Climbing Denali: Amazing Facts to Remember

Climbing Denali: Amazing Facts to Remember

Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley is North America’s highest peak standing at an elevation of 6,190 above sea level. It forms the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserves, in south-central Alaska. After Mount Everest and Aconcagua, Denali makes the third highest peak of the Seven Summits. Denali was formed when the Pacific Plate slid beneath the Tectonic Plate resulting into a granitic pluton.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park
It has two main summits; the South Summit which is the highest and the North Summit which has a height of 5,934m. The mountain is home to five glaciers that flow off its slopes; the Traleika Glacier, the Peters Glacier, the Ruth Glacier, the Muldrow Glacier and the Kahiltna Glacier.

Denali Climate

The winter climate dominates this region and is classified as the Continental Subarctic Climate by The Koppen Climate Classification. The lowest temperature ever recorded at -54.4°C was in January while the highest recorded was in June at 33.3°C July is the month with the most precipitation with an average of 2.9” while February has the least precipitation with an average of 0.3”. The average annual precipitation is 13.5”. Denali experiences snow cover of an average of 54.3”. December has the most snow with an average of 10.7”.

Climbing Denali

You will need to be in great physical condition for you to attempt the Denali summit. Proficiency in basic mountaineering skills that include, rope travel, crevasse rescue, cramponing, camping skills and self-arrest is highly recommended. The Denali climb is a technical, demanding and extremely challenging expedition so I would advise you to undertake this venture under the advice and preparation of a guide service. To start you off, here are two guiding service companies for your perusal.
  1. Alpine Ascents Institute
Website: Phone number: (360) 671-1505
  1. Mountain Madness
Website: Phone number: 1-800-328-5925 These companies have certain prerequisites that should be met and you will be screened with regards to the aforementioned mountaineering skills as well as be trained in one of the climbing schools. The guiding services will provide logistical support, food, gear and they will make most decisions concerning group dynamics, weather, and campsites. A minimum of 6 months commitment to physical training prior to the climb is advised. You can also work on your cardiovascular, strength and endurance too. Appropriate technical climbing gear and clothing should be part of your itinerary. Layered clothing, mountaineering boots, helmet, ice-axe, crampons, gloves, ropes, shovels, sleds, trekking poles, sleeping bags, climbing harness, stove etc. should be on your top list.


Depending on what is being offered by the guiding service the cost is between $5,000 and $7,000 on the West Buttress Route. The ratio is normally 9clients: 3 guides. West Rib Route will cost $8,000. The ratio is4 clients: 2 guides The Cassin Ridge will cost between $18,000 and $26,000.

How long does it take to climb Denali?

It will take you about 2-3 weeks to get on top of the mountain and back to base camp. However, there are times when the weather is terrible and you will be tent-bound for a couple of extra days.

When is the best time to climb Denali?

The popular climbing season is from mid-May to end of June although the normal period begins in April to mid-July. It is said to be windy in May and July tends to be stormy.

Any permits, passes or reservations needed?

Any person attempting the climb should first register with Talkeena Ranger Station 60 days prior to the climbing date. A fee of $350 for Mountaineering Special Use will be charged. Climbers under the age of 24 years have a reduced charge of $250. The Denali National Park charges $10 per person as the entrance fee.

Accommodation on Denali

Camping on Denali

The Denali Park offers several campgrounds with all the necessary amenities. These include Riley Creek, Savage River, Wonder Lake, Teklanika River and Sanctuary River. In case the campgrounds are full, don’t fret, there are plenty of RV parks with complete facilities at the entrance of Denali Park.
Denali from Camp on the Kahiltna Glacier
Denali from Camp on the Kahiltna Glacier Photo by Mark Horrell
If you intend to climb the mountain, you will carry all sleeping gear as you will camp on various spots on the glaciers. At times you may be required to build a new camp which will take several laborious hours to accomplish. You will also have to dig, shovel and cut out snow blocks too. However, since you will be in teams and work in shifts it will be doable.

