Alaska Roundup: Denali Summits and Another Death

The summer season for Alaska and Denali officially began on May 15. There has already been plenty of action, with 27 summits on Denali and another death.


On May 20, the official statistics still listed zero summits on Denali. Four summit groups were rumored, but none of the climbers had returned to report their success to the Talkeetna Ranger Station staff.

By the next update, the statistics listed 27 summits, with another 488 climbers currently on the mountain, and 72 completed climbs.

Largely, conditions have been good, with several bluebird days. However, the National Park Service (NPS) has warned that the snow on the lower Kahiltna Glacier has now entered a transitional phase:

“We are seeing temperatures above freezing for the first time at base camp in the late afternoon (36°F/2 °C at 6 pm) and freezing temperatures at night and into mid-morning.

“When the snowpack enters this phase, the snow bridges covering crevasses are difficult to detect and become weak in the late afternoon-evening.”

A file photo of climbers landing on a glacier in Denali National Park. Photo: Albert Herring


This warning came after another death last week. On May 17, a 43-year-old Japanese climber fell through a snow bridge on the Kahiltna Glacier while unroped from his team. An NPS rescue team arrived on the scene, and a ranger rappelled into the crevasse. He was only able to descend 25m before ice and snow blocked his progress. Unable to locate the climber, the NPS presumed him dead, “based on the volume of ice, the distance of the fall, and the duration of the burial.” Two days later they were finally able to recover the body.

Mount Foraker

Mount Foraker remains quiet. Of the 15 registered climbers, only four are currently on the mountain. Three completed climbs are on the books, and the official statistics record no summits yet.


The NPS is receiving a lot of reports of COVID cases both in the mountains and at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. Last year, there were relatively few cases, but the 2022 season may be different. “With more contagious variants and fewer prevention protocols in place internationally, COVID has begun to make its mark in the Alaska Range,” the NPS said in a statement. They urged climbers to take preventative measures before arriving in Alaska.

The Slovak Direct

The Slovak Direct is an iconic Denali climb, almost 3,000m of extreme, committed effort on North America’s highest peak. First climbed over 11 days in 1984 by Tono Krizo, Blazej Adam, and Frantisek Korl, the route is graded VI 5.9X M6 WI6.

The Slovak Direct route. Photo:


The difficulty means that the route isn’t climbed often, and the fastest ascent, by Steve House, Mark Twight, and Scott Backes, has stood for 22 years. But that trio’s epic 60-hour push has now been bested. On May 20, Matt Cornell, Jackson Marvell, and Alan Rousseau completed the line in an astonishing 21 hours and 35 minutes.

Their lightning-fast climb required almost perfect conditions and years of training. “It went super smooth. The ice climbing was phenomenal. We were all dialed in. We bonked a little bit up near the top, around 19,500ft (5,940m), and the pace slowed, but we kept it together. We all did our jobs, we took our blocks, and that was that,” Marvell told in a recent interview.


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A post shared by Alan Rousseau (@rousseaualan)

Martin Walsh

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.