Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station: Denali’s climbing headquarters

Denali, North America’s highest peak, sits at 20,310 feet in elevation in Denali National Park. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Climbing Denali is a big deal. Of course it is, because figuring out logistics for North America’s highest peak is nearly as complicated as the skills required to scale the 20,310-foot monolith of Denali National Park. One doesn’t even start climbing Denali IN the park. Beginning, you see, is accomplished in the small town of Talkeetna, about three hours south of Denali, at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station

Open all year but really hopping between the months of April and September, this ranger station serves as the center of mountaineering operations. Climbers wishing to attempt Denali or other peaks in the Alaska Range stop here first, for an orientation to the mountain, acquire their climbing permit, and pick up one very important (and mandatory item). 

A young visitors checks out the heft of a “full” Clean Mountain Can, or CMC, during a visit to the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The CMC. 

The what? 

A Clean Mountain Can, the portable, packable potty, and one of the single most important pieces of equipment that ensures a sanitary place to do the business of all creatures. It’s required that climbers take one per each 10-day stretch of time between base camp and the summit (or however far they get), and it can only be picked up at the ranger station in Talkeetna, and must be returned there as well.

Ranger Geoff shows kids the various routes of Denali’s climbing teams over the years at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The ranger station is also the best place to learn more about this business of scaling mountains in Alaska. From legends like Ray Genet to current mountaineers attempting to summit right now, the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is full of storytelling, photos, and interesting information, and I’ve never met a kid who wasn’t intriqued. 

  • Watch a 17-minute film about climbing Denali, Foraker, or Mount Hunter. 
  • Ask the ranger to point out the various climbing routes to Denali’s summit, including camps and current climber statuses. 
  • Peruse the international collection of climbing flags and banners left behind from successful summit campaigns over many years.
  • Get a map of Denali National Park, Talkeetna, and all the unique sights in between. 
  • Purchase one of several fascinating accounts of Denali summit attempts, rescues, and personal stories. 

As National Park Week draws closer, and as other media outlets start beating the drum for encouraging kids to venture outside in their own fashion, this is the perfect place to kick off an Alaska adventure. It’s also a great location to begin dreaming a bit. 

Don’t forget to take a look at the status board for current climbing teams on Denali and Foraker at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Climb one of the famous Seven Summits? Why not you? Check out the Denali Daily Dispatches HERE. They’re pretty cool. 

Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is open daily mid-April to Labor Day. During this time, the ranger station is open daily, from 8 am – 5:30 pm. In winter, the ranger station is open Monday through Friday, 10 am – 4 pm. There is no cost of admission. 



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