Alaska’s Mount McKinley rises 6.168 m. above sea level, making it the highest mountain in North America. Before even actually specializing in Alaska for my job, I had never heard of the mountain, let alone realizing North America’s highest is actually there.
McKinley’s other name is Denali, meaning “The High One” in Athabascan. It’s located within the famous Denali National Park (which is, if you ask me, a totally overrated tourist attraction, there are much better places in Alaska to visit!) in southcentral Alaska. McKinley is one of the mountains in the world with the highest prominence, rising above the tundra grounds of Denali.
The mountain is a part of the Alaska Range, as 650 km long mountain range that is actually the highest mountain range in the world outside of Asia and after the Andes. Other surrounding peaks are Mt. Foraker (5.304m) and Mt. Hunter (4.442m).
When going to Alaska, seeing McKinley is some kind of special mission. As it turns out, on average it’s in the clouds for about 5 days a week so you will have to be very lucky to be able to see it. The first chance for visitors to Alaska is usually from Earthquake Park, almost next to the Ted Stevens International Airport of Anchorage. With a bit of luck, you can see a big white mass in the very far distance, that will be McKinley. When driving further north to Denali National Park, you might see it, when you are lucky.
I’ve been to Alaska quite a few times by now and it took me no less than 3 visits to see McKinley properly for the very first time.
My first visit was in 2007 with a group tour that I was an assistant guide for. When arriving in Denali, it turned out there had been massive bushfires so it was too hazy to see anything. On the way back home, we made a last stop at Earthquake Park and indeed we got to see the big white mass. You could’ve told me anything because it didn’t really stand out as McKinley. So I don’t want to really call this seeing it…
When I went back in 2009, I went all the other way so no Denali this time. In 2011 I knew my lucky days had come. Or at least, I hoped, I just couldn’t get over the fact that it was my third time in Alaska and I would just not get to see the damn mountain. Upon arrival I was already pretty excited, because the captain of the plane, announced we could see McKinley from the sky just before starting our descent into Anchorage. So I pushed myself against the window and took some photos. However, the excitement faded quickly because this just couldn’t be it. I had to see it properly…
A couple of days after my arrival it was finally time to drive up to Denali. Soon after leaving a town called Willow you will normally, on a clear day that is, get your first views of McKinley. The weather was pretty good so full of hope I entered the parking lot of the first Alaska Range viewpoint. When throwing a first glance into the distance, I felt a cringe. No view! Shit…
That same night I drove on to the Denali Park Road, from where you should also be able to see McKinley. But hey, surprise, no view! As I didn’t plan to take a bus excursion the next day (no time) I felt pretty desperate. Me, who is completely obsessed with mountains, would be going back home without seeing the mountain again…
The next morning I woke up really early as I had to be in Talkeetna by about 10.00 am. The weather was good but I gave up all hope. Then, suddenly half way down the route, I looked over my shoulder while driving and I saw a big white mass right through the trees. “McKinley is out of the clouds! Stop the car” I screamed at my colleague who must’ve thought by then I was near the edge of madness. So we stopped the car where we could and I just looked. And felt excited. There it was, out of the clouds, fierce and powerful.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time as we had to rush on to Talkeetna. Upon arrival there, it turned out our excursion was canceled but … that left an opportunity to go flightseeing. Without any doubt I signed up and swiped my credit card. How I was going to afford that, I would think of when home. So within minutes I was up in the air, flying around McKinley. At last … mission accomplished!
When I came back in winter 2012, I just had to go to Earthquake Park. Who knew … maybe I could see the big white mass again. And yes, it was a pretty clear day so I got to see it. This time however, realizing I had seen it before from close by and that from closer it’s even more stunning…
So that concludes my longer than normal Mountainous Monday for this time. If you want to read all the other Mountainous Monday posts, please click here.
Want to read more about my Alaska adventures, then read any of these:
– 5 really cool (and cold) things to do in Alaska
– Winter in Alaska: the Iditarod – the last great race on earth
– The world’s best glaciers, including … Alaska!
Thank you for sharing!