President Barack Obama has announced that North America’s highest peak, formerly known in most of the US and internationally for the past 120 years as Mount McKinley, will henceforth be officially known by its original name, Denali.
The Alaska Native Athabaskan people have called the peak Denali for many centuries which means “High Mountain”. During Russian ownership of the area it was called ‘Bolshaya Gora’ which meansd about the same thing, but it was renamed Mount McKinley by then-presidential candidate and later US President William McKinley by gold prospectors in 1896.
Although it continued to be known as Denali locally, the name Mount McKinley was made official in 1917 when President Wilson signed the Mount McKinley National Park Act.
Denali is 6,168m high with 5,500m of ‘base-to-peak rise’ which is considered the biggest vertical of any mountain above sea level, although Mt St Elias in the same part of the world is considered to have the biggest potentially skiable vertical.
The first recorded attempt to climb Denali was in 1903 and the first successful accent a decade later in 1913.
It was not fully descended on skis from the summit until June 1972 when a group of mountaineers from Switzerland skied from the summit, down the Messner Couloir, and out to Base Camp.
The mountain is of course treacherous for skiers with pitches of up to 60 degrees but it is one of the seven peaks needing to be conquered by those seeking to ski from the highest summits on all seven continents.
Around 100 people have died on Mount McKinley over the past century including several skiers. In May 2012 a 36-year-old Finnish skier, Ikka Uusitalo, died after falling 700 metres in 40-45 degree Orient Express couloir (apparently named for the number of Japanese and Korean climbers who have fallen down it and died).