America’s claim to the tallest mountain in the region just got a little more tenuous.
According to new data collected by Alaska’s Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative (SDMI), Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, or simply, “The Great One,” is 83 feet shorter than previously thought. The new information, obtained using special radar technology able to penetrate ice and snow, found Denali’s high point to be 20,237 feet, as compared to the 20,320 foot height estimate obtained in 1952 using photogrammetry.
Denali’s smaller size was first discovered back in 2011, when the data from SDMI’s radar planes was analyzed. However, the details were not know to the general public until Wednesday, when Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced the new height during a symposium of the International Map Collectors’ Society.
“The good news is: Denali is still the tallest peak in North America,” said Treadwell.
At least for now, that position is still relatively safe. The second tallest peak on the continent is Canada’s Mount Logan, and even with the height adjustment, Denali is a comfortable 680 feet taller than its closest competitor.
Perhaps because of this fact, most climbers reacted with apathy to the mountain’s downsizing. Stan Justice, a Fairbanks-based mountaineer who has climbed Denali’s peak, told the Newsminer that the change didn’t really affect him. “All we have to do is learn a new number,” said Justice. “It’s hard to climb, and the air is just as thin.”
Nick Parker, another climber who has summited Denali on multiple occasions, took a similar stance when speaking with the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s still high, it’s still hard, it’s still cold,” commented Parker. “As long as it’s higher than Texas, I don’t care.”
This isn’t the first time Alaska’s largest mountain has been taken down a peg. The peak’s height was found to be 14 feet lower than its initial recording by a 1989 field survey, and scientists have noted that the mountain’s height can occasionally fluctuate as the amount of ice and snow that coats the mountain changes year over year.
Another factor that complicates gauging the peak’s true altitude is the radar technology used to measure it. According to Kari Craun of the U.S. Geological Survey, the method is meant to map out a wide area, not a specific point. As a result, more research is necessary to confirm the peak’s shortening, but Craun says no further study is planned and the agency will not officially be changing the mountain’s height (although one geographer informed the Daily News that the new height had already been corrected in the National Elevation Dataset).
Kris Fister, a spokesperson for the Denali National Park and Preserve, was also reluctant to accept the new height data, referencing “discrepancies” in the findings.
“We’ll go through the review process and make sure that some of the bugs are worked out,” the spokesperson told the Anchorage Daily News. She speculated that older merchandize listing the mountain’s previous official height will become popular at local gift stores. “The t-shirts and hats and patches are going to be collectors’ items,” added Fister.