Climbing Mount McKinley in mid-life

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 3-9, 1997
Dangers of travel to Bogota, Columbia
Climbing Mount McKinley in mid-life
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Mountain biking in San Miguel, Mexico
Fall-foliage excursions in New England

Climbing Mount McKinley in mid-life
Question: I would love to someday climb Mount McKinley. I realize this is not an easy task and requires extensive preparation and training. Is this possible while living in the South with a family and a full-time job? I am 45 and in good shape (bike, run, hike, swim). Any advice?

Rick Smith
Lebanon, TN
[email protected]

Climbing Mount McKinley takes
years of careful preparation

Adventure Adviser: The most important prerequisite to climbing Denali is that you have previous climbing experience, according to expert sources who have successfully completed the climb.

Much, much more than being in shape, "climbing experience" means you know how to adequately use an ice ax and crampons, have a solid background in winter camping, have had plenty of time to practice climbing steep, exposed slopes, are able to climb with heavy equipment, and feel comfortable with rope travel. You can be in the best shape of your life and still crumble under the overwhelming discomfort of 24 days on the mountain. If you are serious about climbing Denali, warn your family that you won’t be seeing them much in the coming years because you'll be too busy traveling the Western Hemisphere climbing mountains.

To accurately gauge whether climbing Denali is really possible, consider taking a 10-day training seminar approximately one year before you plan to climb McKinley. The course is offered by Alaska-Denali Guiding, Inc. (907-733-2649) and will give you a solid knowledge base, as well as great tips on how to continue training. After the seminar, even if you're an experienced climber, you'll need to plan at least two or three trips to lesser mountains. Most people train on Mount Rainier in Washington, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Mexican volcanoes. Before you do anything, however, invest in McKinley by Glen Randall, a very solid reference for people aspiring to climb the mountain.

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