Alaska Update: Denali Wraps Up

A busy and occasionally dramatic climbing season has concluded on Denali. Typically, the snow softens and melts during July, and glacier travel becomes much more dangerous, as crevasses open up. Most climbers aim to wrap up their expeditions early in the month.

When glacier travel becomes too risky, the National Park Service (NPS) closes the mountain’s Kahiltna Base Camp. This year, the camp ended during the second week of July.

There were 1,018 registered climbers on Denali this season and 533 successful summits. The 53% summit success rate is almost exactly the modern average for the peak. Mount Foraker was quiet in comparison. Only 28 climbers registered for the peak, and there were only seven summits.

Among the Denali summiters, 17-year-old Lucy Westlake stood out. Westlake became the youngest woman to climb to the highest point in every U.S. state. This was Westlake’s second attempt at Denali. In 2017, she turned back after 22 days. This year, her perseverance paid off. She summited with her father after 17 days of climbing, while shouldering a pack and dragging a sled that combined to outweigh her.

The Alaska Long Trail

The Alaska Legislature is currently working on the state budget for 2022. The 13.2 million dollar question is whether they will include plans for the first segment of the Alaska Long Trail. This proposed long-distance trail does not yet have an agreed route but might meander close to the Parks Highway from Fairbanks to Talkeetna, then turn east through the Talkeetna Mountains before veering south to meet the Iditarod trail toward Seward.

The $13.2 million earmarked for the project in 2022 would stitch together the first sections of this mammoth undertaking, including the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Nenana River near Denali National Park.

Though the price tag might seem steep, in a typical (COVID-free) year, encouraging Alaska tourists to stay an extra day could net the state an extra $100 million in visitor spending. A 500-mile trail through the Alaskan wilderness could be just the post-pandemic ticket.