For most visitors to Alaska, getting a glimpse of Denali is an amazing experience. For the most adventurous, climbing the 20,310-foot mountain is the reason they visit. But no matter if you are just stopping in Talkeetna for the afternoon or gearing up for an expedition into the Alaska Range, a stop at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is a must.
Located on B Street in Talkeetna, the ranger station is where every climber must check in before heading off on their climb. They must get their permits and a mountain orientation before ever setting foot on Denali. The station primary purpose is to manage the south district of Denali National Park's mountaineering operations. The rangers are skilled in emergency medicine, rescue techniques and mountaineering. Throughout the climbing season - typically mid-April through mid-June, rangers are stationed on the mountain to assist in any emergency that may arise. They lead all rescue operations in the Alaska Range.
The ranger station is worth a visit to non-climbers, however. From mid-April through Labor Day, the station is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rangers are on hand to answer any questions, and current statistics are always on display, including how many climbers are on the mountain, how many have reached the summit and how many climbers are now off the mountain. The 2019 climbing season is over, and there were 1,230 climbers who were on Denali earlier this summer. Of those, 793 reached the summit, a rate of 65 percent. Favorable weather contributed to the summit success rate, as 50 percent is about the average each season. Also on display is historical information including climbing gear used by mountaineers years ago and a bookstore. During the summer, interpretative events are also held.
Throughout the day, a 30-minute video plays in a screening room, detailing what it's like for the climbers who brave the slopes of Denali. Brutal conditions including blowing snow and extreme temperatures await them. The video is very well done, and gives people a glimpse of what it takes to climb in the Alaska Range.
The station is named for Walter Harper, an Alaskan Native who became the first person to summit the mountain in 1913 as part of the Stuck-Karstens Expedition. The station was built in Talkeetna in 1997 and Walter Harper's name was added to the station in 2014.