Mountain closed

Denali - Melis Coady

Climbers on Denali’s West Buttress/NPS photo

Two months before the serious start to the mountaineering season in the Alaska Range mountains, the National Park Service has decided Covid-19 is more dangerous than climbing North America’s tallest mountain.

The agency announced today that it is terminating the 2020 climbing season on 20,310-foot Mount Denali and adjacent Mount Foraker. The announcement rocked the guiding community in the 900-person community of Talkeetna where seasonal guiding is a cornerstone of the economy.

Some see the decision as the start of an avalanche of bad news about to hit an already terrified Alaska tourism industry. Across the board, those involved in what is the state’s biggest industry in terms of employment say they’re hearing from visitors wondering whether they should cancel planned summer excursions in the north.

Denali climbers no longer need worry about making such decisions, and the Park Service (NPS) said it will refund the climbing fees of those already registered to climb.

Complete shutdown

“To date, no permits have been issued for the 2020 season,” the park service said in a media statement. “Considering the anticipated longevity of the international coronavirus response, social distancing protocols, and travel restrictions, park managers have determined the most appropriate course of action is to suspend all 2020 permitting.

“The health and safety of the climbing community, including park visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. High alpine mountaineering typically requires transport in small aircraft, and shared tents, climbing equipment, and other camp infrastructure.”

The closure applies only to Denali and nearby Mount Foraker, agency spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said by phone from Talkeetna where she was self-quarantined because her husband has just returned from oversees.

The rest of the park remains open to climbers, but she said that could change at any time. Access to most of the park requires small aircraft, shared tents and sometimes emergency help from park employees.

The buses that haul tourists into Denali National Park and Preserve via the Denali Park Road also involve shared space, close contact, visitors from around the world and – unlike the climbing routes on Denali – a vulnerable population of old people.

help blurbGualtieri said park officials are still contemplating what to do about the buses, the primary means of access into a park that is one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions.

The cumulative data on COVID-19 to date shows a death rate of 0.2 percent for those under 40. But the danger quickly climbs for older people, jumping to 0.4 percent for those 40 to 49, 1.3 percent at 50 to 59, 3.6 percent at 60 to 69, 8 percent at 70 to 79, and 14.8 percent at 80 to 89.

The average of Denali climbers last year was 39, according to the park’s Annual Mountaineering Summary.

The park says a “typical” visitor using a bus would be “a 63-year-old Californian traveling with one other family member on a commercial tour that arrived by train as part of a trip to Alaska.”

The normal death rate for the flu in the U.S. is around 0.01 percent, according to the date from Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which estimated 34,157 people were killed by the disease during the last flu season.

Citing the unique danger of Covid-19 to older people, climbing guide Colby Coombs emailed that “I hope NPS closes the North side which sees 600,000 visitors.”

It’s “a huge impact for guides,” he added. “They are the front line of this in our industry. Good thing a lot of them are carpenters and nurses because they are out of mountain guiding work for awhile.”

Gualtieri said the Park Service did not consider less extreme Denali measures such as banning climbers over age 60, or even age 40, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

The COVID-19 death rate for those of all ages lacking pre-existing conditions is at this time 0.9 percent.

The World Health Organization and the Chinese CCDC have not calculated a death rate for those under 40 who lack a pre-existing condition, but that number would clearly be lower than the present 0.2 percent and the same would apply for those 40 to 49.

Climbers over 50 and those with pre-existing conditions are “not that prevalent” on the mountain, Gualtieri admitted, but concerns have been raised in other countries about asymptomatic people spreading the disease, and people involved in accidents taking up hospital beds that might be needed for Covid-19 sufferers.

After talking to her supervisors, Gualtieri emailed that the decision to disregard the possibility of  “a ‘partial closure’… ties in with known CDC guidance and infection tracking. It’s not just those in vulnerable populations that are getting the disease.

“Everyone in our user group has a likelihood of infection.  So such a screen-out is not going to change the fact that Covid-19 infection has high likelihood of spreading  in the mountain environment.  Moreover, high altitude is expected to exacerbate a respiratory infection with a corresponding increase in life-threatening complications up high. The exposure to rescue personnel and to other climbers cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level.”

