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Denali ranger describes patrol and memorable summit day

by Phillip Manning ~ July 2nd, 2015

Andrew Lattimer, doctor and mountain patrol volunteer, descending from Denali's North Summit.  Photo courtesy: Tucker Chenoweth - NPS

Mountain patrol volunteers descending from Denali’s North Summit. Photo courtesy: Tucker Chenoweth – NPS

By: Katie Writer – KTNA

Currently, there are 1,090 people registered to attempt Denali. Of those, 129 are currently on the mountain, and 945 have completed their climbs. As of Thursday, 533 climbers have reached the summit, making the summit rate fifty-six percent.

All fifteen climbers registered for Mt. Foraker have completed their climbs, with six making it to the summit.

This week on the Denali Report, KTNA’s Katie Writer speaks with Mountaineering Ranger Tucker Chenoweth, who is back after patrolling on Denali:

 

Good weather on Denali for the past three weeks has increased the summit rate from a dismal 0% in May to a soaring 56% in early July.

Mountaineering Ranger Tucker Chenoweth and a team of four volunteers patrolled the mountain from May 26th to June 20th, and saw the dash for the summit that took place when the weather cleared.

“At high camp, I believe, there was a group – call it, like, a “plug of climbers—that had been stuck at “Fourteen Camp.” So, the first window they had, they all went.

With the heavy traffic high on Denali, Tucker was pleased by the teamwork displayed by climbers traveling along the summit ridge.

“There are some narrow parts of the summit ridge, where it’s not really easy to pass…but people were being really nice to each other and actually practicing really good mountaineering ethics, good communication, good rope work, even though people didn’t speak the same language. It all worked out great.”

The vast majority of people who set foot on Denali are trying to reach the top.  For rangers like Tucker, though, the time on the mountain is what is cherished.

“Being a ranger, for us, it’s not about going to the summit as much as it’s about helping people out.”

While on the mountain, rangers don’t get days off.  With hundreds of climbers traveling up and down, they must be ready to respond at any time.

“The whole time we go up there, I don’t think you ever—there’s never a day off, because there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility that you feel no matter where you are.”

The rangers are responsible not only for the climbing public, but also for the needs of the other ranger teams if something were to happen elsewhere on the mountain.

“There’s always a piece of me that feels like I have to hold a “reserve tank” in case something happens on the other side [of Denali].”

Sometimes, a ranger team will receive a reward for their hard work. For Tucker Chenoweth’s team, it was the unusual chance to attempt the North Summit, which is slightly below the main summit.  On summit day, Tucker experienced what he describes as the best weather he’s ever seen high on Denali.

“I can’t imagine it getting any better than that, so it was pretty special”

The weather was so good that Tucker jokes about stripping down at 20,000 feet.

“You could have taken your shirts off and had no gloves on the summit…but we got up to the North Summit that day, and there wasn’t a breath of wind. And, there were very few clouds.”

On a mountain notorious for bad weather, Tucker Chenoweth says he and his team were able to see down the Wickersham Wall and past Wonder Lake to the north.  To the Southeast, he says they could see as far as the Wrangell Mountains, over 250 miles away.

Now, Tucker is behind a desk back in the office. He has traded his hard boots and layers of sweaty snow gear for tennis shoes and a clean, green polyester National Park Service uniform.  His smile beams out from his well-earned, wind-burned face.

Sixty miles away, he is still tuned into who is still on the mountain. When fellow ranger Dan Corn’s voice sounds on the office radio-slash-telephone, Tucker jumps out of his seat to hear his colleague’s position.

“Everybody says, ‘What’s up and thanks,’ and we’ll be in touch on the way down.”

Dan Corn has summited, and is calling in to Ranger Coley Gentzel at “Fourteen Camp.”

As of July 2nd, Dan Corn, Coley Gentzel and their team of 4 VIP’s are the last patrol on the mountain.  With only seven teams left on Denali, they focus on taking down all of the camps and ‘mopping up’ as the 2015 climbing season nears its end.

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