Climber Fee Increases at Denali and Rainier

Post by blogger | September 17, 2010      
Helicopter viewed while backcountry skiing on Denali.

Helicopter resupply of the ranger camp at 14,000 feet on Denali. Not exactly a low budget operation.

Ah yes, the inevitables of life: taxes, death — and climbing fees. The news is out. Denali National Park intends to increase their climbing fee 150%, from $200 to $500 per climber. More, at Rainier they’re after a climbing fee increase to $50 from the current $30 charge. Apparently, this all without public comment.

Interesting issue. Check out the American Alpine Club letter here.

I’d imagine (and hope) much of the Denali fee increase would be for keeping their rescue facility and medical tent going at 14,000 feet on Denali West Buttress route. While perhaps too civilized for some and most certainly one of the reasons the West Butt is overrun with hackers, I have to say that in my case this spring (with my son and a relatively inexperienced group) I was glad that stuff was there. The $200 charge seemed reasonable, though it did hurt on top of other expenses such as travel insurance with a rescue rider.

But $500? I’d like to see the numbers, and fully understand that keeping all the climber service stuff going has got to add up to some hefty expenses for the Park Service. Yet how much of that fee is going to fund a top heavy bureaucracy? One has to wonder that when they know, for example, that most of the climbing rangers are volunteers.

The American Alpine Club and Access fund are requesting the numbers to back up the fee increases. That will be interesting and perhaps even humbling in that we’ll see just how much it costs Denali and Rainier parks to keep the climbing scene relatively safe and under control.

Your comments?


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12 Responses to “Climber Fee Increases at Denali and Rainier”

  1. Mark September 17th, 2010 9:18 am

    I’ve always been to guy who supports a combination of pay-to-play and general-funded support for public land recreation, because I believe that there are some values that accrue to all, even non-participants, and some that accrue only to recreation participants. But to make pay-to-play fair and to get folks on board, it has to be transparently tied to the real costs for the services people get. On Denali there are real issues related to human waste management and safety that come along with the high concentration of use, but the main costs are related the Kahiltna base camp and 14 camp. So there I think the right way to go is a modest “climbing fee” for everyone, which helps run the really very good program they have there, and “destination fees” for the use of Kahiltna basecamp and the 14 camp. Maybe a small destination fee for the Ruth. But why apply a blanket fee to all climbers regardless of whether they use the services or not? Why not create a small price incentive for folks to branch out a little, try some trips to other places if the management of one use corridor is so challenging?

  2. Lou September 17th, 2010 10:29 am

    Mark, that’s what I was thinking. What if I do the Muldrow? I still have to pay for all that stuff even though I walk in from Wonder Lake. Seems very unfair. If they’re going to raise fees like this, they HAVE to instead have destination fees. I can’t believe they don’t. It would be super easy to administer since the permit system already requires you to be clear about your route.

    What is more, if the destination fees were high for Kahiltna and lower elsewhere, that could spread some of the use around and help with conservation.

  3. Randonnee September 17th, 2010 10:43 am

    In regard to Mt Rainier and other Washington destinations-USFS and NPS appear to control access in many ways, including Fees, visitor number limits, trails and Road access through closure, non-maintenance, and abandonment. Impediments to access are in some cases intentional and in some cases a secondary effect of budget or other neglect.

    Climbers, skiers, snowshoers, campers would do well to mobilize to the degree of the motorized users of Federal Lands! Without understanding of the resources or issues, aggressive motorized users have the run of Federal Lands often without paying except to the State for the Sno Park! Any opposition to motorized use is immediately opposed in organized fashion, often by motorized enthusiasts without knowledge of the area involved!

    At MRNP particularly egregious examples that access limit include the timing of gate-opening, Road plowing including delays and also alleged early plowing out a Road behind a gate that would otherwise allow lawful snowmobile access.

    USFS charges for access to Mt St Helens and to Mt Adams, $10 or $15/ weekend, $30/year. A Recreation Pass is required at Mt Baker, but also in most of the Forest. USFS charges $10/ night just to backpack into the Enchantments, a side effect being hordes (?) of day hikers doing the long near-marathin hike through.

    Those USFS charges would appear now perhaps to be reasonable. However, one must continue to marvel at all of the Federal funding that is sucked into the continually-expanding Corps of Desk Jockeys who pass paper and electronic communication and often have literally no firsthand knowledge of the resource, or of uses of the resource!

