Scaling the Roof of Alaska: Climbing Mount Denali

Mount Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, is the highest peak in North America, towering over the Alaskan wilderness at 20,310 feet. Its majestic summit and awe-inspiring views have made it a coveted destination for mountaineers and adventurers from around the world. However, climbing Mount Denali is not for the faint of heart. The climb requires extensive preparation, training, and physical and mental endurance.

In this article, I’ll explore the journey of climbing Mount Denali, from the preparation and training required to the challenges faced on the ascent to the ultimate reward of reaching the summit. Join me as I take on the daunting task of scaling the roof of Alaska.

Preparation and Training

Scaling Mount Denali is not just an adventure, but an expedition that requires extensive preparation and training. Even experienced climbers must be physically and mentally prepared for the challenges that await them on the mountain. The following are some of the essential steps required to prepare for the climb:

  1. Physical Fitness: Climbing Mount Denali requires a high level of physical fitness. Climbers must be in excellent physical shape and should train for several months before attempting the climb. This includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and endurance training.
  2. Altitude Training: As Mount Denali is located at a high altitude, climbers must also train for altitude acclimatization. This involves gradually exposing oneself to higher altitudes over a period of time to allow the body to adjust to the lower oxygen levels.
  3. Equipment and Supplies: Climbers must have the appropriate equipment and supplies to ensure their safety and comfort on the mountain. This includes mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes, harnesses, ropes, and camping gear.
  4. Teamwork and Communication: Climbing Mount Denali is a team effort, and climbers must work together to ensure everyone’s safety and success. This requires good communication and teamwork skills.
  5. Mentally Preparing: Climbing Mount Denali is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. Climbers must be prepared for the mental challenges they may face, such as homesickness, isolation, and anxiety.

By taking these steps to prepare and train for the climb, climbers can increase their chances of success and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the mountain.

The Climb Begins

The climb of Mount Denali typically begins at the Kahiltna Glacier basecamp, located at an altitude of around 7,200 feet. From here, climbers must ascend over 13,000 feet to reach the summit, typically over a period of two to three weeks. The following are some of the key stages of the climb:

Establishing Camps

Climbers must establish a series of camps as they ascend the mountain, providing them with a base from which to launch further ascents. The camps are typically located at strategic points on the mountain, such as the 7,800-foot camp, the 11,000-foot camp, the 14,200-foot camp, and the 17,200-foot camp.

Carrying Loads

As climbers progress up the mountain, they must carry increasingly heavy loads of equipment and supplies. This can be physically demanding and requires climbers to be in excellent physical shape.


To acclimatize to the altitude, climbers must spend time at each camp to allow their bodies to adjust to the lower oxygen levels. This involves resting, eating, and hydrating, as well as performing short climbs to higher altitudes and then descending to camp.

Summit Push

The final ascent to the summit typically begins from the 17,200-foot camp. Climbers must ascend the steep slopes of the West Buttress to reach the summit. This can take several hours and requires a high level of skill and endurance.

Reaching the summit of Mount Denali is an incredible achievement, but it is not without risks. Climbers must be aware of the hazards of high-altitude climbing, including altitude sickness, frostbite, and exhaustion. By following safety protocols, working as a team, and making good decisions, climbers can increase their chances of success and reach the summit of one of the world’s most challenging peaks.

Navigating the Mountain

Navigating Mount Denali’s complex topography is one of the greatest challenges climbers face. The mountain’s rugged terrain, unpredictable weather conditions, and steep slopes require climbers to be well-prepared and alert at all times. The following are some of the challenges and risks that climbers must navigate:

  1. Crevasses: Mount Denali is covered with glaciers, and crevasses are common. Climbers must be able to navigate around or across these crevasses safely.
  2. Ice Slopes: Climbing on ice slopes can be dangerous, and climbers must be skilled in the use of crampons and ice axes.
  3. Steep Ridges: Mount Denali’s ridges can be steep and treacherous, requiring climbers to use ropes and harnesses for safety.
  4. Weather: Mount Denali’s weather is highly unpredictable, and climbers must be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, wind, and snowfall.
  5. Altitude Sickness: Climbing at a high altitude can cause altitude sickness, which can be dangerous. Climbers must be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and take appropriate measures to prevent or treat it.

