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Winter ascents of Mount McKinley

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  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published March 6, 2010

Sixteen people have summited Denali in winter. Six deaths have resulted from these attempts.

Date on Summit: Feb. 28, 1967

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 10 hrs, 7mins

Climbers: Alaskans Art Davidson, Dave Johnston and Ray Genet became the first to set foot on McKinley's summit in winter as defined from winter solstice to spring equinox. One climber on their international eight-man team lost his life in a crevasse fall. The three summitteers were given up for dead when they tucked themselves for six days into a snowcave about the size of a three-man coffin. All three suffered extensive frostbite. Davidson's account, ''Minus 148 Degrees, '' is a mountaineering classic.

Date on Summit: March 7, 1982

Route: Cassin Ridge

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 10 hrs, 52 mins

Climbers: Mike Young and Roger Mear reached the summit while their partner, author Jonathan Waterman, crawled to within a few hundred feet of the top in the first winter ascent of the long and difficult Cassin Ridge.

Date on Summit: March 11, 1983

Route: West Rib

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 11 hrs, 18 mins

Climbers: Charles Sassara, 26, and Robert Frank, 38, were the only ones on a four-man Anchorage team to reach the summit. Frank fell to his death on the descent. None of the party had ever climbed McKinley before. Among Sassara's memories almost 15 years later: ''What's special about the winter is the sky — you get the stars. They rotate around the summit the whole time, '' Sassara said.

Date on Summit: Feb. 12, 1984

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 8 hrs, 24 mins

Climbers: Naomi Uemura, an experienced adventurer and Japanese national hero, reached the top on his 43rd birthday, the first to solo Denali in winter. His diet consisted of raw caribou and seal fat. Although he died on the way down — likely slipping off the West Buttress ridge between 17,000 and 16,000 feet — Denali National Park's mountaineering rangers credit him with an ascent. His body remains somewhere on the mountain.

Date on Summit: March 7,1988

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 10 hrs, 52 mins

Climbers: Vern Tejas, 35, of Anchorage, a veteran McKinley guide, topped out after a month of being alone on the peak. He returned safely to a hero's welcome and exuberant celebrations in Anchorage -- and credit for making the first successful solo ascent.

Date on Summit: Feb. 20, 1989

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 9 hrs, 16 mins

Climbers: Austrians Helmut Steinmassl, 29; Helmut Mittermayr, 20, and Laserer Walder, 27, were one of two teams climbing the peak simultaneously and the only one to succeed. Days after they summitted, three Japanese climbers got nabbed by a storm at 18,200-foot Denali Pass and were blown off the pass to their deaths. Their bodies, ''flash-frozen, '' according to a Denali ranger, were recovered months later.

Date on Summit: March 11, 1989

Route: West Rib

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 11 hrs, 18 mins

Climbers: Dave Staeheli, 33, of Anchorage was, like Tejas, a professional mountain guide. As a series of violent storms blew over Denali, Staeheli hunkered low and waited. He made the top and returned.

Date on Summit: Jan. 16, 1998

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 5 hrs, 41 mins

Climbers: Russians Artur Testov, 32, and Vladimir Ananich, 40, become the first to stand on the top of McKinley in ''the dead of winter.'' (Their partner, Alexandr Nikiforov, 29, remained in a snowcave at 14,200 feet.) They are also the first to videotape a winter ascent of Denali. A first try at a mid-winter climb in 1997 by Testov and another man failed around 12,000 feet.

Date on Summit: March 8, 1998

Route: West Buttress

Amount of sunlight in the Denali region: 10 hours, 58 minutes

Climber: Masatoshi Kuriaki, the self-dubbed "Japanese Caribou," became the first man from his country to make a solo summit in the winter — and return safely. In 2007, Kuriaki became the first person to make a solo summit of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker in the winter.

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