54 climbers summited Denali on Father's Day

December 22, 2010 

Light wind and clouds that cleared briefly in the afternoon greeted Mount McKinley climbers on June 20. The sun was up by 3:33 a.m., leaving nearly 22 hours of daylight.

Fifty-four climbers seized the opportunity to reach the summit that Father's Day, according to the 2010 Mountaineering Summary issued this week by Denali National Park.

Dozens of peaks within easy reach of Anchorage residents wouldn't see nearly as many climbers that day. In fact, a few small Alaska villages don't have that many year-round residents.

"That's a sizeable number, it really is," said Coley Gentzel, acting lead mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park. "It tends to be a factor of weather more than anything else."

Altogether, 670 of the 1,223 climbers who attempted Mount McKinley this year reached the summit -- or 55 percent. That's slightly above normal. Since 1970, the most successful year for climbers was 1977 with 79 percent. The least successful year was 1971, with 29 percent.

Typically, slightly more than half the climbers summit. Over the past decade, the success rate has dipped below 50 percent once while topping out at 59 percent three times.

The overwhelming majority (1,136) of this year's climbers used the popular West Buttress route. Cassin Ridge was the second most popular route, with 24 climbers attempting it.

"I think there may have been a dropoff in what you might call the adventurous spirit," Gentzel said. "More and more people are trending towards the path of least resistance, with not a lot of new backcountry objectives."

Four climbers died, which is about the average, and 13 search-and- rescue efforts were launched during the season, which largely runs from April through early July.

U.S. climbers dominated -- with Americans outnumbering Brits, the No. 2 nation, by more than 10-to-one.

And Alaskans dominated the American crowd of climbers, with 146. Washington was second with 90 climbers and Colorado, with 83, was third.

But perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the Alaska Range climbing season didn't occur on McKinley, the tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet.

"The largest new route of the season was climbed on Mount Foraker," said Maureen McLaughlin of the National Park Service.

Colin Haley of Seattle, one of 15 climber ambassadors for the outerwear company Patagonia, and partner Bjorn-Eivind Artun ascended a previously unclimbed route up the southeast side of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker, one of the biggest unclimbed faces remaining in the central Alaska Range. The duo was one of six winners of the 2010 Mugs Stump Award that goes to climbers attempting some of the world's most striking climbing objectives in a fast, light and clean style.

The difficult route included 10,400 feet of elevation gain up Foraker's southeast face June 13-15 after a wet week in base camp.

Altogether, the duo spent 37 days in the Alaska Range, reaching the summit of McKinley three times. On one of those ascents, up the Cassin Ridge, they nearly broke the 15-hour speed record set in 1991 by the late Mugs Stump.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.

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