Mountain climbing routes

There are four main route options to summiting Denali.
  1. The West Buttress Route

This is the most popular route for many climbers as it is considered the least technical however, this does not negate the fact that is an exceptional mountaineering challenge. It is also exposed to the Denali weather just as the other three routes; it has crevasses and steep slope too. Climbers should be well prepared to tackle these challenges. The base camp is located at 7,200ft while the others are progressively located at 7,800ft; 9,500ft; 11,000ft; 14,200ft; and 17,200ft. This route has a vertical gain of 13,500 ft. The route is moderately flat between base camp and 11,000ft though crevasses are the major threats. This expedition lasts for about 17days but I recommend carrying 3 weeks’ worth of food supply.
  1. The West Rib

This route is mostly known for its sustained steepness than its technical challenges. It mostly attracts aficionados who have already conquered the summit via the West Buttress. You must step up on your skill and experience though.
  1. Cassin Ridge

This route is only attempted by the most experienced climbers because it ascends the prominent ridge that is demanding, steep with fewer escape routes that are far apart.
  1. Muldrow Glacier

 Muldrow Glacier
Muldrow Glacier Photo by Chelsea Leven
It’s the first ascent route before the West Buttress was pioneered by Bradford Washburn. It takes a longer approach from Wonder Lake which automatically translates to an extra 7 days when compared to the West Buttress route. It is similar to the West Buttress in difficulty but it experiences minimal traffic.

Emergency/Information Center

  • In case of an emergency call 911
  • Information on Rescue, contact Denali Rescue Volunteers; Website: Email:
  • For mountaineering questions-Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station: 907-733-2231
  • Park information: 907-683-9532
  • Switchboard: 907-683-2294

Flora and Fauna on Denali

Wormwood flora Denali
Wormwood flora Denali Photo by Travis
Grizzly Bear Denali
Grizzly Bear Denali Photo by Bob Thomas
Denali hosts over 1500 plant species. In the lowland, you will also find dwarf birch, alder, blueberries, and willow too. The river corridors are dominated by aspen, cranberry, paper birch. Other species include the wormwood, white spruce, lichens, mosses, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers. Wildlife such as the caribou, reindeer, grizzly bears, squirrels, marmots, wolves, mice, wood frog and several bird species dot Denali.

Hiking with Kids

Jordan Romero summited Denali when he was 11 years old. So any youngling with a profound passion for conquering summits can make the attempt under strict guidance and observation.

Things to do

  • Biking/ Cycling

Get some heart rate up as you get to see Denali National Park while cycling. Just make sure you have a helmet. You can get your bike and helmet from the businesses outside the park that hire them out.
  • Go flightseeing

There’s nothing as beautiful as watching Denali National Park and Preserve from atop a window of a small aircraft. The scenery is also simply breathtaking with meandering glaciers and rugged peaks too. Watching climbers attempting also the summit will move your heart too and you can get these services from the listed flightseeing companies. This river wounds beautifully along silver white rocks and lush green vegetation. It offers a campground that is quite popular and scenic.
  • Visit the Denali kennels

Sled dogs, also known as canine rangers-I love this last name! Sounds fierce and territorial, yes? These dogs and the rangers are usually roaming the park and rarely in the kennels. So if you want to visit the kennels call to confirm the timings prior to your visit. Remember that Denali is the only park that has working sled dogs’ kennels. So go hang out with them and even attend a mushing demonstration led by a ranger. Epic!
  • Bird Watching

During summer, over 160 bird species can be spotted in Denali. So with armed with an adventurous spirit and binoculars, you are in for a treat. Be on the lookout for the Alaska state bird, northern wheatears, and its fellow resident species-the willow ptarmigan. Depending on the season and how lucky you are, you can also come across the arctic tern, a migrant from distant lands.
  • Capture shots of Denali and the Alaska ranges

Denali offers amazing opportunities for photography enthusiasts whether beginners or experienced. The mountain stands out from the central ranges so magnificently. It can be seen from as far as Fairbanks and Anchorage on clear days. You can also view it from various angles along the Park road.
  • Wildlife viewing

Wildlife can be spotted anywhere in the park and commonly viewed when taking a bus ride.

A few tips:

The Wonder Lake zone has many bogs and other smaller ponds/water bodies near the road. This makes it also a great spot to catch a glimpse of the water-loving and bird species too. Take multiple bus trips to maximize your chances of viewing great wildlife. Remember to keep safe despite the engulfing thrill and excitement of seeing wild animals. Yes, we have a soft spot for them.