The high likelihood of spread is based on the presumption that sanitary conditions are hard to maintain in cold, harsh environment lacking running water to wash one’s hands.

There is also the matter of those “life-threatening complications up high” increasing the need for rescues, and the normal rescues that put people in the hospital. Last year, 18 people suffered serious injuries on the mountain over the course of about three months, according to the park’s Mountaineering Summary.

Italy, France and Spain have gone so far as to ban cycling because of a concern about accident injuries. “In the case a cyclist were to fall and require medical assistance – it would be deemed to have been avoidable,” Cyclist reported from the United Kingdom, where health researchers have pushed back against such restrictions.

“Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, dementia, and diabetes. These conditions affect millions of people; and some increase the risk of a serious outcome if one contracts Covid-19,” they said in a public statement. “Walking and cycling, particularly in green space, is good for mental as well as physical health. People should be encouraged to exercise at home, but for most of us it is unlikely that this will replace the walking and cycling we do outdoors.

“Social distancing will make many sports and gym based exercise impossible. However, walking and cycling can be compatible with social distancing, if people are responsible. Transmission risks will be very low if people stay 2-3 meters apart.”

Social distance is aimed at “flattening the curve” of Covid-19’s spread to try to keep from overwhelming the health-care system.

“The idea is that we reduce the rate of infection through the population which spreads out the time of the pandemic but, most critically, the number of sick at any one time,” observes Joshua Gans, professor of Strategic Management at MIT.

“(This) is really all about health care system capacity. As Italy has shown us, (some) people die essentially because they cannot get hospital-level care. If the infection rate is too high, health care capacity becomes quickly overwhelmed and doctors have to engage in triage, a word which now means choosing who will live and who will die.”

Triage, a necessity on the world’s battlefields, is a hugely unpopular idea in a country where former Alaska governor and failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin stirred up a firestorm with worries about government “death panels.”

Clarification: This is an edited version of the original story. A quote was changed at the request of the source to more accurately reflect the number of visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve.









31 replies »

  1. Figures….
    The national shortage of N95 respirator masks can be traced back to 2009 after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, when the Obama administration was advised to replenish a national stockpile but did not, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times.

    And now Democrats will not support the emergency funding bill to help the people unless their pork is included. Shameful bastages.

  2. We will see….
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending March 14, with the total deaths this season at 23,000 and the highest number of children and people age 18-49 requiring hospitalization since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

    “Hospitalization rates for school-aged children (5-17 years) are higher than any recent regular season but remain lower than rates experienced by this age group during the pandemic,” the report said.

  3. The economic rescue package still being filled-out in Congress yesterday had gone north of $2 trillion, and still adding more to satisfy some.

    There are sections of the population who want to carry on with whatever they like doing, the way they like doing it, and feel insulted when asked to trim their sails.

    Closing Denali isn’t about the climbers. It’s about the dense & highly networked swarm of support-activities.

    Alaska will feel a lot better about the situation, when the fiscal relief pipeline dwarfs that old oil pipeline … and mainlines the dope straight to the residents, instead of mainly to transnational coffers.

    Just hold still now … you’ll feel much better in a few moments!

  4. Might have it pinned down to two scenarios..
    1. Biological Warfare going down. (Inside scuttle)
    2. Another Health care bailout.
    More scenarios to come.

  5. Talkeetna will be hit hard this year from lack of tourists but luckily for Mountaineers there are at least a thousand different peaks accross the state…many of which are significantly more challenging than the west buttress of Denali.

    • Steve,

      With a little luck (hydroxychloroquine turns out to protect oldsters, with negligible side effects), the whole virus thing will ratchet down sooner rather than later … and Talkeetna will be CRUSHED, right on schedule.

  6. Best news of the week was identifying at least 4 drugs effective against Wuhan. 2 of them were anti-Malarials widely used in ‘Nam. Likely still used in parts of the world with Malaria. Now all we need is to get the CDC / NIH off dead center and fast track approval and deployment.

    Expect the number of those infected in the US to skyrocket as we roll out widespread testing which will tamp down the death rate.

    I’d also expect manufacturing of medical supplies, equipment and most importantly drugs to be repatriated from China back to the US in short order.

