Mountaineering fatalities on Denali

High Alt Med Biol. Spring 2008;9(1):89-95. doi: 10.1089/ham.2008.1047.


Mount McKinley, or Denali, is the tallest mountain in North America and attracts over 1,000 climbers annually from around the world. Since Denali is located within a national park, the National Park Service (NPS) manages mountaineering activities and attempts to maintain a balance of an adventurous experience while promoting safety. We retrospectively reviewed the fatalities on Denali from 1903 to 2006 to assist the NPS, medical personnel, and mountaineers improve safety and reduce fatalities on the mountain. Historical records and the NPS climber database were reviewed. Demographics, mechanisms, and circumstances surrounding each fatality were examined. Fatality rates and odds ratios for country of origin were calculated. From 1903 through the end of the 2006 climbing season, 96 individuals died on Denali. The fatality rate is declining and is 3.08/1,000 summit attempts. Of the 96 deaths, 92% were male, 51% occurred on the West Buttress route, and 45% were due to injuries sustained from falls. Sixty-one percent occurred on the descent and the largest number of deaths in 1 year occurred in 1992. Climbers from Asia had the highest odds of dying on the mountain. Fatalities were decreased by 53% after a NPS registration system was established in 1995. Although mountaineering remains a high-risk activity, safety on Denali is improving. Certain groups have a significantly higher chance of dying. Registration systems and screening methods provide ways to target at-risk groups and improve safety on high altitude mountains such as Denali.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / mortality*
  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data
  • Alaska / epidemiology
  • Altitude*
  • Death Certificates
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mountaineering / injuries*
  • Mountaineering / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Safety Management / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality*