ANCHORAGE - The climbing season has begun on North America's highest peak.
The National Park Service began setting up its base camps on Mount McKinley this week and a few climbers are already making their way to the summit, said Ranger Daryl Miller.
"There's a team of Japanese climbers. We've had several soloists and we have another going up today," Miller said Tuesday.
The Army's high-altitude helicopter rescue team from Fort Wainwright hauled tents, food, fuel and rescue gear to the mountain Monday to be used by the park service at base camps at 7,000 and 14,000 feet.
"Everything got in. The weather window was spectacular," Miller said.
So far, 1,062 climbers have registered with the park service to climb McKinley this summer. An additional 200 to 300 are expected to sign up to climb with guide services, Miller said.
In an average year, about half of those who attempt to climb McKinley reach the summit at 20,320 feet.
The climbing season will wind down in late June or early July when the snow on the Kahiltna Glacier becomes too soft to land the planes that carry climbers to the mountain.
During the past three years there have been no deaths on the mountain.
The number of rescues and deaths has declined since the mid 1990s when the park service instituted an education program that required climbers to register 60 days in advance of their climb and to pay a $150 special-use fee.
The fee pays for educational materials printed in several languages and covers the cost of keeping mountaineering rangers at the Kahiltna Glacier base camp.
"I think overall the climbers have really done a good job of being self-sufficient on the mountain," Miller said. "Right now we're trying to work harder at sanitation."
In an effort to improve sanitation high on the mountain, where it's more difficult to dig pit toilets, the park service is supplying climbers with small portable cans to be used for carrying out human waste. This is the third year the cans have been used by climbers.
"This year they've been redesigned. They're lighter and easier to clean," Miller said.
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