Denali National Park officials have registered 1,062 climbers from 35 countries for the 2014 climbing season. Of those, 440 will attempt to ascend Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak.
Kahiltna Glacier base camp, which becomes a tent city during the spring, will serve as the starting point for 99 percent of the climbers this year, including adventurers from Slovenia, Colombia and Switzerland, and two teams of Army Rangers from Fairbanks.
The Army operation, which has been occurring on almost an annual basis since 1980, serves as a serious test for soldiers’ cold-weather, mountaineering and high-altitude skills. The first group of climbers landed at base camp Wednesday, with plans to begin their summit attempt within the next 24 hours. They hope to make it to the south summit of the 20,320-foot mountain sometime in the next two to three weeks.
The two groups of seven men each are making their way toward the summit in full winter uniforms, complete with camouflage outer layers, bulky brown packs and white plastic pull sleds. Wearing that camo will be a first for the crews, according to crew leader Capt. Sam Palmer of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Wainwright. In the past, the soldiers have worn a mix of civilian and Army gear, though leaning heavily toward the latter.
The Army’s new cold-weather uniform, which includes silk base layers, windproof jackets and a soft-shell outer layer, has improved enough to make it appropriate for a mission as extreme as climbing McKinley, Palmer said. The only non-issued clothing the men will be wearing is a civilian down jacket, and only because it’s lighter than the Army-issue jacket.