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Mount McKinley (Denali), 6194 m / 20,320 ft
Normal Route, West Buttress - Alaska, USA

McKinley vu depuis le park du Denali (Wikipedia Common)
McKinley vu depuis le park du Denali (Wikipedia Common)

Mount McKinley (Denali), 6194 m (20,320 ft)

Mount McKinley (or Denali) 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 has 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 Denali from the North (Wikipedia / NPS)
View of McKinley from the North (Wikipedia / NPS)

McKinley and North America's map
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, Denali summit in the background (© P. Gatta)
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 Talkeetna 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 Glacier (© P. Gatta)
The plane and our gear on the Kalhitna Glacier (© P. Gatta)

June 1: Base Camp on Kalhitna Glacier (2200m) - Camp 1 at bottom of Ski Hill (2400m)

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)
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 (© P. Gatta)
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)
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 (© P. Gatta)
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 headwall, 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 breakfast.
C4 - C5: +900m, 3h30.

Mount Foraker seen from McKinley's camp 5 (© P. Gatta)
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 the top.

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 for skiing.
C5 - Summit of McKinley: +1130m, 4h30. Summit - C5: -1130m, 1h30. C5 - C4: -900m, 1h30.

McKinley's summit ridge (© P. Gatta)
McKinley's summit ridge (© P. Gatta)

Summit of Denali (© 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 slept...
C4 - BC: -2330 / + 200m, 15km, 9h.

Denali High Camp (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
McKinley High Camp (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

June 9 - June 11: Storm at BC

Unfortunately the storm lasted 3 more days...

Storm at McKinley's BC (© P. Gatta)
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)
Grizzli in the park of Denali (Wikipedia Common, GNU 1.2)

7 Summits Challenge

The McKinley is part of the  7 Summits Challenge which consists in climbing the highest mountain of each of the 7 continents.


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