The Risky Business of Measuring a Mountain

Mt. McKinley is unquestionably the tallest mountain in North America, but its actual height is pretty questionable. The last full survey of the mountain, also known by its Native American name Denali, measured its peak at 20,320 feet tall in 1953, but that number has since been disputed twice by researchers using newer technology.

Now, the U.S. Geological Survey is looking to settle the matter for good using a mix of precise technology and old-fashioned manpower.

“Surveying technology and processes have improved greatly since the last survey and the ability to establish a much more accurate height now exists,” said the agency in a statement Monday.

A team of four scientists who presumably lost a bet will this month haul GPS equipment to the top of the mountain and back down to accurately size it up. Let’s hope they’re good, because Mt. McKinley is one of the difficult peaks in the world to climb – more than 130 people have died while climbing it, and only about half of those who attempt to ascend it succeed.

The climbers are expected to be finished by July 7, and the USGS hopes to publish its data in August.


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