Four major mountain ranges are among the dozen or so ranges that give Alaska its rugged and breathtaking terrain. In fact, 17 of the 20 highest mountain peaks located in the United States are in Alaska. The tallest is Denali which ascends more than 20,000 feet above sea level and 17,000 feet from its base making it taller than that the “tallest mountain in the world.” Mount Everest rises 29,000 feet over sea level and about 15,000 from its base in the Himalayas. No matter how you look at it, Denali is massive.
Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the pinnacle of the Alaska Range and at home in the Denali National Park and Preserve. The entrance to the park is located about 120 miles south of Fairbanks and 237 miles north of Anchorage. A gravel road runs for 90 miles through the park but has very limited traffic. Each year, 400,000 tourists visit Denali, many getting there by the Alaska Railroad or by aircraft.
The upper half of Denali is permanently cloaked in snow and glaciers, some 30 miles long. The mountain’s extremely frigid air can reach minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills (minus 118 F) that can freeze a human in an instant. An estimated 32,000 climbers have tried to summit Denali with about a 50% success rate.
In addition to the Alaska Range, there are three other major mountain ranges in Alaska including the Coast Range, Brooks Range and the Aleutian Range.
- The Coast Range along with the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains creates the border between Canada and the southeastern part of Alaska. St. Elias is the second tallest mountain in the state at 18,008 feet. The cities of Juneau and Ketchikan are built on the sides of the mountains and are not accessible by road due to the ruggedness of the terrain.
- The Brooks Range is part of the Rocky Mountains and spans over 700 miles from east to west forming a natural border between Alaska’s arctic and interior regions. The mountains once formed the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean and date back before the time of dinosaurs.
- The Aleutian Range stretches 600 miles along the Alaska Peninsula through the Aleutian Island chain and is a part of the Ring of Fire, a section of the earth’s crust that is volcanic and unstable. The collision between continental plates created the mountain range and the tall peaks within this range are volcanoes which continue to erupt and grow. The latest to erupt was Mount Redoubt in 2009.
Other mountain ranges pierce the rugged Alaska landscape including the Chugach Mountains which form the coast along much of south central Alaska and host the greatest concentration of glacial ice; Kenai Mountains which cover most of the Kenai Peninsula; the Kuskokwim Mountains which run from Fairbanks southwest to Bristol Bay; the Nulato Hills bordered on the east by the Yukon river and on the west by the Norton Sound; the Ogilvie Mountains which are mostly located in Canada; the Talkeetna Mountains, a stretch of long-extinct coastal volcanoes that were pushed inland through eons of geologic activity, that connect Chugach Mountains to the Alaska Range; and finally the Yukon-Tanana Uplands which are a number of low mountain ranges including the White Mountains and Ray Mountains.
Alaska’s mountains make for magnificent photographs. Community Blood Center will be sending one lucky donor and a companion on an Alaskan adventure which is sure to include an encounter with mountains. Donors, 18 and older, are automatically entered to win the trip when they register to give blood May 2 – September 3, 2016. Official rules are located online at GivingBlood.org.