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Contact: Maureen Gualtieri, 907.733.9103
The 2018 Denali mountaineering season is off to an early start. The first expedition of the season has already come and gone. The four-member team from the United Kingdom and Australia began their early-season ascent of the West Buttress on March 22, 2018. Two members, Jonathon Gupta of Caernarfon, Wales and Steven Plain of Burswood, Western Australia reached Denali’s 20,310-foot summit on April 3.
Currently, there are no climbing teams on Denali. A handful of teams are scheduled to arrive in late April, with the initial big wave of check-ins scheduled for the first week of May. There are 743 climbers currently registered to climb Denali this season, and 10 registered to climb Mount Foraker. Park rangers predict a similar, if not slightly higher than average number of mountaineers this season based on registrations to date, as well as discussions with guide companies and air taxi operators. In a typical year, approximately 1,200 climbers attempt Denali, while Mount Foraker sees between 15 to 20 attempts.
Rock climbing and backcountry skiing in Denali National Park’s Alaska Range peaks in mid- to late April, with teams flying into areas like the Ruth Gorge and Kahiltna Glacier to attempt the many lower elevation, but technically challenging rock, snow, and ice routes.
Mountaineering rangers responded to the first search and rescue of the climbing season on April 14 after a climber fell on West Kahiltna Peak. Rangers received notification that a climber broke his leg in a 15meter fall and could not safely descend. A high altitude helicopter pilot and two NPS rangers flew to the accident site and determined a short-haul rescue was necessary. One of the rangers was secured to the end of a short-haul rope suspended under the helicopter, and then flown to the patient’s location at an elevation of 9,600 feet in steep, technical terrain. The ranger and patient were then flown down to a glacier landing zone for medical assessment and evacuation to Talkeetna.
The rescue occurred in the midst of the mountaineering rangers’ extensive pre-season training cycle. Saturday’s short-haul rescue incorporated all four of the ranger’s major training disciplines, including technical rescue, emergency medicine, avalanche assessment, and helicopter short-haul training.
Once the 6-week training cycle is complete next week, rangers will begin assembling mountain camp supplies and infrastructure. Rangers will once again partner with the U.S. Army High Altitude Training Team (HAT/HART) from Fort Wainwright, Alaska to fly critical NPS camp equipment to the Kahiltna Glacier. This camp insertion is anticipated to occur sometime the week of April 23, weather and Army training schedule permitting.
The first NPS ranger patrol of the 2018 season is scheduled to fly into the Alaska Range on April 29.
For news throughout the climbing season, park staff will continue its Denali Dispatches blog, providing frequent updates on summit statistics, ranger operations, mountain weather information, climbing conditions, and other featured stories from the Alaska Range.