Topography along strike-slip fault restraining bends is theoretically self-limited by erosion, block translation and the expected abandonment of fault bends. However, Denali (6,194 m) and Foraker (5,304 m) are located within a restraining bend of the dextral Denali Fault system. We reveal the role of bend evolution in mountain building with physical experiments scaled to simulate the Alaska Mount McKinley restraining bend (MMRB). Despite the natural complexity of the MMRB, first-order patterns (of strike-slip separation rates, uplift and lateral bend migration) from the geologic data align with patterns from scaled experiments. Thermochronology, seismicity, and slip rate data show that the persistence of a single Denali Fault strand through the ~6 Ma MMRB is facilitated by simultaneous advection of crust through the bend and migration of the eastern vertex of the bend.