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Thoughts on the Denali Fee Hike


The ridge between the headwall and 17,000' camp on a busy day. [Photo] Keese Lane

Permits for climbing mountains, while common in Asia, are not the world wide norm. Elbrus, another one of the Seven requires no permit. Neither do mountaineering icons such as the Matterhorn, Blanc and the Eiger. The Slovenians celebrated their independence atop Triglav, the highest point in their country. Nearby Mt. Logan's permits max out at $110 and are a combination of backcountry camping permits, and permits for landing an airplane inside the park boundary.

During our climb, a guided client from the British Isles told me that with the dollar so low he felt like it was cheaper to climb Denali than go climbing in the Alps. Similarly the Australians on their Seven Summit tour would still have climbed the mountain, especially with Vinson and Everest behind them. For the majority of West Buttress climbers an extra three hundred dollar fee will be waived off as inconvenient but not enough to prevent them from climbing the mountain. I remember the sudden realization at 11,000' that of the dozen tents pitched in camp ours was the only one with patches and wear from previous use. Someone who has just spent over $1,000 on equipment, more on a guide, bought plane tickets to Alaska, and then tickets to the Kahiltna, will probably not feel the pinch of an extra $300.


Many will not even notice it. The West Buttress on Denali is seen as an easy and safe way to reach the summit of a 6000m peak. The climbers this route attracts will mostly prefer the service provided by the NPS to no services at all.

The true loss is for the climbers who wish to climb technical routes on Denali, routes during the off-season or on nearlby Mt. Foraker (Nine climbers attempted Foraker last year, compared with the 1,200 who attempted Denali). The small minority of climbers seeking a difficult alpine experience on America's highest peak will end up paying a steep fee along with the many climbers trudging up the West Buttress, an unfortunate side effect of the mountain's prominence and popularity.

Sources:Kris Fister,
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Where is the Alaskan Alpine Club on this forum? I'm surprised they haven't added there mindless dribble they call two cents in this discussion...

2011-01-03 05:59:49

Climbers are of different abilities and financial standing. 'Technical' climbers are seldom in excess of cash while CEOs in for a thrilling experience won't even notice the 300$ or 700$ difference. Yet both categories are in "for the experience" and differentiated taxation is immoral.

Also, as Mark pointed out, nearly all climbers heading for a tech climb on Denali acclimatize (i.e. take their time) on WB and while fairly they are not double taxed to climb Denali twice, their WB climb is taxed.

As a PADI DM i can state that applying a similar certification system as in scuba diving (as a comment on FB suggested) is both unrealistic and philosophically wrong with regards to climbing (unless we are talking about private, indoor venues.) May that happen, will over sterilize an already "sanitized" endeavour the climbing started to become in the last decade.

One cost AND impact-reducing alternative is capping the number of climbers allowed on the WB. Over 1500 climbers in a span of 2 months on such a limited area of the mountain has a tremendous environmental impact and obviously there are costs associate with it.

Insofar as rescue costs are involved there are two models one can look at: the Swiss and the French. One insurance funded the other publicly funded. And while on this topic, the Mont Blanc range receives a lager all year round number of visitors, rescue-related incidents and environmental impact yet manages to be permit-free. Maybe there is something the NPS should look into.

I for one dislike the idea of paying access fees on mountains, regardless of continent. I can see the reasons behind some taxes and no reason behind others. I can accept some services provided and I do not like to be offered (i.e. forced to receive) services i do not need.

Unfortunately the growth of the outdoor industry (from guiding to equipment manufacturers) cannot happen without the growth of the base of climbers which is directly proportionate with the environmental impact. Rather than going for the easy option of tax raising, more complex indeed, but more meaningful methods to offset this could be researched. Rather than debating punctual tax raises the community at large should self regulate and have a meaningful dialogue on impact (globally). Then such measures will not be necessary and hopefully my children (if i ever have any) will have have the same chance as me to climb, respectful and unregulated in a pristine, adventure offering environment as i had the opportunity when I was a kid.

2010-12-15 10:55:07

I don't understand why this fee doesn't only apply to people climbing the west buttress or the upper west rib. It wouldn't be any more difficult to enforce than the current fee, would bring almost as much money in and would not impact the minority of hardcore alpine climbers on other routes (as long as they don't acclimatise on the west buttress, of course).

2010-12-15 01:05:58
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