Alaska Roundup: Denali Season Opens

After a long winter, April brought glorious weather to Alaskan residents and visitors alike, just in time for the Denali season.

The Denali National Park Service (NPS) sent its first patrol of the season to Base Camp on May 1, though some adventurous souls had already ventured into the Alaskan backcountry. On April 27, the NPS counted 100 backcountry users within the Alaskan Range.

The summer season officially began on May 15.

Denali

Denali is already busy. The latest report places 254 climbers on the mountain this week, with a further 842 climbers registered to climb this season but not yet on the mountain. Fourteen climbs have already concluded.

Of these 14, there seem to have been four early summits. The official statistics still list no successes, but a ranger report from May 16 relayed that two teams of two had topped out over the weekend. One pair climbed via the West Buttress and one used the Upper West Rib. Until these climbers check in with the Base Camp ranger station, the official statistics will still list zero summits.

At least one other team made it up the Denali headwall, but windy conditions turned them around during their summit approach.

File photo of Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Unfortunately, the season’s very first recorded climber, Austrian mountaineer Matthias Rimml, was also Denali’s first casualty. Rimml had been missing for nearly a week when an aerial search confirmed his death on May 6. The NPS reported that the 35-year-old “likely fell on the steep traverse between Denali Pass, a notoriously dangerous section of the West Buttress route.”

Notoriously dangerous indeed: 12 other climbers have previously died after falls in the same area.

Rescue services have evacuated two other climbers from Denali Base Camp. On Saturday, a team of three retreated from around 3,300m when an unknown medical issue afflicted one member. They made it down to a camp at around 2,300m, where a helicopter evacuated the climber. The very next night, another climber suffered a medical emergency near the 3,300m camp. He was also airlifted off the mountain safely.

So far, Denali is seeing what the NPS describes as “standard early season conditions.” There’s plenty of blue ice and some blustery conditions, particularly high on the mountain.

Denali in a day?

Ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich and partner Rob Lea have set an ambitious goal, to climb and ski Denali in a single day. Their plan, to make a single push straight from the airstrip and ski down, will require great weather, a bit of luck, and impressive fitness. Most Denali climbs take around two weeks.

Caroline Gleich and Rob Lea. Photo: Rob Lea

 

For the last month, they have been using a hypobaric tent to pre-acclimatize at home. The pair will fly to Alaska in the next couple of weeks.

Mount Foraker

As usual, Mount Foraker is much, much quieter than Denali. There are 17 climbers registered and just seven climbers on the mountain so far.

The Pretty Rocks landslide

The main Denali Park Road is currently closed at roughly the midpoint. The Pretty Rocks landslide has been an active nuisance for park workers since the formation of the park, but it has been getting substantially worse in recent years.

A timelapse of the Pretty Rocks landslide. Photo: NPS Geology Team

 

By summer 2021, the speed of the landslide required trucks to deposit 100 truckloads of gravel per week to shore up the road. Soon after, park services realized they could not keep pace with the shifting mountainside. The road is now closed while they explore long-term solutions.

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.

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