    A lot of the normal rules / regs for bringing health-related treatments / drugs to market will be changed forever. Trump has a gift for sweeping away the cruft and getting to a solution very quickly. The bureaucracy is not nearly as nimble. But they are about to be. There will be lots of black heel marks as they are dragged kicking and screaming into this new world.

    Length of the shutdown is critical. It better not extend past mid-April.

    After this is all over, we’re going to have to consider a couple things –

    – Emergency orders closing businesses. Ethan has come to enjoy his emergency authority a lot
    – We’re going to have to do this again, as the Chinese wet markets have not (and will not) shut down. Wuhan and SARS are not the only Corona variants running around. Now we know that the ChiComs will lie thru their teeth about any and everything embarrassing.

    Cheers –

      • Isnt it disturbing when the lines are so blurred between Chinese Communists and Democrats/media you cannot tell them apart? Not surprising really..
        “An ambassador from China is lauding Hillary Clinton’s recent attack on President Trump.

        “The president is turning to racist rhetoric to distract from his failures to take the coronavirus seriously early on, make tests widely available, and adequately prepare the country for a period of crisis,” Clinton wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.”

      • @Bryan, I’d amend that to say that the lines between the Democrats/media and the CCP aren’t blurred at all.

  7. As more testing is done we will see the mortality rate continue to drop. Most experts think that up to 86% of those with covid are asymptomatic, if true the mortality rate might even be less than the flu. One thing we know for sure is that covid has saved more lives in the US than it has taken, while still high the amount of people dying from the flu has been dropping since covid showed up. It’s amazing what basic hygiene can do.

  8. Whether or not you agree with what governmental agencies have done in the lower 48, in response to the spread of Covid-19, it all will undoubtedly greatly impact the 49th state. Three more states have invoked the “shelter in” or “stay indoors” for all nonessential business.
    Until this outbreak is contained or fizzles out, this is the new norm. Look to see more states, enacting restrictions on the populace, until we see a downturn in confirmed cases.
    Everyone will be affected, one way or another. It will simply give our Mother Earth a tiny breathing space. Stay safe and wash your hands.

  9. I’m a little confused why there is such a reaction to this particular virus . None of us are able to get off the planet alive . Obesity, motor vehicles, various bacteria , virus danger after danger . Covid – 19 / whu Han flu only marginally raises human death rates overall. I consider all off these extreme measures as over reactions unless we plan to treat lack of exercise and poor drivers similarly to whu Han flu . Lock down the highways- there’s a teen ager on the road !

    • DPR, I am with you. Under Obama in 2010 the Swine Flu (H1N1) infected 61 million Americans (1 in 6) and killed thousands before Obama got off the golf course to declare a State of Emergency. It originated in China as well. If I am not mistaken, the Spanish Flu still is still making the rounds as the common flu, even after all these years. Fortunately we have built-up a “tolerance” to it.
      This whole Coronavirus nonsense is getting a bit out of hand. I must ask, is there other motives behind all this?
      In the United States as of 3/20/2020:
      19, 233 Currently Infected patients, 19,169 In mild condition, 64 Serious or critical, 263 deaths.
      Alaska – 12 cases.
      Now compare that to the Swine Flu in 2010 (which you heard NOTHING about). It is estimated that 11–21% of the global population at the time — or around 700 million–1.4 billion people (out of a total of 6.8 billion) — contracted the illness – with about 150,000–575,000 fatalities.
      Wait a minute, there is a Republican President with an election year. Ah ha!!!

      • 11 people died of the swine flu in 2009
        the predictions are 15,000 from this one if
        we take no action.
        just let it ride, what could go wrong.

      • Bryan,
        Speaking of “under Obama”…the bailout was $700 billion to the market where as Trump is now spending $1.5 Trillion this time?
        Funny how many of the same Republicans who acted like they were against the first bailout, are now fully supporting the new bailout?
        I know this one is different since it is caused by “Chinese virus” although Chinese scientists are now saying this particular strain of the Coronavirus has been around since Nov?

