It is a route for those who have some trekking skills and are ready to tolerate harsh climate conditions with snow, ice and average daytime temperature of -10oC to -20oC, dropping to -35oC at night. It's Alaska. McKinley (or Denali as the locals call it) is the tallest mountain of North America. It is known as Churchill's Peaks as well. McKinley rises 6183m above the sea level and it takes 12 to13 days to mount it, if the weather is bad, add 5 to 6 more.
From the very beginning of the tour, nothing is like anywhere else in the world. A small two-, four- or five-seated plane, takes off from a narrow landing strip. A weird air-vehicle is equipped with sort of skis and soon it lands on a glacier about 2 km up in the mountains. A group of trekking enthusiasts get out and a tour may start. McKinley is hardly visible in the distance and you have to walk at least a week and a half to reach it. It's a long way along a snow covered trail and you need traditional snow shoes or special skis with leather-coated underside to reach it. The skis are specially designed to slide only onward, not backward. You cannot hire any porters as none are available, so there is no choice but to carry everything by yourself - all those 7 km up to the summit. Food and fuel for melting snow weights about one kilo per person per day, totaling up to 18 kg for the whole trip. Add a tent, a sleeping bag, warm clothes, snow shovels and saws, and finally your luggage reaches up to 35 kilos. You can lift it but you definitely cannot carry it for very long, therefore small sledges are given to everyone. Now you can haul your stuff through snow and there the funny part starts. No one really knows how to maneuver this small tub-like thing and it sways and wobbles along the way, on downhill sections bumping into your legs from behind. Only towards the end of the trip you finally realize how to manage it. There is always a silver lining however. In some places you can even hit the slopes and have some fun! Just leave your things at the camp, walk uphill for a kilometer of so, and then speed down back again. A little downhill skiing feels like a dessert after all that trudge! It perfectly takes your mind off the hardships you have to face on your way - sharp winds and snowstorms that may last for 2 to 3 days, avalanches and 10 to 20 meters deep crevices in the ice. There are simpler and safer routes as well, yet every year some daring climbers get missing in McKinley area. It's part of the package, and you have to be aware of that.
Alaskan wilderness is truly amazing and it attracts people. Even going by car you may drive for 20 or 30 miles without seeing a single living creature - just snow and ice as far as sight can reach.
- The best time to climb Alaskan mountains is early summer - May and June. Alaska reaches beyond the Arctic Circle, therefore days are very short in winter and it is freezing cold there with minimum night temperature dropping to -50oC.
- The best way to travel to Alaska is by air - first, go to Seattle, then fly to Anchorage.
Keywords: mountain, mountains, trekking