Denali climbing season getting under way

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Climbers are checking their ropes and tents and making sure their stoves are in working order for the start of the Mount McKinley climbing season.

The Army's high-altitude helicopter rescue team from Fort Wainwright will fly to the mountain Thursday to drop off tents, gear and fuel for the base camps at 7,000 and 14,000 feet, according to the National Park Service. At 20,320 feet, McKinley is North America's highest peak.

At least two groups of climbers have already set out for the mountain.

''There's a group up on the Muldrow (Glacier), a group walking in now and a couple groups coming in later this week,'' said Park Service ranger Daryl Miller. ''By the first of May, there will be quite a few groups coming in.''

Climbers must register with the National Park Service 60 days in advance of their climb and pay a $150 special-use fee.

So far, 983 climbers have registered with the Park Service to climb McKinley this summer, 47 have signed up to climb neighboring Mount Foraker and an estimated 250 to 300 have registered through guide services, putting the total at about 1,200-1,300. That's about average for the past few years, Miller said.

''A lot of people thought that the millennium might be a big deal, but it doesn't appear to be,'' said Gary Bocarde, owner of Mountain Trip guiding service. ''I had sign-ups as early as last August so I thought it was going to be a wild year, but it didn't last.''

In an average year, about 50 percent of those who attempt to climb McKinley reach the summit.

Guides who have had a chance to fly over the mountain and check out climbing conditions say there appears to be plenty of snow, which should make it easier to bridge crevasses, travel on the mountain and land planes at the base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier.

The climbing season will continue until late June or early July when the snow on the glacier has become too soft to land the planes that carry most climbers to the mountain.

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