American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park, Summary

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Denali National Park and Preserve, summary. The 2003 mountaineering season was eclipsed by the tragic crash of a McKinley Air Service flight in late May. En route to base camp, all four on board died when the plane crashed at South Hunter Pass. We lost good friends, including Keli Mahoney, a wonderful pilot who had flown many missions for the NPS over the years, and Bruce Andrews, a gifted guide with Alaska Mountaineering School.

The season saw several high-altitude rescues and several incidents that generated concern over the factors going into climbers’ decisions when calling for a rescue. In response, those who are rescued (aerial evacuation or ground rescue) while climbing in Denali National Park and Preserve may be obligated to pay for air or ground ambulance costs. [Editor’s note: AAC membership includes limited rescue insurance.] If a climber is rescued, his or her permit will be voided.

A point worth noting is that during 2002 five climber falls at Denali Pass required rescue (or recovery, in the case of the one fatality). During 2003 NPS rangers placed pickets along the length of the traverse to Denali Pass. This was done for the protection of rangers performing rescues but also benefited climbers that chose to utilize them. As a result, in 2003 there were no major incidents here and at least one instance, witnessed by a ranger, where the pickets helped to arrest the fall of a climber who was using the pickets as part of a running belay.

The number of climbers on Denali was down slightly from previous years, with 1,179 climbers (including 125 women) attempting Denali, 58% of whom reached the summit. The West Buttress continues to be by far the most popular route (952 climbers). Two climbers did, however, summit via a rare repeat of the Milan Krissak Memorial route on the south face. Guided expeditions accounted for 30% of climbers on Denali. Climbers came from 45 nations (including Costa Rica, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe), the most common being United States (685), United Kingdom (87), Canada (52), France (41), and Spain (34). June 12 was a record-setting summit day, with 115 climbers reaching the top. The second busiest day was June 22, with 42 summits.

Of 34 climbers attempting Foraker, only 2 (6%) reached the top. There were no winter summits on Denali or Foraker this year, and Foraker activity coincided with the most popular period for Denali, May and June.

As training for an alpine speed-climbing competition in Central Asia, Chad Kellogg made a speedy ascent of the West Buttress. At 02:15hrs on June 17, Kellogg left base camp, climbed the West Buttress in 14 hours and 22 minutes, and was back in base camp at 23:55. Kellogg had climbed to the summit twice the previous week (once via the Upper West Rib) in order to acclimatize.

Elsewhere in the park new routes were climbed, notably on the east face of The Citadel in the Kichatna Spires and on the Father and Sons Wall. Mt. Hunter was descended on skis. Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs) were used successfully again at the l7,200' high camp on the West Buttress, which made a huge difference in keeping the camp free of human-waste impact.

We were again privileged to operate under the medical direction Drs. Jen Dow and Peter Hackett, with many capable medical volunteers who made a difference for a lot of climbers. A crew from National Geographic “Ultimate Explorer” filmed the South District ranger operations, spending three months filming on Denali and throughout Talkeetna. The two-hour film aired on MSNBC in early November. For our cooperation in making the film, the Park will receive digital footage for an informational film to be used at the Park’s main visitor center.

We are proud of two postseason awards. The partnership between Denali's mountaineering rangers and the mountaineering Volunteers-In-Parks (VIPs) was honored in Washington, D.C. at the annual “Take Pride in America” awards ceremony. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton presented the award to Dahr Jamail, representing the Denali volunteers, and mountaineering ranger Meg Perdue. “These winners represent the epitome of good citizenship,” said Secretary Norton. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) honored Roger Robinson, Denali Mountaineering Ranger, for his dedication to wilderness education and innovative land management. Roger was presented the distinguished Stewardship Award at the 14th annual NOLS awards ceremony on October 11, in Lander, Wyoming. Congratulations! More information can be found at: www.nps.gov/dena/home/mountaineering/index.htm.

Denali National Park/Talkeetna Ranger Station

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