After year of cancellations, Denali’s base camp manager prepares for return of climbing season

A woman stands outside a tent in a snowy area
Lisa Roderick outside her tent at Denali Base Camp in 2018. (Katie Writer/KTNA)

It’s springtime in Talkeetna and while most of the town is preparing for summer, one local resident will be wearing mittens and down for a few more months.

April 2020 brought an unprecedented lockdown to most of the world, including the Kahiltna Glacier, a remote wilderness spot where Denali Base Camp is located. It’s a place where climbers begin their ascent of Denali.

Lisa Roderick is the manager of Denali Base Camp. In a normal year, she spends mid-April through mid-July on the glacier, welcoming climbers and transmitting weather to pilots who shuttle climbers in and out of the camp with ski planes.

But last year, all climbing permits in Denali National Park were suspended. That meant Roderick stayed home.

“Last year, I was really shocked that climbing season was canceled, ‘cause I‘ve been going up there for 19, 20 years in a row,” she said. “But I ended up really enjoying the summer. I actually got a garden in. My husband built me some raised beds and I grew lettuce and kale and I even tried to grow artichokes. But a moose ended up eating my one choke that I got.”

This year, the climbing season is on. Roderick will be flying into the Kahiltna Glacier on April 28. She will set up her tent, that will be home until early July, when snow conditions deteriorate, ending Denali’s climbing season.

But it’s not business as usual. Roderick said there are changes climbers can expect when they land at Denali Base Camp.

“Couple things that might be different this year is, you know, we have to wear masks when we’re at Base Camp,” she said. “If you’re gathering around, you have to be masked up. Of course, when you’re climbing and you’re roped up, you’re spaced out, so you won’t have to wear your mask as you’re climbing, but if you stop for a break and everybody gathers up together, then you’ll have to put your mask on.”

Although mitigations will be practiced on Denali, plans are also in place to identify and deal with possible COVID-19 infections.

“So, there’s always Park Service rangers stationed with me at base camp and they handle all the medical things. They’re all medically trained; they’re all EMTs,” Roderick said. “If some climber starts showing symptoms of COVID, they’ll have some test kits up at 14,000 and then we’ll have some test kits at Base Camp. They’ll be giving tests as they see necessary. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to deal with that kind of stuff but you never know.”

Roderick and all the Denali National Park climbing rangers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so whatever the season brings, she said she feels prepared and ready.

“I’m definitely ready to get back up there for sure. I’m starting to miss it a little bit. Hopefully, most of the people showing up will be vaccinated,” Roderick said.

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