  4. Ed September 17th, 2010 10:45 am

    The subject of user fees/ use restrictions is always an interesting one. In western Canada we’ve been blessed with incredible mountainous areas to explore – both in Alberta and in British Columbia. But here lies the rub – in Alberta it seems to me we all voted some years ago for the establishment of Provincial Parks like Kananaskis Provincial Park which borders Banff National Park on the east side – ostensibly to take pressure off the National Parks. However, this has now led to reams of regulations, user fees, revolving trail closures due to bear movements, etc. that at times frankly make some of the Provinces off-road areas nice to just, well go into and camp. The scenery isn’t as great as the mountain parks, but the restrictions seem fewer (although folks are having some troubles about random camping – see:
    Enforcement by Parks has resulted in some bizarre “robo-cop” situations I’ve heard of – years ago a friend unclipped his ex police dog virtually at his feet so the animal could schlup-schlup some lake water by a trail and was pounced on by a Provincial Park Warden enforcer and fined $75.00 on the spot for having an unleashed dog. Ticker quota time I guess. Could have bought the animal Perrier Water at that price! A young couple PUSHING not riding their laden mtn bikes along a trail to get to a pass into BC were fined in Kananaskis – for what? Possession of a bike – leaving linear tracks in the wilderness? I was witness to the fact that they hadn’t ridden their bikes from the end of the designated biking trail and boy did we get an earful when I asked the young warden if it was riding that was forbidden or simply possession of an illegal bike-weapon or what (she demanded to know if I was a lawyer?). Strict liability offences! Next Jail? Perhaps I digress.
    I personally don’t have too much problem with user fees – IF THEY’RE EASY TO ADHERE TO. Like a yearly pass or something. But I do draw the line at hard to comply with reservation systems for, when you get there, essentially nothing in the way of services. All these things decrease accessibility and spontaneity for backcountry trips. I think it’s a great idea to have your US Parks establishment list exactly what they are charging for and would like to see this here in Alberta. Up here who knows where the dollars go? Others have commented on how arcane our user fee system is for our National Parks and I can vouch for the same in Provincial Parks like Kananaskis/ Peter Lougheed Parks adjacent to Calgary. On the other hand, B.C. seems to be more reasonable – 5 bucks for an backcountry campground overnight stay, first come first served. Sometimes level spots and sometimes firewood.
    For more on an American’s perspective on user fees see:
    It’s a job figuring all this user fee stuff out in Alberta at least. Pretty soon it’s going to be like having to hire an immigration lawyer! I’ve watched this going on now for 30 years and without transparency in where the money’s being spent, it’s going downhill, in some places quite fast:
    Some of the warden cabins are getting kind of fancy up here and there are now stiff penalties/ court appearances for trespass for mere mortals (fines in four figures!). On the other hand I also know the wardens have to cope with litter and now in some areas closer to the roads, things like crystal meth and trafficking. I certainly don’t envy them that part of the job either.
    One guy’s perspective is all . . . .

  5. Dostie September 17th, 2010 11:22 am

    We are the Rulers, You are the People, er, Serfs. We know what’s good for you. Bend over and like it.

  6. Lou September 17th, 2010 11:48 am

    Dostie, that’s the service in “Park Service?” I think I’ll pass (grin).

  7. Mike September 17th, 2010 11:50 am

    The best solution in my mind would be to build huts in popular mountain zones that increase access by offering services and generate revenue by charging for these services. User fees are fine, but they create an unwelcoming feeling for the user of our public lands. I believe we should be encouraging people to use our lands, the best way to protect a piece of land is for the land to have a highly valued use. Unfortunately it seems the common belief in the US is to keep users out to best protect the land rather than make them feel welcome and encourage them to use the land.

    My experience with user fees has been inconvenient, confusing, frustrating, expensive, and unwelcoming. Most recently in Olympic National Park we were not able to find a ranger to issue us a backcountry permit, but there was a ranger ten miles in checking for permits. I would rather give money to a hut guardian for a warm and dry place to stay than pay a user fee while worrying about being stopped by a police officer/ranger to make sure I filled out my paper work correctly.

    We could learn a lot from the Europeans with their huts and rescue insurance programs.

  8. Njord September 17th, 2010 8:42 pm

    Helicopter are not cheap… only the pilots are!!

  9. Bard September 18th, 2010 2:05 am

    Damn, I’m heading back up there in 2012. Oh well, what’s another 3 bills for Uncle Sam.

  10. Elden September 18th, 2010 8:20 pm

    This is a repeat of the 1994 money grab by Denali that the climbing community fought. In the end they justified a $150 fee by spending more money, building a new visitor’s center, and incurring costs with no input from the captive ‘users’. Climbing continues to be way down the list for rescue costs in national parks, but the one group that is singled out for unreasonable fees . On Mt. Rainier, less than 11,000 climbers, in a park with 1.7 million visitors, pay a higher fee than any other user group. Enough is enough! I’ve belonged to the Access Fund for over 20 years. You should belong to a group that advocates for our outdoor interests, whether it is skiing, climbing, etc.

  11. John S September 19th, 2010 8:29 pm


    I’d read Chris Willet’s diatribe about Parks Canada previously, and was glad to read it again. Our fee structure and access to the backcountry is terrible. It’s so difficult to use. Trying to plan a trip can be nearly impossible, especially longer backpacks.

    His comments about our backcountry facilities are also spot on. We pay quite high fees for backcountry use, yet I often see neglected backcountry camps and poor trail maintenance.

    So, getting on the original topic, Americans should be demanding to know where the additional $300 is going. We Canadians face ever increasing fees with dropping levels in services, and never raise a stink about it. We just get hosed, eh?

  12. Hans September 20th, 2010 10:49 am

    So this is a blanket fee for the entire park? That seems extremely unfair especially for climbers who are headed to different areas that don’t benefit from the additional services on Denali. I’ll throw my hat in that a destination fee seems more reasonable than a blanket fee. What if I want to head back to the Pika? I’m so far away from Denali that there’s no way I’ll benefit from any of the rangers up there….

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