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Alaska's Denali park rangers are getting ready for climbing season

May 14, 2012|By Rosemary McClure
  • U.S. Black Hawks have hauled nearly 15,000 pounds of gear onto a Mt. McKinley glacier this spring to help Denali National Park rangers set up a base camp for climbers.
U.S. Black Hawks have hauled nearly 15,000 pounds of gear onto a Mt. McKinley… (NPS )

The hills are alive with the sound of Black Hawk helicopters at Denali National Park,  home of the highest mountain in North America.

With spring ebbing toward summer, Denali National Park Preserve mountaineering staffers are putting the finishing touches on the base camp and high-altitude camps needed to support the 1,200 climbers who will assault Mt. McKinley and other nearby peaks this year.  And they couldn’t do it without the support of three US Army UH-60's, or Black Hawks.

The Black Hawks began flying missions from Talkeetna, Alaska, to the 7,200-foot-level on the Kahiltna Glacier, site of the Mt. McKinley base camp operations, two weeks ago, hauling almost 15,000 pounds of gear thus far.  

“The military uses these missions as high-altitude training exercises,” said Maureen McLaughlin, mountaineering specialist at Talkeetna Ranger Station. “They familiarize and train their crews in flying and landing in glaciated and mountainous terrain.”

More than 150 climbers are already tackling McKinley, according to the park’s statistics Web page.

Mountaineering season in the Alaska Range is just getting started for the season, said McLaughlin. “Between late April and early July, we expect to see an average of 1,200 climbers on Mt. McKinley and other peaks in the range.”

Meanwhile, high-mountain park rangers have climbed to the 14,200-foot level to establish a ranger camp.  Next they will ascend to the 17,200-foot level to stage there, said McLaughlin.

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