      • Steve, honestly, you are comparing the failures of Clinton’s Community Reinvestmemt Act and the Dems mantra “everybody deserves a home, because it is a ‘Right'” BS. Where the Dems threatened banks with oversight until they gave risky loans. You are comparing that to a WORLD WIDE PANDEMIC for which Trump has been labelled a racist and Xeonophobe because he closed all flights from China on Jan 31, 2020?? I say if we get by only spending $1.5 trillion to re-jumpstart our economy we are doing great. I think of the TRILLIONS Democrats have WASTED on carrots in our inner cities and want to puke. BE DAMN GLAD OBAMA/BIDEN ARE STILL NOT IN.

      • Dave Mac, we are 2 months into the Corona here in America. I’ll just throw out last years flu numbers..
        “CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza”.
        Then we have the Coronavirus:
        “”Though severe coronavirus cases have been reported among younger and middle-aged adults, doctors say older adults, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions seem to be most at risk for the sudden decline.

        Denson said nearly all of his most critically ill patients have a combination of three specific underlying medical problems: obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.”
        I am not buying into the virus, I am buying because of the panic.

      • Bryan,
        With regards to time, its based on geographical area, not total national figures, so for say AK,when we hit 100( i would think thats Anch/matsu) it goes ballistic.

        So when it hit 100 in Sea,or NY it went gonzo.Its a mathematical progression.Each effected person ON AVERAGE effects ~2.5 peeps.
        Without an intervention, thats what mathematical progressions do.
        My co-worker got a call from nervous son on fri,that his bride to be has symptoms and will be tested.She works at fred meyers.
        Now we’re having some fun
        Personally Im not that worried,I get every flue/cold that come along.And Im in excellent shape.It is what it is.
        OTH ” Republican controlled Senate close to $1.3-$1.4 TRILLION relief package.”That of course is on top of the $1trillion 2019 debt already racked up.
        Thank god the fiscally conservative capitalists are in control

      • Dave Mac, if the Dems were in control, especially Hillary or Lunch Bucket Joe, we’d be spending $5 trillion to clean-up that wtecking ball.
        As for numbers, well, that is a subjective. Are the numbers rising due to testing? If 80% of the rising cases are mild what does that say? My point is if you are younger than 60, in good shape, with no pre-existing conditions, there is a good chance you will survive and do just fine.
        But, the Dems have been their usual shameful selves during all this. They make the ChiComms very happy.

      • Bryan,
        Heres an interesting(long) read, which was forwarded by John Mauldin,who I assure used to be all fiscally republy conservative.We’ve had occasional distant partisan sword fights (email wise)going back decades to GW times.

        The information is out there if you care to look and most importantly take time.
        Your breightbarts,levines,limbaughs,etc,arent doing you any favors.Personally I like to listen to both sides and try to sift through the facts and connect the dots for myself as best I can.
        Probably a total waste of time, but Nobody bats 1k

      • Dave Mc,
        Thanks for the info.. and to a degree hysteria. I have given you hard numbers that are out there in comparison. Say you or I get the Coronavirus, then what? So what? If you are under 60 and do not have an underlying condition chances are you will recover just fine. Will you be sick? Will you be sick and contagious with Flu “A or B”?
        I think we both can agree death is a hard number and is real. Putting hysteria aside, that number in a America is sure to rise, but is currently unimpressive. Is it worth destroying the economy over and bringing the country to a halt?
        Let’s go back to the Swine Flu (H1N1) numbers. Did anybody give a chit then or did the media just run cover for the “Great” Community Agitator? Today H1N1 still is making the rounds as Flu “A”. Even after all these years. Sooooo with all that being said and considering the Swine Flu killed thousands and infected over a billion people regardless of age, what is different today?

      • JB, huh? The swine flu in 2009-2010 infected over a billion people and killed up to 525,000. The numbers of dead from the swine flu is much higher today as the Swine Flu (H1N1) is currently known as Flu B.
        Nobody is saying do nothing. Protect the elderly and those at risk as one normally would do during flu season. Wash hands, stay away from sick people, and keep your fingers crossed. We are at 20,000 dead this year alone from the flu and 30 million infected.

    • More appropriately there will not be a local or nonlocal industry affected by the response to the virus. This is a worldwide pandemic and economies all around the world are collapsing as we shut them down to protect the old and infirm.

      • It should say that there will not be a local or nonlocal industry unaffected.

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