Reaching New Heights: Denali Base Camp
It’s a summer job in a winter wonderland.
“I love it,” said Denali Base Camp Manager Lisa Roderick. “I get to meet climbers from all over the world. It’s just a beautiful place to work.”
For the past 15 years, she’s spent two months every summer camped out b
elow Alaska’s most majestic mountain.
“Your flight will be here in two hours,” she shouts to a group of worn-out mountaineers.
She does her best to control the chaos of climbers on the Kahiltna Glacier.
“We get about 1,200 climbers in here in a short amount of time, so my other job is to keep it flowing,” Roderick explained. “When climbers come off the mountain and they’re ready to go home, I call their air service and get their flight out, get that coordinated.”
Her primary job is to keep pilots up to date about the weather conditions. Mother Nature doesn’t always make that easy though.
“I can call a fleet of airplanes in and everyone launches and within the time it takes them to get here, that 40 minutes, the weather can change and shut back down again,” she said.
Pilots battled almost record-breaking wind gusts on Monday. Tuesday it was smooth sailing.
“Five minutes, it’s a whole different world,” said Will Boardman, a pilot with Talkeetna Air Taxi.
His company makes several trips to base camp a day, weather permitting, and he’s glad to have the support.
“It’s super nice when you’re leaving the airport to have some idea of what’s going on in the mountains. They give us reports on the weather and how many people need to be moved where otherwise we’d be kind of blind up here until we showed up,” Boardman said.
With so many people coming and going, mountaineer rangers also play an important role: Making sure the mountain stays clean.
“They’re right at the top of the hill. There are at least five [bags],” Chris Erickson told fellow ranger Roger Robinson.
Sometimes it’s a dirty job. On Tuesday a National Park Service aerial team spotted a mess in a shallow crevasse.
“We thought it might be garbage but on closer inspection it was poop improperly disposed of,” explained Robinson. “They’re supposed to fly out their waste from here. If they do crevasse it anywhere in the mountain, it has to be in a deep hole.”
They loaded up some Clean Mountain Cans in a sled and set off to retrieve the bags.
“It’s frustrating to see folks not really thinking about it,” Erickson said. “To me the bags we pulled out were so obviously in a bad location people just weren’t thinking about what they were doing. “
While every job has its downside, rangers said it’s worth it.
“This is a pristine mountain. We want to have it pristine. It’s probably our highest priority is keeping this place wild as best we can with the number of people,” Robinson said.
It’s that pristine wilderness that draws climbers from all over the world. For Roderick, the camaraderie with them is what makes the summer count.
“It’s just fun living on a remote glacier with a lot of fun people,” she said. “That’s the highlight for sure.”
Not many people can call Alaska’s “High One” home, but those who do have the finest view in the Last Frontier.