- Wonder Lake Area
- one, two- or three-day glacier treks on the shoulders of the mountain US$690 to around US$1200, Alaska Mountaineering School charges around US$4500 to lead you up the mountain,
Lonely Planet review for Mt McKinley
Encompassing both the north and south flanks of the Alaska Range, 237 miles from Anchorage and about half that distance from Fairbanks, Denali National Park is an immense subarctic wilderness centered on Mt McKinley - North America's highest peak and an overwhelming sight when caught on a clear day. At 20,320ft, the peak of this massif is almost 4 miles high, but what makes it stunning is that it rises from an elevation of just 2000ft.
From Park Rd, you'll see 18,000ft of rock, snow and glacier reaching for the sky. In contrast, Mt Everest, the world's highest mountain at 29,028ft, rises only 11,000ft from the lofty Tibetan Plateau.
Mt McKinley is not visible from the park entrance or the nearby campgrounds and hotel. Your first glimpse of it comes between Mile 9 and Mile 11 of Park Rd, if you're blessed with a clear day. (The rule of thumb stressed by the NPS rangers is that Mt McKinley is hidden two out of every three days, but that's a random example - it could be clear for a week and then hidden for the next month.) While 'the Great One' might not be visible for most of the first 15 miles, this is the best stretch to spot moose because of the proliferation of spruce and especially willow, the animal's favorite food.
So, has gazing up at lordly Mt McKinley infected you with summit fever? Between 1000 and 1300 climbers attempt the ascent each year, spending an average of three weeks on the slopes. About 85% use the West Buttress route, which involves flying in a ski plane from Talkeetna to the 7200ft Kahiltna Glacier and from there climbing for the South Peak, passing a medical/rescue camp maintained by mountaineering clubs and the National Park Service (NPS) at 14,220ft.In a good season, when storms are not constantly sweeping across the range, more than 50% will be successful. In a bad year that rate falls below 40%, and several climbers may die.
If you're a seasoned alpinist you can mount an expedition yourself, or be among the 25% of Mt McKinley climbers who are part of guided ascents. Of the licensed guiding companies, only one is local: Alaska Mountaineering School (733-1016; www.climbalaska.org; Third St) which leads you up the mountain. Folks without high-altitude credentials would be better off opting for one of the company's one-, two- or three-day glacier treks on the shoulders of the mountain - a fine way to get a taste of what the mountaineers endure, but at an altitude that isn't life-threatening. These excursions cover the glacier flight and all the gear you'll need for the experience of a lifetime.