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Climbing Denali: a dream almost slips through my fingers

Denali behind tents at base camp

Although it was the natural next step in my bid for the seven summits, climbing Denali proved to be an altogether different beast

At around 6.30pm local time on Tuesday 28 May 2024, six grown men stood on the summit of Denali, the highest peak in North America, crying their eyes out. Among us was a triathlon athlete, a veteran of the Marathon des Sables and an Everest summiteer returning to Denali for his second attempt. One of our group, a Californian who regularly climbed in the Sierras, was on his knees sobbing over his ice axe. I tried to record a video message for Instagram but couldn’t speak through my tears of relief

Climbing Denali is the hardest thing I have ever done. I trained for over a year, spent a fortune on the expedition and then almost let it slip through my fingers at the final hurdle. For me, Denali was a one-time shot. I couldn’t afford to come back to this monstrosity of a mountain so giving up on Denali meant giving up on the seven summits

Fortunately, my seven summit story doesn’t end here. Whether or not I can afford to have a crack at Everest or Vinson is another question but, for now, the improbable dream is still alive. Below is my account of climbing Denali; my journey to the top of North America and my toughest challenge yet.

Denali: the tall one

At 6,190m (20,310ft), Denali in Alaska, USA, is the highest peak in North America and the third highest mountain of the seven summits. It was my fourth mountain of the seven after Aconcagua in South America, Elbrus in Europe and Kilimanjaro in Africa. I don’t include Kosciuszko in Australia as I subscribe to the ‘Messner List’ which means Kosciuszko is not a seven summit.

Denali behind tents at base camp
Atlas & Boots Denali seen from base camp

Denali is arguably the second hardest mountain of the seven summits. It is an extremely challenging campaign as climbers must carry heavy loads throughout, particularly at the beginning of the expedition where they have to carry a backpack and haul a sledge over a crevasse-strewn glacier. The notoriously stormy, unpredictable and relentlessly cold weather on a mountain located at 63° North – just 3° degrees south of the Arctic Circle – makes it even tougher. 

Continent The Messner version The Bass version
Asia Everest Everest
South America Aconcagua Aconcagua
North America Denali Denali
Africa Kilimanjaro Kilimanjaro
Europe Elbrus Elbrus
Antarctica Vinson Vinson
Oceania Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid) Kosciuszko

The name Denali comes from…

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