To navigate these challenges safely, climbers must be well-trained in the use of mountaineering equipment, have good decision-making skills, and be able to adapt to changing conditions quickly. By staying alert, communicating effectively, and following safety protocols, climbers can successfully navigate Mount Denali’s complex terrain and reach the summit.

Summit Success

Reaching the summit of Mount Denali is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the skills, perseverance, and teamwork of the climbers. Upon reaching the summit, climbers are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding Alaska Range, as well as a sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering one of the world’s toughest peaks.

However, summit success is not guaranteed, and climbers must be prepared to turn back if conditions become too challenging or if safety is compromised. Making good decisions, following safety protocols, and communicating effectively are critical to achieving summit success on Mount Denali. By doing so, climbers can safely navigate the mountain’s challenging terrain and achieve their goal of reaching the summit.

Frequently Ask Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about climbing Mount Denali:

How long does it take to climb Mount Denali?

The climb typically takes two to three weeks, with climbers ascending over 13,000 feet to reach the summit.

What is the best time of year to climb Mount Denali?

The climbing season for Mount Denali is typically from late May to mid-July, when the weather is most stable.

What is the success rate for climbing Mount Denali?

The success rate for climbing Mount Denali varies from year to year but is typically around 50-60%.

What kind of gear is needed to climb Mount Denali?

Climbers need specialized gear, including mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes, harnesses, ropes, and helmets. They also need cold-weather clothing, tents, sleeping bags, and food and water supplies.

Is climbing Denali dangerous?

Yes, climbing Denali is considered a dangerous activity due to the high altitude, unpredictable weather conditions, and challenging terrain. Climbers need to be well-prepared, and experienced and make safe decisions to minimize the risks associated with climbing this peak.

What are the biggest challenges of climbing Mount Denali?

Some of the biggest challenges include the high altitude, unpredictable weather, steep slopes and crevasses, and the need to carry heavy loads of gear and supplies.

Do climbers need to be experienced mountaineers to climb Mount Denali?

Climbers should have some prior experience with mountaineering and high-altitude climbing before attempting Mount Denali. They should also undergo extensive training and preparation before the climb.

How hard is it to climb Denali?

Climbing Denali is considered very difficult due to its high altitude, unpredictable weather, and challenging terrain. The climb requires significant physical endurance, mountaineering skills, and careful preparation. The success rate for climbing Denali is typically around 50-60%, which indicates the difficulty of this climb.

Is Denali harder than Everest?

The difficulty of climbing Denali versus Everest can be subjective and depend on various factors such as the individual’s experience, skill level, and the specific route chosen. However, generally speaking, climbing Everest is considered more technically difficult due to its steep and exposed terrain, higher altitude, and longer duration. That being said, Denali is still a very challenging climb that requires significant preparation, endurance, and skill.

How much does it cost to climb Mount Denali?

Climbing Mount Denali can be expensive, with costs ranging from several thousand dollars to upwards of $10,000 or more depending on the services and equipment needed.

Can you climb Denali without a guide?

Climbing Denali does not require a guide, but it is strongly recommended that climbers have prior mountaineering experience, cold weather experience, and wilderness navigation skills before attempting the climb. Climbers need to be self-sufficient and prepared to handle the challenges of the mountain on their own or with a team. Additionally, climbers must obtain a permit from the National Park Service to climb Denali and follow all safety protocols and regulations while on the mountain.


Climbing Mount Denali is an incredible challenge that requires a high level of skill, preparation, and endurance. The mountain’s rugged terrain, unpredictable weather conditions, and high altitude make it one of the world’s toughest peaks to climb.

Despite these challenges, climbing Mount Denali can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. Reaching the summit is a testament to the climber’s skill and perseverance, and the views from the top are truly awe-inspiring.

However, climbers must also be aware of the risks and hazards associated with high-altitude climbing. By following safety protocols, making good decisions, and working as a team, climbers can safely navigate the mountain and achieve their goal of reaching the summit.

In conclusion, climbing Mount Denali is not for the faint of heart, but for those who are up for the challenge, it is an experience of a lifetime.

Mark Stewart

Mark Stewart is the adventurous founder and CEO of Climb Daily. With a background in marketing and a deep passion for rock climbing, he left the corporate world to pursue his love for the outdoors. Learn more about Mark Stewart here.