by Lorien Nettleton ~ May 2nd, 2012
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There are currently 956 climbers registered to climb Mt. McKinley, and 15 registered to climb Mt Foraker. There are currently 43 climbers on McKinley, and none on Foraker. So far, no climbers have reached the summit of either peak.
Early season expeditions can count on one thing: cold. Current Mountain weather forecasts call for snow, winds to 20 miles per hour, and lows 25 to 35 below. The harsh conditions are part of what keeps traffic on the mountain low. Climbers on expeditions this early have their choice of locations, but they also have to earn it through extra work, digging in camp and early route-finding.
Willi Prittie is co-owner of Alpine Ascents, one of the largest expedition companies for mountaineering training and guided climbs in the world. Most of his guided expeditions don’t launch for another few weeks. And weather is one reason for that. He recently reminisced about a friend who climbed the mountain in 1976.
Alpine Ascents will be putting 18 expeditions on the Mountain this year, and so He primarily focuses on the logistical aspects of Denali expeditions, planning flights and uuuh-ther things.. Once they get going, Prittie says his company will have six expeditions in the field at a time, with earlier groups headed down the mountain while fresh folks are heading up. From the perspective of a schedule-maker, Prittie says the end of May is when he really knows it’s climbing season.
Prittie has been guiding professionally at exotic locations all over the world since 1974. While he was a relative late-comer to climbing The Great one — first attempting McKinley in 1992 — he says nothing in the world compares to the sheer beauty and remoteness of the Alaska range.
Base camp has been established for a week now, and the first National Park Service ranger patrol has been on the mountain since April 26th. The 6-person patrol left Base Camp this week and is headed to the camp at 14,000 feet. The Park Service normally has a constant presence at base camp through climbing season, Denali National Park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin says this year the Park service is trying something different. Due to lower traffic in early and late seasons McLaughlin says the Rangers won’t regularly staff Base Camp for the first and last 2 and a half weeks of the season. The rangers will be conduct patrols during that time, and will be able to render assistance should they be necesary, she said.