DENALI 2020 Season Updates

March 20, 2020

We just received word from Denali National Park and Preserve that they have decided not to issue any climbing permits for Denali or Mount Foraker this season.  Please find the NPS press release below.

This is a rather stunning, but not entirely unexpected development, given the rapid pace of disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The National Park Service staff is concerned about their ability to protect staff working in the inhospitable environment of Denali. It resonated with us when they said, “You cannot fly a helicopter in a hazmat suit.”

While deeply disappointed with this turn of events, Mountain Trip is fully committed to doing our small part to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and we support the decision made by the NPS. Globally, we are all in this together and despite the hardships and challenges presented by the NPS decision, we understand the need to protect the critical infrastructure of Climbing Rangers, helicopter pilots and support staff that make it possible for us to climb in the Alaska Range.

Over the next week, we will reach out to each of our 2020 Denali climbers individually to discuss options in the face of this unprecedented situation. Over the past weeks, we have discussed many scenarios about what we might do if we found ourselves in the position of being unable to launch expeditions. Our climbers entrusted us to help them pursue a dream of climbing to the top of North America. We ask for continued trust as we work out how to proceed in light of this recent event.

Our home office is based in San Miguel County, Colorado. San Miguel County issued “Shelter in Place” orders effective yesterday, so we are not allowed to access our office or even leave our homes, with limited exceptions. We ask for your patience as we take a few days to collect ourselves and to finalize a plan for how to proceed.

Beginning on Monday, we will start calling each of your Denali climbers to discuss options.

We have all been training and preparing for the Denali season. The mountain isn’t going anywhere. What is most important now is that we all do our part to help ensure that we can all head up it when things settle down. To that end, we strongly urge everyone to do your part to prevent the further spread of the outbreak. Please take precautions personally, so that you come out the other side healthy and able to head up a big cold mountain in the not too distant future.

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Date: March 20, 2020
Contact: Maureen Gualtieri, (907) 733-9103

Denali National Park is announcing modifications to operations to implement the latest guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and local and state authorities to promote social distancing. As of Friday, March 20, Denali National Park and Preserve has suspended issuance of climbing permits for any expeditions attempting an ascent of Denali or Mount Foraker for the 2020 mountaineering season. Furthermore, the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station will be closed to the public until further notice.

Due to weather and glacier conditions, the Denali and Mount Foraker climbing season typically begins in late April and ends in mid-July, however most teams begin their expeditions in May and early June. To date, no permits have been issued for the 2020 season. Considering the anticipated longevity of the international coronavirus response, social distancing protocols, and travel restrictions, park managers have determined the most appropriate course of action is to suspend all 2020 permitting.

The health and safety of the climbing community, including park visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. High alpine mountaineering typically requires transport in small aircraft, and shared tents, climbing equipment, and other camp infrastructure. In light of these and other factors, such as the difficulty maintaining recommended hygiene protocols in a mountain environment, park officials have determined it is not feasible to adequately protect the health of mountaineering rangers, other emergency responders, pilots, and the climbing public at this time.

All mountaineers currently registered to climb Denali or Mount Foraker will be entitled to a refund of their 2020 mountaineering special use fee and park entrance fee. Registered climbers do not need to request a refund, and they will be notified by email in the next several weeks when the refunds are processed.

The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.   For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.

Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Please check with individual parks for specific details about park operations.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/dena/learn/news/climbing-season-suspension-2020.htm

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March 17, 2020-

Given the uncertainty of the rapidly unfolding situation with the COVID-19 outbreak, we want to assure our Denali climbers that we optimistically anticipate launching our 2020 Alaska Range expeditions as planned.

In conversations with Denali National Park as recently as March 16th, they do NOT foresee any operational changes to the mountaineering program this season. We still have a month and a half until our first trips of the season head to Alaska.  We also had a phone conversation with the Acting Chief of Commercial Services in the National Park Service (NPS) in Washington DC on March 17th.  He indicated that decisions about which, if any, units of Denali National Park might be closed will be made by the Superintendent of the Park.  The NPS has a landing page on which they will update the public as to any closures with the Park system:  https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/public-health-update.htm

Given the information available to us at present from local and federal health and governmental officials, we are planning to continue preparing for Denali season. Nonetheless, we want to emphasize that–similar to an expedition on a high-altitude glaciated peak–there are uncertain times ahead and, just as when we are tied into a rope on the Kahiltna Glacier, we are all in this together. As with mountaineering, we must continue to maintain trust, candor and a sense of calm while moving forward. We will try to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible as we work through this ever-changing new normal.

We are actively coordinating with healthcare professionals to develop protocols that we can institute in the weeks preceding Denali climbs that will hopefully help us all feel comfortable about spending time together on the glacier. As mentioned in our previous email, mitigating the risks to our guides and climbers is our highest priority. While the West Buttress and Denali are remote from the rest of the world, each expedition team spends a lot of time in close quarters.

We encourage everyone who has planned on an expedition for this 2020 season to continue to self-monitor, do your best to stay healthy, and importantly – keep training. Although it might be a bit hard to find the motivation to pick up the weights or get out for that early morning run, especially when the landscape of our day-to-day lives has changed so drastically, it’s important to keep preparing for the expedition ahead. Abide the recommended measures from the Center for Disease Control (in the US) and your national, regional and local governments to mitigate risk to yourself to both prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and to avoid contracting it. Keep doing those lunges, burpees and try to make time to get out into nature.

Conditions around the world are rapidly changing in response to this unprecedented pandemic. We do not yet know how the COVID-19 will affect international or even domestic travel and our climbers’ ability to get Alaska.  Here are some links to Alaska’s updates and to those of the CDC.

We do not know anything more than we are disclosing to you now, and we will maintain communication and transmission of information from all pertinent sources as we receive it. Please be understanding, as there are many questions for which we simply do not have answers. While we are always more than happy to chat, we will be working remotely at this time and our office staff will not necessarily be able to take every phone call or respond to every email immediately as it arrives.

Stay healthy, be well, wash your hands, and keep positive in these uncertain times.  We look forward to seeing you in Alaska!

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