Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, is the tallest mountain in North America. It is considered to be the third tallest in the world; however, by another measure is taller than Mt. Everest. There is a distinction between measuring “highest” and “tallest”. The highest peak is determined by measuring a mountain’s highest point above sea level. The tallest mountain is measured from base to summit. Using that measurement, Mt. McKinley is taller than Mt. Everest because it rises 18,000 feet from its base, which is a greater vertical rise than Everest’s 12,000 feet rise from its base of 17,000 feet. The mountain’s extreme cold, with the possibility of temperatures at -75F and a wind chill of -118F, can freeze a human in an instant. There is an automated weather station at 18,700′.
Mt. McKinley was the fifth mountain on my quest to become the 12th American to complete the Adventure Grand Slam. This was my most technical climb to date. It was the first time I would be pulling a 40lb sled in addition to carrying an 80lb backpack. Weather was great for the first week or so going up. Despite a scary fall into a crevasse on the third day, everything was perfect. By the time we reached Camp 4 at 14,000′ (the last camp before High Camp and then summit), threatening weather began to appear. We were delayed there a couple of extra days longer than planned. The traverse up to High Camp at 17,200′ was difficult, but we were focused and determined. Once we got there and had a time of rest, our summit attempt was delayed further by bad weather. There is always something to be done while waiting, but weather delays make passing time much harder. It’s during those times when fear sets in, and you start doubting whether you’ll make it. We had a small window of opportunity on July 5th, and we took it. Tears of joy and gratefulness take over at the top. Because of the harsh conditions at the summit, there was only time enough to take some pictures, reflect on the accomplishment, and leave. On the day of summit, it was 14 hours from the time we left High Camp and then returned. Coming down can actually be more dangerous than going up. Fatigue, weight loss, and being anxious can play a part in mistakes made. It was an amazing adventure, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been on top of the world once again.