Mystery Revealed: Mt. McKinley

Filed Under: Alaska
Photography by Getty Images
Denali National Park and Reserve, Alaska

Alaska’s six-million-acre Denali National Park and Reserve is so vast, the entire state of Massachusetts could fit inside its borders. In the southeastern corner of the park is one of our country’s most awe-inspiring natural monuments. Rising 20,320 feet out of the Alaska Mountain Range, Mount McKinley (also known as “Denali”) is the highest mountain on the continent. While Denali is known as one of the most unforgiving mountains on earth, one event stands out in its history -- a mysterious tale of fatal ambition and tragic miscalculation.

How did this monumental mountain become the site of one of the deadliest climbing expeditions in American history?

June 1967. A group of 12 climbers takes a northeast route up the Muldrow Glacier, camps at 17,900 feet and begins to make plans for how to approach the mountain summit that looms more than 2,000 feet above them. They decide to attempt the rest of the climb in 2 separate groups.

The first group easily makes it to Denali’s peak and then quickly descends to join the others at the camp at 17,900 feet.

After heading further down the mountain, the first group is thrilled to hear over the radio that the entire second group has made it to Denali’s summit despite getting lost in the swirling snow. They promise to radio again at 8 p.m., but their call never comes. Just hours later, the mountain is engulfed in an epic snowstorm with wind gusts of up to 100 mph. The first group makes a desperate attempt to battle back up the mountain to help their fellow climbers, only to be blown to their hands and knees just outside their camp.

Can the party of young climbers be rescued or will this savage tempest seal their fates?

The first group is trapped in their slowly shredding tents for nearly a week, before the storm finally abates and they are able to radio a rescue party for the 7 men still at the summit.

A rescue party finally manages to ascend Denali, where they discover one body, frozen solid by the icy winds. Later, a bush plane spots 2 other bodies at 19,000 feet. No trace is ever found of the other 4 men.

Today, while climbers try to glean lessons from the expedition’s tragic loss and endlessly debate what went wrong -- did they have proper training? the proper equipment? -- the fact remains: No one truly knows what happened to those that perished that year.

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