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Deadly Ascent. The Dangers of Denali National Park’s Mt. McKinley cover image

Deadly Ascent. The Dangers of Denali National Park’s Mt. McKinley 2006

Highly Recommended

Distributed by WGBH Boston, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134; 617-300-2000
Producer n/a
Directed by Mark Davis
DVD, color, 56 min.

Jr. High - Adult
Environmental Studies, Health Sciences, Sports

Date Entered: 07/28/2006

Reviewed by Emily Hart, Penfield Library, State University of New York College at Oswego

At 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley, also referred to as Denali, or the high one, is considered to be one of the coldest mountains on earth. Located in Alaska in Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in America. Each year over 1,000 people attempt to reach the summit, and less than half make it to the top. In this video a team of doctors, rescuers, world-class mountaineers, military Special Forces and an astronaut, ascend the mountain in an attempt to better understand the limits of human survival.

Led by Peter Hackett, a scientist from the University of Colorado, the team monitors the climbers during their ascent in hopes of better understanding the illnesses that befall many while climbing Denali. The team uses a thermometer pill designed by NASA to measure the core body temperatures of the climbers. Hackett and his team believe that there is a direct correlation between large fluctuations in body temperature, and the illnesses frequently experienced by climbers. This is the first time that thermometer pills have been used for this type of research.

On Denali the temperatures and weather conditions can vary greatly, and are particularly dangerous to climbers, spanning from minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit to extreme heat. During a portion of the climb when the heat from the sun was reflecting off the glacier, a climber described the temperature as being as hot as an oven. While forty-five percent of all of the deaths on Denali are caused by falling, many others are caused by mysterious illnesses. Some of the frequent illnesses experienced by climbers include hypothermia, hyperthermia, and acute mountain sickness, or a lack of oxygen. Any of these illnesses could be deadly if left untreated. The team is hopeful that the data they recorded will help prevent illness and death in the future.

The video is packed with intense footage from the climb and includes commentary from the climbers and scientists. It serves as a warning to climbers and also educates viewers on the necessary precautions and warning signs associated with illnesses like acute mountain sickness. The video is exciting to watch, and leaves you pondering the motivations of people who attempt to climb a mountain like Denali, where every step they take involves a decision, and every decision is a matter of life and death.