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Mountain research and rescue on Denali: a short history from the 1980s to the present.

Alaska's Denali (Mt. McKinley), 6194 m, is the highest and perhaps most celebrated peak on the North American continent. The cold and stormy nature of this mountain just 3° of latitude south of the Arctic Circle enhances its legend as a challenging peak. It has been the desired objective of over 1000 summit aspirants per climbing season for the last 20 years. As mountaineering traffic on the peak increased in the 1960s and 1970s, an increase in deaths and helicopter evacuations followed suit. These were largely owing to altitude illness, cold injuries, and trauma. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) began exploring potential solutions regarding the problems with rescue scenarios in remote and hostile surroundings. The NPS eventually placed a team equipped with communications and medical supplies high on the mountain to remedy the problem. This seasonal high altitude camp, established in 1982, carried out clinical research, preventive education, and rescue work. Although this operation has undergone substantial changes since 1982, it continues to serve Denali climbers each season and has likely reduced the frequency of serious accidents, death, and helicopter rescues. In addition, a parallel increase in NPS infrastructure, medical research, and mountain rescue on this peak has contributed to an increased benefit for climbers and others, which has served (and continues to serve) a wide range of interests, from the safety concerns of mountaineers to high altitude-related scientific discoveries advantageous to the scientific community.

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