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Survey cuts Denali elevation by 83 feet

Nathaniel Herz
Becky Bohrer

Mount McKinley's perch as the tallest mountain in North America just got a little less comfortable.

New data collected by a government mapping project has sliced 83 feet from the summit of the continent's tallest peak, taking it from 20,320 feet to 20,237, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced Wednesday.

Climbers can relax -- that's still 686 feet taller than Canada's Mount Logan, the second-tallest peak in North America.

"It's still high, it's still hard, it's still cold," said Nick Parker, a climber and employee at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking who said he has summitted Denali several times. "As long as it's higher than Texas, I don't care."

Treadwell revealed the revisions at a symposium of the International Map Collectors' Society in Fairbanks this week, according to a statement issued by his office.

The new height comes from radar measurements that were part of a state and federal mapping effort, the statement said.

The 20,320-foot measurement was fixed in the 1950s, and a subsequent survey in 1989 actually lopped off 14 feet, bringing the most recent measurement to 20,306.

Nonetheless, Treadwell compared the new number to the earlier benchmark, since it's still the most commonly cited, said Michelle Toohey, Treadwell's chief of staff.

The new height has been accepted by the U.S. Geological Survey and is now part of its National Elevation Dataset, said geographer Becci Anderson.

But Kris Fister, a spokeswoman for Denali National Park and Preserve, said that the U.S. Park Service is still examining the new data and is not making any changes yet. She said park service staffers had found some "discrepancies."

"We'll go through the review process and make sure that some of the bugs are worked out," she said -- though she did acknowledge the likelihood that "the t-shirts, and hats, and patches are going to be collectors' items."

Treadwell made the announcement one day before kicking off his campaign for U.S. Senate seat, and Tom Heinrichs, a program director at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a member of the mapping project's executive oversight group, said he thought the news should have been broken jointly by all the project's participants. He did acknowledge, however, that Treadwell had been an enthusiastic booster.

Toohey, Treadwell's chief of staff, said she didn't know why he had picked this week to reveal the changes. But she did say the decision was not political.

"It doesn't have anything to do with his campaign," she said.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com