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Alaska Beat

Climate change triggering more dangerous conditions on McKinley

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published July 15, 2012

The New York Times recently visited the town of Talkeetna, Alaska, to explore the increasing dangers of climbing Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak.

Mount McKinley's conditions "are becoming more extreme," Tucker Chenoweth, a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve, told the New York Times. This year's climbing season on McKinley has already seen the worst climbing accident in 20 years. And extreme shifts are happening lower on the mountain, where slopes are less steep and the avalanche dangers generally considered less intense.

The New York Times spoke with climber Eric Roche, who had flown north from Wisconsin and who turned around 4,000 feet from the summit because of the avalanche risk. "I feel good about the decision," he told them. "Trust your instincts."

This year's success rate for climbers on the mountain is lower than usual – normally hovering around 50 percent, this season is at 42 percent so far, according to Robert Zimmer, visitor use assistant at the Denali National Park and Preserve. So far this season, 1,174 people have attempted to climb the mountain, but only 492 have reached the top. Zimmer told Alaska Dispatch that conditions on McKinley are "treacherous" in terms of avalanche danger, due to unusually heavy snowfall and increased winds.

However, the New York Times cites another contributing factor: hubris. "In the past, people saw mountains like McKinley as the apex of their climbing careers, something they built toward for years," Brian Okonek, a local dean of McKinley climbers, told the New York Times. "Now they want everything faster, they want to go for the bigger mountains sooner than they used to."

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