US Army Chinook helicopters help set up base camp on Denali

Soldiers and National Park Service staff unpack supplies from a Chinook helicopter at the Kahiltna Glacier base camp in Denali National Park in 2016. The camp, at 7,200 feet, is the main staging area for climbers headed up Denali and other major peaks in the area. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Those wishing to climb North America’s tallest peak got a leg up this week from the U.S. Army.

Aviators from B Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright flew two bus-sized CH-47F Chinook helicopters Wednesday to continue the decades-old tradition of helping set up base camp on Denali, a 20,310-foot (6,190 meters) mountain located about 240 miles (386 kilometers) north of Anchorage.

Thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies were delivered to Kahiltna Glacier, site of the lower base camp at 7,200 feet (2,195 meters).

The National Park Service establishes that camp and another at the 14,000-foot (4,267-meter) level as climbers attempt to summit Denali along the West Buttress route, the most popular for climbers. Last year, of the 1,007 climbers who attempted to reach the top of Denali, 943 went along the West Buttress route. Of those, 490 reached the summit, or 52%.

Fort Wainwright soldiers often return to Denali when the helicopters are needed for high elevation rescues. This assistance is provided for various reasons, including when the National Park Service’s helicopter is out of service or when there are more patients than the park service’s smaller helicopter can carry.

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