The National Park Service in the United States is seeking to raise the fee for setting foot on the highest mountain in North America from $200 to $500. There are fears that for many climbers and mountaineers a 150% price rise will make climbing the Alaskan mountain of Denali prohibitively expensive.
Climbers in the Himalayas have long been used to peak fees which add to the high travel, logistical and equipment cost of attempting the biggest mountains in the world. However the mountains of North and South America have generally been kept free from exorbitant peak fees. The Denali National Park is run by the US National Park Service which is part of the US Department of the Interior. They propose to increase the fee to climb Denali/Mt McKinley (6194m) and the neighbouring Mt Foraker (5304m) because of the rising cost of the mountaineering programme the park service provides. The mountaineering programme pays for rescue services on the mountain and waste removal, amongst other things.
According to the National Park Website, ‘McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than ½ of 1 percent of the 378,000 people who visited the park in 2010. Denali will expend approximately $1,200 in direct support of each permitted climber in 2011. In contrast the average cost for all other visitors is expected to be about $37. In recent years, the park has diverted funds from other critical park programs in order to fully fund the mountaineering program. This has negatively impacted funding available for programs such as interpretation, wildlife protection, resource management, and maintenance. “The park budget can no longer support the specialized costs of the mountaineering program without impacting other programs that protect park resources and provide services to far more visitors”, said Paul Anderson, Denali National Park Superintendent.’
The National Park Services attempt to raise the fee to climb Denali has been met by resistance from the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund and the American Mountain Guides Association who all fear that an increase in price will not result in an improvement of the service that climbers and mountaineers in the park receive. There is also a feeling that more experienced and self sufficient climbers wishing to climb on both mountains are being penalised for the overcrowding of the classic and easiest route to the summit of Denali, the West Buttress Route.
Climb Magazine’s Associate Editor Ian Parnell, who has climbed in Alaska and on Denali commented that, 'One of the big attractions of Alaska for visiting climbers is the minimal red-tape and expensive permits. Unfortunately it seems that is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I was lucky to climb several routes on Denali at a time when I was looking for affordable big mountain experience. Those ascents were some of my most memorable and they gave me the confidence to go on and climb new routes in the Himalaya. If I was in the same position now, with these new fees, I'd give Denali and Foraker a wide berth and head elsewhere.'
For more information visit:
The American Alpine Club Blog
United States National Park Service Website
Alpinist Magazine online article ‘Thoughts on the Denali Fee Hike’