North America’s Tallest Peak Is Shorter Than Previously Thought

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee

by Kraig Becker

A recent review of mountain ranges in Alaska by the U.S. Geological Survey has revealed some surprising results. A group of geographers working to update topographical maps across the state discovered that one of the most well known mountains in North America doesn’t stand quite as tall as previously thought. While measuring the height of numerous peaks in the region last year it was revealed that Mt. McKinley ‘s actual height is 20,237 feet (6168 meters) which is a full 83 feet shorter than previously thought
The mountain was originally surveyed back  in 1952 when its height was measured at 20,320 feet (6193 meters). That had been the official altitude for more than 60 years until this recent update. The team behind this 2012 survey used a high tech radar system to get more accurate readings than ever before. The result was a significantly reduction in the height of the mountain. It is believed that this new, more accurate, measuring system may be revealing the true height for the first time, although there are some who think climate change may have reduced the amount of snow and ice on the McKinley’s summit, which has helped contribute to the loss in height.
Mt. McKinley, or Denali as it is known amongst mountaineers and the indigenous people of Alaska, has been a popular climbing destination for decades. The mountain is known to be a significant challenge due to its technical difficulties, unpredictable weather and its unusually large altitude gain. The fact that it also falls at a relatively high northerly latitude also makes it seem like it is taller than its official height would seem. All of those factors have made McKinley a good training ground for those planning to climb bigger peaks in the Himalaya. Because it is also the tallest mountain in North America, a fact that has not changed with this newly reduced height, it is also one of the Seven Summits, a list of peaks which consists of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.
In the grand scheme of things, the new official height for McKinley doesn’t change much. It is still as tough as ever to climb and those missing 83 feet will go unnoticed by the mountaineers who struggle to the summit each spring and summer. Alaska’s tourism industry will likely feel the biggest impact as they scramble to reprint all of their marketing materials to reflect the change in altitude, but beyond that the snow capped mountain will continue to be as mysterious and elusive as ever.