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Sherpa Joins Denali Climbing Patrol

Posted on: July 23rd, 2009 by admin

Brandon Latham (left) and PhuNuru Sherpa. NPS Photo.

Brandon Latham (left) and PhuNuru Sherpa. NPS Photo.

Denali National Park mountaineering ranger Brandon Latham describes his experience working with PhuNuru Sherpa on Denali’s high-mountain climbing patrol during the month of June—a climbing exchange sponsored by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation.

The South District of Denali National Park is the starting point for most expeditions heading for Mt. McKinley. This is also where the mountaineering ranger staff is stationed for the climbing season. On Mt. McKinley, each ranger has a group of 3 to 5 volunteers that make up a climbing patrol, referred to as a “14K Patrol.” The volunteers are people that have climbing, medical, and rescue experience on big mountains, creating a solid team that can handle most needs of climbers who find themselves in trouble on the mountain. This year I enjoyed the unusual experience of working closely on the volunteer patrol with a Sherpa climber.

Outside of my season here on Mt. McKinley, I work for a couple of other organizations, one being the Khumbu Climbing School, with which I volunteered during the 2008 and 2009 seasons in Phortse, Nepal. After my first year with the school, I felt it would be a good fit to try and have a Nepali instructor come over for a volunteer patrol on Mt. McKinley. I ran the idea by John Leonard, the lead mountaineering ranger at the South District Office, and Conrad Anker and Jenni Lowe-Anker, founders of the Khumbu Climbing School, and they all were enthusiastic about the prospect.

With the financial help of the Khumbu Climbing School (backed by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation), PhuNuru Sherpa from Phortse joined our patrol in June, along with Jon Gleason from Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), Scott Ring from YOSAR, and Dave Weber, a climbing ranger on Mt. Rainier.

A guide on Everest and Cho Oyu with International Mountain Guides, PhuNuru Sherpa was right at home on the mountain; although it was a different climbing style than he was used to, it was no problem for him to adapt. One goal was to have him learn something new each day that was different from what he was used to in the Khumbu, and some of these things included traveling on the glacier with skis, dragging a sled with expedition supplies, and snow camping every day for 28 days. He was amazed at how clean the mountain was, from both trash and human-waste standpoints. Our crew conducted five rescues involving 400- to 600-meter lowers above the 14,200-foot camp, and PhuNuru was one of the primary responders for each one.

PhuNuru felt this was a huge learning experience in many ways, and he has expressed interest in returning for another season to continue learning about how the mountain is managed and how rescues are carried out safely and efficiently, and, most importantly, to spend more time in the Alaska Range. At the beginning of July, he headed down to Mt. Rainier for two weeks on the mountain with Dave Weber. Myself and everyone here at the Talkeetna Ranger Station thank PhuNuru for all his help, and thank the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation for helping to bring PhuNuru over.

—Brandon Latham

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