Friday, August 05, 2011

You say McKinley, I say Denali

To Native Alaskans it was known since the time that there was language as Denali -- "the Great One."

By virtue of its location where two continental plates meet, one shoving the other upward as it plunges downward, it was by far the highest mountain in the area (and, it would turn out, the highest in North America). Denali towers thousands of feet above the surrounding peaks, which themselves stand at an impressive 10,000 to 14,000 feet of elevation.

What makes it seem even more massive is its vertical rise. Denali's base sits at just 2,000 feet, so it presents 18,000 feet of mountain. Everest is 29,000 feet, but it rises out of a 17,000-foot plateau.

Denali was eventually "discovered" by the white man, and in the 1890s a gold prospector named it for then-president McKinley. Alaskans have been trying for years to officially return the mountain to its original name, but their efforts have been blocked year after year by Ohio congressmen representing the district where McKinley's birthplace is located.

(They are no doubt unabashed and shameless supporters of states' rights.)

Most Alaskans call it Denali anyway.

As big as it is, the mountain is incredibly elusive. It creates its own weather, so it's shrouded in clouds most of the time, revealing itself to only one in three visitors to Denali National Park.

We were lucky. We didn't get to see the whole thing at once, but we caught glimpses of different parts, which was still pretty special.

A peek at the peak, viewed from the south.
Those blue mountains in front aren't it.

Closer, and less cloudy, views from the North.

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