The call came just before 6:00 am. The voice said, “The mountain is open.” When you are in the shadow of Denali, you don’t receive a wake up call, you get a call telling you the clouds that 60% of the time wrap themselves around the mountain like a cloak, have cleared and your view of “The Great One” is ready to amaze.
Denali at 20,310 feet is the highest mountain in North America. Some will argue that it is the highest mountain in the world, surpassing even Mt Everest. The reasoning is that Everest sits on the Tibetan Plane and has its base starting at 17,000 feet and rises another 12,000 feet from there to its summit at just over 29,000 feet. Denali’s base sits at 2000 feet giving it the greatest vertical rise of all mountains. Regardless, Denali impresses. The mountain’s height grabs clouds as they try to pass and holds them in place on her flanks. The sheer area covered by its base, overwhelms the viewer. When the mountain clears, Denali dwarfs everything in her shadow.
First summited in 1913, it has claimed the lives of over 100 climbers who would try later. Even today, with the west buttress route laid out with a rope line, five camps to supply and assist the would-be climbers and highly improved climbing gear, the summit still defies 50% of those that try. It is simply a force nearly too great to be reckoned with.
When the weather does clear and Denali releases the clouds captured by her sheer size, the view is spectacular, breath taking and humbling all at the same time. She fills your view with her size and challenges your eye with her height. You click picture after picture as the sun subtly changes her look, lighting a ridge here and shadowing a face there, but even as you review them, you see that those pictures cannot do justice to what only the eye can perceive. The whiteness of her glaciers, the darkness of the shadows cast by the ridges that outline the paths to her summit, your eye gathers in what no picture can depict.
Denali is one of the main reasons I came to Alaska. I have now viewed her from three sides; north, east and south. I have felt how she rules over the vast wilderness of Alaska. I have waited for the call and when it came, I was not disappointed. My wish for those who have not yet visited, is that you will at least consider trying. I promise that if you do, you too will be moved by the sheer vastness of Alaska and stand in awe of her crowning jewel, Denali.