McKINLEY NATIONAL PARK (Historic Information)
This, the greatest of U. S. Government reserves, crowns the higher reaches of the Alaska range, one of the most prominent chains of this country. Its boundaries extend from the base of Mount Russell in a northeasterly direction approximately no miles; thence due north 20 miles, west 40 miles, south 20 miles, southwest 65 miles, and southeast 30 miles to point of beginning. The area is about 2,645 square miles, or 1,692,800 acres.
The north and west fronts of this range slope down abruptly to the Piedmont plateau which stands at 2,500 feet above sea level. The south and east fronts descend to the Susitna lowlands and the Copper River plateau, these rising about 3,000 feet above sea level. This mass of rugged mountains is both higher and broader than the Sierra Nevada and of greater relief and extent than the Alps of Europe.
There is a well defined crest line which varies from 6,000 to 8,000 feet in height and is traceable with but few breaks for several hundred miles. Numerous peaks tower above this sky-line, the most prominent being Mount McKinley, 20,300 feet; Mount Foraker, 17,000 feet, Mount Hunter, 14,900 feet, and Mount Russell, 11,350 feet; the first two named being within the park; Mount Hunter and Mount Russell just outside the southern limits. Mount McKinley is distinguished not only for being the highest mountain on the North American continent, but also in that it has the most abrupt rise on its northern face of any mountain in the world. From its base on the Piedmont plateau this rise is about 16,000 feet. At its base are the glaciers which feed the Kantishna River.
Both slopes of Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker are ice covered. There is a striking contrast, however, in the extent of the glaciers between those on the coastal slope with its abundant precipitation and the inland slope where drier conditions prevail. On the former some of the glaciers discharge at tide-water and the fronts of many are only 200 to 800 feet above sea level. No glacier of the inland slope reaches a lower altitude than 2,500 feet.
Climatically considered, the Mount McKinley region is divided into two general provinces separated by the Alaska range. On the inland side the climate is characterized by short, comparatively warm summers and long, cold winters, with a low precipitation. The area draining into the Pacific Ocean enjoys more equable conditions, the summers being longer and cooler, and the winters warmer than in the interior, while the precipitation is very much greater. The lower levels of this region are the important breeding grounds, and some of the permanent ranges of the non-migratory herds of woodland caribou, the white sheep, and the giant moose.
The snowfall in the Mount McKinley country ranges from two to four feet with very fine flakes on the north side, to very heavy fall on south slope, and as soon as the snow falls in the early winter the trails are traveled, and there is enough travel on the principal ones north of the range to keep them well opened. It is only after an extra heavy snowstorm that snow shoes are necessary on the trail, but it is not such hard "mushing" as the old beaten trail is underneath. South of the range snow shoes are needed till June.
About the month of February, and from then on, the trails are the best until the latter part of April, having been built up by travel until they stand higher than the surrounding snow.
It is at this, time that the traveler will most enjoy his dog-team transportation; the days are lengthening, the sun hovering to the extent that, even though a cold night is had, the days will warm up and there is usually clear, bright weather.