What You Should Know About Climbing Denali (Mt. McKinley)

denali

If you enjoy climbing and mountaineering, then you’ve likely already heard about Denali.

But though you may know of its size and grandeur, you may not be familiar with the costs and dangers associated with Denali. 

Let’s take a closer look at this stunning Alaskan mountain and discover everything you need to know about climbing Denali—including how long it takes to climb it!

What Is Denali?

Denali is the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet in elevation. Once known as Mt. McKinley, Denali sits between two large Alaskan settlements, Anchorage and Fairbanks. 

The mountain is a significant part of the Denali National Park and Preserve, a six-million-acre swath of land famous for its natural beauty, fishing spots, and hiking trails.

Climbers interested in tackling the tallest peaks must register for their climb at least two months (or sixty days) before arriving. 

Those who are determined to scale this Alaskan mountain will need to be in prime physical condition, have intermediate-to-advanced mountaineering skills, and be prepared for bitterly cold conditions.

They’ll also need to be ready to finance their climbing expedition.

How Long Does It Take to Climb Denali?

The amount of time you can expect to spend climbing Denali depends on the weather, the size of your climbing party, your fitness level, and your level of climbing expertise.

If you’re a beginning climber that’s out of shape, you may spend fifteen days climbing to the summit and another fifteen days climbing down.

However, skilled climbers traveling in small groups may climb Denali in as little as seventeen days. This estimate includes the trip back down the mountain.

That said, even the most experienced climbers can struggle to reach the top of Denali if there’s heavy rain or snowfall. 

Some climbers can spend the entire expedition trying to wait out inclement weather, never getting the chance to finish their ascent.

Still, it’s better to be cautious and wait an extra day than to attempt climbing in bad weather.

Denali may not be as infamously treacherous as Mt. Everest, but it has claimed nearly a hundred lives over the last century. Caution is crucial.

How Much Does It Cost to Climb Denali?

The cost to climb Denali varies, particularly when you consider different types of equipment, clothing, and travel costs.

Before you register for your expedition and begin rigorous physical training, you’ll want to think about the following fees.

Travel Costs

Denali is located in Alaska, a US state with a population of about 730,000 people. That equates to just about 0.2% of the total US population.

That means that climbers will likely need to travel to Alaska to complete this climb, as most will not already be Alaskan residents.

Flying to Alaska can be expensive. Even if you leave from Seattle, Washington, you can expect to spend at least $400 on a round-trip ticket to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

If you live further away from Alaska, this price begins to increase. It’s not uncommon for travelers to spend between $500 and $1,000 on airline tickets.

Upon arriving in Alaska, prospective climbers will need to secure transportation to Denali National Park.

Rental cars tend to be popular among families, couples, and tight-knit friends, but travelers can also make it to the park via the Alaska Railroad or a scheduled motorcoach

Small planes also make relatively frequent stops along the Denali route, though traveling by plane tends to be more expensive than terrestrial options.

Still, travelers can expect to spend between $100 and $600 on travel to and from Denali National Park. 

As such, the average total travel cost associated with climbing Denali is about $1,000.

This average fluctuates, and climbers may save money by visiting Denali during the off-peak season.

Equipment Costs

In addition to standard pieces of equipment like backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and boots, climbers hoping to tackle Denali may want to bring sleds.

Putting too much weight on your back while attempting to climb up intensely snowy areas can be dangerous.

When you put your gear on a sled, the weight disperses over a larger surface. Instead of sinking into the thick snow with every step, you could lightly glide over it.

As such, many climbers that visit Denali bring lightweight plastic sleds with them.

Fortunately, the only people who attempt to climb Denali are experienced mountaineers with a pre-existing climbing and camping gear collection.

These skilled climbers likely won’t need to spend too much money on additional equipment before traveling, as they’ll already own the necessary gear.

Clothing Costs

It gets absurdly cold on Denali. Climbers will need to outfit themselves appropriately to avoid frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related conditions.

This means having a parka, insulated pants, mittens, insulated face masks, and a few pairs of sturdy sunglasses. 

The average mountaineer will already own most of these articles of clothing, decreased additional costs.

However, if you’ve only been climbing in dry, hot places, you’ll want to invest in some thick, well-insulated clothing before you fly to Alaska. 

Of course, you could also choose to purchase warm clothing when you arrive, but you may end up spending far more to do so.

But one type of fee that isn’t likely to vary or change any time soon is the park entry cost.

Park Entry Costs

Each person (16 years of age or older) who enters Denali National Park and Preserve must pay an entrance fee. This fee is $15, which is a very affordable sum.

However, climbers will also need to anticipate paying a $375 fee during the registration process. 

During pre-expedition registration, your climbing leader or team captain will need to register with the park officials.

Once the leader has done this, members of the expedition party can register as part of the leader’s group. 

Both the entrance fee and registration-related fee should be paid before climbers arrive at the park. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to pay these costs online.

Miscellaneous Costs

Mountaineers can’t survive on sheer will power. They also need plenty of calories, water, and rest.

One of the most significant challenges that climbers will face is food storage, transportation, and preparation. 

The average length of a Denali expedition is three weeks, and the recommended daily caloric intake is well above 3,000.

Carrying that much grub around with you can be tricky, especially when it’s -75℉ outside. Staying hydrated can be even more challenging, as most liquids will freeze solid during the ascent.

Climbers will likely need to spend at least $200 on food and water before arriving at the Denali National Park and Preserve.

They’ll also need to ensure that their gear (particularly their backpack) is strong enough to support the food, clothing, and equipment.

Once you’re prepared to finance your Denali mountaineering expedition, you’ll want to go ahead and register yourself and apply for a permit.

During the registration process, you’ll be asked to pay a one-time fee of $375. 

It’s crucial to do these things as soon as possible, as park employees and rangers will be better able to accommodate you and your party if they have plenty of forewarning.

During this pre-expedition period, registrants are free to ask the local rangers questions, which may help hikers hoping to gain some honest advice about the climb.

Final Thoughts

Though the success rate for climbing Denali currently hangs at about 60%, there’s nothing quite like getting to be one of the lucky few to scale its icy, snow-covered peaks.

Still, if you’re determined to conquer this mountain, you’ll first need to accrue the funds to finance your expedition. 

You’ll then need to purchase or pack all of the necessary supplies, including food, water, and plenty of warm clothing. After that, it’s time to register your team and schedule an orientation appointment.

Then, you’ll take about a month off to travel to Denali National Park and Preserve.

Once there, you’ll undergo your orientation, receive your permit, and begin your journey.

credit: Deposit Photos

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