Mount McKinley Is No More: Say Hello To Denali

Mount McKinley is getting a name change. Well, not strictly a name change, since it’s going back to its old name. The tallest mountain in the United States has been known as Denali in Alaska since 1975, but until today was listed in the United States records as Mount McKinley.

Denali is the name natives had given to the mountain and is the name of the national park Mount McKinley sits in: it means “the great one” in Athabaskan. (When Mount McKinley belonged to Russia, they called it Bolshaya Gora, or “big mountain.”) When nineteenth century explorers reached its base, they first named it Densmore’s Mountain (after the first European to reach it, Frank Densmore) and later Mount McKinley, after the presidential candidate, in 1896. (Mount McKinley was first scaled to the top on June 7, 1913.) William McKinley was from Ohio and never visited or had any connection to the mountain, but the Mount McKinley National Park Act in 1917 made it official.

Alaska hasn’t been sitting idly since 1975, hoping that their name would be accepted; on the contrary, they have been actively campaigning since 1975 to have Mount McKinley revert to its original name, but until now had been blocked by Congress in Ohio, who have introduced bills to require the mountain to remain Mount McKinley. Introducing the bills was enough to block a name change, as the United States Board on Geographic Names won’t make a name change if the matter is under consideration by Congress. However, an order in 1947 says that the Interior Secretary can change names if there isn’t a decision made in a reasonable time. So the secretary, Sally Jewell, did just that.

Denali is the name given to Mount McKinley by the Koyukon Athabaskan, who have lived at its base for centuries, but different native tribes in the area have given it different names, all of which translate into “big mountain” or “the high one.” It is 20,237-feet tall and is known for having the largest base to peak rise of any mountain, as McKinley/Denali starts at sea level (Mount Everest, in contrast, rises up from the much higher Tibetan Plateau, and the Mauna Kea volcanic mountain rises from almost 20 thousand miles under the sea). Mount McKinley/Denali is successfully scaled from base to peak by 50 percent of the climbers who attempt it. While not as lethal as Mount Everest, McKinley/Denali has claimed 100 lives of those who have attempted to climb it.

[Image via Wikipedia/National Park Service]