Denali Report #4

THE GREAT ONE— Denali as the tallest peak in North America attracts more than a thousand climbers each year. Photo by Diana Haecker

The climbing season nears its peak at Mt. McKinley and the Denali Report looks at the concept of wilderness as the tallest peak in America attracts more than twelve-hundred climbers to reach its summit.

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Denali Report #4, Full Transcript

This is the Denali Report, a production of KTNA Talkeetna.  I’m Diana Haecker.

This week we flew up to Kahiltna Basecamp for a short trip to the wilderness of Denali. Wilderness for some is a state of mind, an elusive concept or even a political term. Since there are nearly 450 climbers currently on Mount McKinley, are they still experiencing wilderness?

Before we discuss this, here are the numbers. There are 1,211 climbers registered to climb Denali, 448 are on the mountain and 315 have finished their climb and of these 172 reached the summit. As for Mount Foraker, 20 climbers are registered, one is currently on Foraker, seven are off the mountain and three of those have reached Foraker’s summit.

Since last Thursday, mountain rangers had to assist five people to come off Denali due to medical emergencies. Two climbers died in an avalanche near the Ruth Gorge.

The park was established as Mount McKinley National Park on Feb. 26, 1917. The original park was designated a wilderness area and incorporated into Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980. In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act. The intent was to set aside for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.  The wilderness act’s author Howard Zahniser describes wilderness as “…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” 
Researchers conclude that wildness is the essence of wilderness and composed of two qualities: naturalness and freedom from human control.

During climbing season, it seems that humans take over Denali. it is busy on the trail as hundreds of climbers try to reach the summit via the West Buttress route,.

Looking up from base camp to tiny black dots on the trail, ranger John Loomis has this take on the concept of wilderness.

JL: There are a lot of people climbing the mountain on this side. But it may not look like it’s wilderness at all, but when somebody gets separated from someone or you’re in a big storm and you can’t see anyone, then it strikes home that yeah, there is a wilderness, there is nothing out there. You need to be very self-sufficient to climb up here or bivouac up here.

As climbers scale the mountain, the sound of airplanes buzzing by is not unusual. Base camp manager Lisa Roderick talks about a study to measure sound pollution on the mountain.

LR: Actually right now we have some people here who are doing sound studies, seeing what the noise is like on the mountain obviously with the air traffic going over there.  They’re really trying to preserve the wilderness as far as the noise.

Climber Takashi Oda just returned from the summit and is waiting for his flight out – back to civilization and busy Tokyo. Here are his thoughts on wilderness.

TO: We humans can’t conquer the wild life, the wildness. I feel to have fun in the wild is the best. To have fun, people go up summit or no success. Not depend on success or no success, but we have to fun in the wild.

The weather forecast is calling for more snow and moderate to high east winds of 25 to 35 mph.

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