This Is Denali, Up Close and Spectacular

National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey talks about capturing images of the recently-renamed mountain.

National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey spent part of the last year capturing pictures of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, home to the recently re-named Denali mountain.

We spoke with him about his assignment at the park, as well as the United States’ decision to change the mountain’s official name from “Mount McKinley” to “Denali,” the name by which native Alaskans have known it for hundreds of years.

When you were at the mountain, were you aware of the name controversy?

Definitely. I don’t know anybody that calls the mountain “McKinley.” All the climbers that I’ve ever known have always only referred to the mountain as “Denali,” and I think the climbing community has always called it by “Denali.”

What did you learn about Denali while on assignment?

Denali’s very famous in the climbing community because it’s actually a pretty dangerous mountain. It’s as dangerous as most of the big Himalayan peaks just because it gets so cold on Denali and the weather can change so dramatically. At the camps on the mountain, people have to build these big snow walls around their tents because of the extreme winds and weather, so it’s a mountain that gets a lot of respect.

Did you climb the mountain?

I did not climb the mountain itself. I spent time at base camp, and did a lot of photographs around a camp they called 14 Camp, and I did a lot of flights around the mountain.

What were some of the challenges of photographing Denali?

One of the bigger challenges of photographing Denali the mountain is that you can’t see it most of the time. You could go to Denali National Park and very easily not see the mountain, because it’s completely engulfed in clouds.

What do you think about the name change?

I hope that it’s the beginning of a trend [in] the names of a lot of mountains and peaks and monuments. There are a lot of other cases like this. Devil’s Tower, for example, is known by the native people of the area as Mato Tipila. I guess I would just hope that it’s the beginning of many more name changes. (Read more about the mountains Native Americans would like to rename.)

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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