By John Leonard
Ranger On Alaska’s Highest Peak
We have eleven mountaineering rangers that are based out of Talkeetna. We're responsible for the visitor resource protection of the Alaska Range, which includes Denali, Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, the Moose's Tooth, and hundreds of other peaks in Denali National Park.

The rangers here are highly skilled mountaineers, medics and rescue workers. Before they're hired they're screened heavily to see if they have the experience necessary. It's unlike other jobs. There's no on-the-job training. It's much like the traditional work that park rangers do – emergency services, resource protection, law enforcement, search and rescue; we just do it at a higher elevation. Some of us are here year-round and some are here for the main mountaineering season, which is from March 15th through the end of July.
Denali National Park volunteers rescue an injured climber
Denali National Park Mountain Rescue
Denali Park Ranger Roger Robinson
Rangers lowering a critically injured climber from 17,200 ft. Photo, NPS

The majority of the work we do is keeping the mountain pristine. One of the main reasons the mountain is so clean is because of the Clean Mountain Can (“CMC”. ) The CMC is a receptacle for climbers to collect their human waste and since its inception in the early 2000's the mountain has become much cleaner.

The clean mountain can was invented by Roger Robinson, a longtime ranger here at Denali and is one example of the innovations that the park service has come up with to help keep the mountain clean for future generations of climbers. Climbers carry them all the way up the mountain and use them when necessary.
Rescuing a climber from the 14,200 ft. camp. Photo, NPS

Each ranger spends about 80 days a year patrolling out in the Alaska Range. Generally the patrols we do are about 30 days in length. We fly into the mountains, using one of the air taxis here in Talkeetna. Once on Denali we establish camps, starting at base camp, 7,200 ft. and our highest camp is up at 17,200 ft., with the majority of our time spent at the 14,200 ft. camp or above. Each ranger leads a patrol of volunteers. The average patrol is one ranger and four volunteers. One of the volunteers is usually a doctor.

Our program relies heavily on these volunteers who come for a month at a time from all over the
world to volunteer with the National Park Service. Over the years some of the top mountaineers and doctors in the world have volunteered on our patrols.

During the patrol, we deal with emergencies as they come up, as well as regular routine ranger work. A day can be anything from picking up garbage or answering a visitor’s questions one minute – to performing a high altitude rescue the next minute. The reason we are on the mountain is first and foremost for resource protection.
Ranger Roger Robinson with early version of the can. Photo, NPS

For us, the most important thing is trying to keep the mountain clean and the visitors safe – we couldn't accomplish that without the support of the volunteers and none of it would be doable without the climbers who come and make good safe decisions and do what they can to keep the mountain clean.
Further Reading: Jonathan Waterman, In the Shadow of Denali 1998 "Vignettes of challenge, survival, and death on Mount McKinley (and nearby). Also a glimpse of the culture of the McKinley mountaineers, rangers, and those who live in Denali’s shadow"
Ranger In Denali

Denali People Denali RangerDenali Volunteer
Denali ResearcherDenali Art

Working in Denali as a ranger.