01 September 2021

Climbing Mount Denali

"Better we raise our skill than lower the climb."

--Royal Robbins

At 20,310 feet (6,190 meters), Mount Denali is the highest peak in North America. Translated as "The Great One," the former Mount McKinley (name changed in 2015 by the U.S. Department of the Interior) is the centerpiece of the six million acres of Denali National Park located 240 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska.  

Mount Denali Alaska
(C) USA Today

Denali, which is the common expression, is the third tallest of the "Seven Summits" (the tallest peak on each continent), after Mount Everest (29,032 feet) in Asia and Mount Aconcagua (22,838) in South America. The first verifiable ascent to Denali's South Peak was achieved on 7 June 1913 by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum.

The National Park Service says the average trip expedition to the top and back is 17 to 21 days.

New summits to climb

During a recent "tundra wilderness tour" of Denali National Park, our guide stopped the bus and pointed in a northwest direction to the Alaskan Range, where Denali resides in all its grandeur.   

Did we see Denali that day?  
Unfortunately, not. We failed to qualify for the 30 percent club, the percentage that glimpses the tallest mountain in North America.     

However, in this phase of the pandemic, other challenging summits are in clear view needing to be scaled.  

Here are four:

1. How we address Covid-19 (and variants). The virus appears to be moving from a pandemic or global outbreak to an endemic or constantly maintained virus. Everything else on this list is significantly affected by how we understand and respond to the coronavirus in terms of science, government policy, and personal decisions related to vaccinations.

(C) Food and Drug Administration

What's the goal? Is it to control the virus (influenza) or eradicate it (smallpox)? And who decides? The answers to those questions will likely define what becomes typical.  

2. How we work. The September return-to-office timetable for professional, managerial, and technical personnel has been set back by a surge in the Delta variant. This situation should only increase our appreciation for others whose work, such as medical personnel, has required on-site duty from the pandemic's beginning.  

Work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid schedules get the most attention. And employees in some fields like tech seem to have the upper hand with flexibility as a prize possession.  

The other side looks like this: Projects take longer. Training is tougher. Hiring and integrating employees is more complicated. Younger professionals can't sit next to experienced colleagues and learn the trade.  

When it comes to promotions, out of sight is probably out of mind.  

Whatever corporate culture exists is built on preexisting relationships. At some point, those interactions exhaust themselves, and new ones are required to keep shared beliefs and values alive.  

If you've been in business for any length of time, you know the future happens face-to-face--assuming employers can find people to work. Larger companies are doing okay, while smaller businesses struggle to meet employment goals. That's especially true for the dining and lodging industries. 

3. How we educate our children and youth. In the U.S., government-run schools, which continue in enrollment decline, are the leading instruction providers for around 90 percent of the country's 56 million K-12 students.  

A joint Stanford/New York Times study of 70,000 schools in 33 states showed that those offering remote-only learning at the beginning of 2020-2021 experienced a 3.7 percent decline. Those with in-person schooling went down 2.6 percent.

A McKinsey study shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students, on average, five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year. The pandemic widened pre-Covid opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest. 

In math, students in majority Black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, and students in low-income schools with seven. In addition, high schoolers have become more likely to drop out of school, and high school seniors, especially those from low-income families, are less likely to go on to postsecondary education. 

And the crisis had an impact on not just academics but also the broader health and well-being of students, with more than 35 percent of parents very or highly concerned about their children's mental health.

4. How we live. The Wall Street Journal identified the following in the U.S.:  Mobility is increasing. Individuals and families are looking for more space to improve working conditions at home. Younger people are leaving the cities earlier than usual. Some older households speeding up retirement. Suburbs the winners with large cities reducing decades-long growth trends.

A Zillow report shows the median existing-home price for all housing types in June 2021 was $363,300, up 23.4 percent from June 2020. Affordable housing and starter homes are in short supply. 

Other inclines


All Delta flight segments--Detroit-Salt Lake City-Anchorage and back through Minneapolis/St. Paul--full. The Marriott in downtown Anchorage--full. The Denali resorts--full. The Wilderness Express trains were crowded. 

Domestic leisure travel is holding its own, although bookings for fall are beginning to slow due to the variant. On the other hand, business travel, where the profits are, is not recovering at the same pace and may not for some time.      

Most countries are open to travelers from the United States. But as Covid-19 cases continue to surge, some places like the European Union are looking at resuming restrictions like pre-arrival testing, quarantines, and travel bans, according to a report in The New York Times.


Everything from concerts to conventions to churches. There was momentum this past year to return to auditoriums, hotels, and houses of worship. But those gains may slow if people feel unsafe indoors in crowded conditions.  

To show up, some performers require audiences to mask up. 

Motivations for climbing

Those who traverse Mount Denali have different motivations but one similarity. All must first know what kind of mountain climber they are. 

Scaling the coronavirus requires knowing who we are to collectively reach the top to conquer something that has, for now, seemingly conquered us.  


© Bredholt & Co.