by Kraig Becker
The spring climbing season in the Himalaya is now over and the mountaineering community turns its attention to Denali, the Alaskan peak that is the tallest in North America. Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) has a reputation for being incredibly challenging, with unpredictable weather and cold temperatures throughout the year, including during its traditional climbing season in May and June. But this year the weather has been surprisingly good, bringing a high level of success to a mountain that is not known for being friendly to climbers. Denali is a popular climb for mountaineers training for Everest or other big Himalayan peaks. Due to its extreme latitude, the 6194 meter (20,320 ft) mountain feels much taller than it actually is. It also features more vertical gain than any other mountain on the planet, including Everest itself. While the Big Hill challenges climbers with a 13,000 foot prominence, Denali’s actually rises 17,000 feet above the surrounding countryside. Add in the fickle weather the mountain is so well known for and you begin to understand why Denali is such a challenge to summit at any time of the year.
But excellent weather so far this spring is providing climbers with far better conditions than they could have ever hoped for. This extended weather window has brought a surprising level of success along with it. According to Explorers Web 157 of the 226 climbers who have made a summit bid so far this spring have actually reached the top. That’s a stunning 69% success rate, which is well above the historical rate of 52% and a dramatic increase over the 41% success rate from last year. In 2012, terrible weather made it difficult to top out all season long.
Both Denali and Everest require permits to climb, but the Alaskan peak is more closely regulated in an attempt to prevent over crowding. The U.S. National Park Service limits the number of climbers to just 1500 during the busy spring climbing season and according to ExWeb, there have been 984 permits issued this year. About 400 climbers are currently on the mountain and hoping that the good weather will continue to hold out long enough for them to see the summit as well.
One of the more high profile climbs taking place this spring is called Expedition Denali. It features an all African-American team of mountaineers who are climbing in an effort to inspire young people of color to become more engaged with the outdoors. The team has recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that will allow them to film their expedition and make a documentary that will help them to reach their audience. In a few weeks time, they’ll leave for Alaska and launch their adventure. Hopefully the team will find a high level of success as well.