view fantastic. We
gathered our gear buried, loaded the sled and continued the climb. Pulling the
sled in the long traverse was painful and it took us another 1h20 to climb +220m
to reach the camp 4. The camp is comfortable and the view exceptional.
C3 - C4: +1210m, 3h40.
McKinley's camp 4 and the headwall behind
(© P. Gatta)
June 5: Rest day at Camp 4
We stayed at camp 4 to prepare the gear and rest.
June 6: Camp 4 - Camp 5 (5250m)
We split in 2 groups: some decided to make a round trip to the top of the
, the rest decided to carry loads to C5 at 5250m (17,200ft). It took me
3h30 to reach the C5 with a 15kg rucksack. The weather was nice with just few
clouds but a storm was forecasted 48 hours later. We changed our plans; we were
supposed to carry load to C5 and go back down to C4. Instead we decided to stay
at C5 and try to summit the day after.
Unfortunately our MSR stove broke and we couldn't melt snow for drinking and
cooking. We just ate cookies and dry fruits for the dinner and following
C4 - C5: +900m, 3h30.
Mount Foraker seen from McKinley's camp 5
(© P. Gatta)
June 7: Camp 5 - Summit of McKinley - Camp 4
When we woke up at 5am, the sky was clear but it was cold and windy. JF was
sick with a sore throat and decided to go down. J. and A. wanted to ski down
from the summit and decided to leave later to have better snow conditions.
Finally I was the first one and alone to leave the C5 for the summit at 8am.
I reached the Denali Pass
(5700m/18,700ft) at 9:15am. The clouds were building
up and the wind was blowing at 35km/h. I reached the football field at 11h45.
I left my rucksack there to speed up the climb and reach the summit before the
weather turns to bad. I reached the summit of McKinley
at 12h45. A sea of
clouds cover the Alaska as far as the eye can see but the clouds are still 500m
below. I stayed 15 minutes at the top and started the descent quickly. I climbed
down the 240m of "Pig hill" in 15 minutes where I met J. and A. on the way to
At that point it started to snow and the visibility dropped as I entered in the
clouds. At 2pm I reached the Denali pass
, surprised to see so many climbers
going up in what has become a storm. 30 minutes later I joined C5. As I didn't
want to get stuck in a storm for several days at this altitude, I took my gear
and continued the descend toward the C4 (I left C5 at 3:30pm). 15cm of snow
already in the last couple of hours.
I finally reached C4 at 5pm in the storm. One hour later we still had any news
from J. and A... The rangers and some other climbers tried to rescue some
climbers who spent to much time in the cold. Finally J. and A. safely reached
the camp at 8pm, they were very slow because of weather and to poor conditions
C5 - Summit of McKinley: +1130m, 4h30. Summit - C5: -1130m, 1h30. C5 - C4: -900m, 1h30.
McKinley's summit ridge (© P. Gatta)
Summit of McKinley (© P. Gatta)
June 8: storm at Camp 4
Two climbers have been rescued during the night and suffered from frostbite and
one climber went missing.
The storm was still raging, we stayed in our tent all day.
June 9: Camp 4 - Base Camp
JF was still sick and needed to get down to BC as soon as possible. The two of
us left Camp 4 at 9am in the bad weather and with more than 70cm of fresh snow.
The descent to the BC has been long and exhausting. JF was too tired to pull his
sled so I had to pull both mine and his. We reached the BC after 9 hours, it was
too late and the weather too bad to hope for a plane. We put up the tent and
C4 - BC: -2330 / + 200m, 15km, 9h.
McKinley High Camp (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
June 9 - June 11: Storm at BC
Unfortunately the storm lasted 3 more days...
Storm at McKinley's BC (© P. Gatta)
June 12: BC - Talkeetna
We finally could take a plane for Talkeetna
Grizzli in the park of Denali (Wikipedia Common, GNU 1.2)
7 Summits Challenge
is part of the 7 Summits Challenge
which consists in climbing the highest mountain of
each of the 7 continents.