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Life or Death on Denali

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Scaling the perilous peaks of Alaska’s Mount McKinley, National Geographic Ultimate Explorer correspondent Michael Davie follows an elite team of climbing rangers as they race against time and the elements to rescue climbers in distress on North America’s tallest mountain.

This year, nearly 1,200 climbers will attempt to summit the highest peak in North America, Alaska’s Mount McKinley, also known as Denali. Although McKinley, at 20,320 feet, does not compare in height to the tallest Himalayan giants, its extreme northerly location combined with its thin air, severe winds and frigid storms make it one of the coldest and most dangerous mountains in the world. For those climbers caught overextended or unprepared, the consequences can quickly become deadly. And when climbers in distress call for help, it is Mount McKinley’s climbing rangers who answer.

Stationed high on McKinley’s slopes in Denali National Park & Preserve, the climbing rangers are a select team of men and women who put their own lives on the line to save endangered climbers. Each year, some 50 to 75 climbers require their help. Braving savage conditions, frigid temperatures and extreme altitudes, the rangers battle to save climbers in distress any way they can, even if it means dangling at the end of a line attached to a hovering helicopter, scaling icy ledges, digging into avalanches or descending into deep, unstable crevasses.

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer correspondent Michael Davie journeys to Mount McKinley where he has unprecedented access to the rangers and their perilous domain. For five months, four Ultimate Explorer film crews moved up and down the mountain covering the height of the climbing season while following the rangers’ every move, the life-or-death decisions, the harrowing rescues and the excitement of everyday life at their 14,200-foot camp. Through all this, Davie captures the remarkable stories of rescuers and climbers caught in the deadliest of situations. And since no trip to Mount McKinley would be complete without a trek to the top, Davie seizes the opportunity to climb one of the world’s most challenging summits.

Join Davie and National Geographic Ultimate Explorer on this journey to the heart of climbing and rescue in the Alaska Range.