by Lew Freedman
Epicenter Press, 2017, Kenmore, WA
218 pages, $19.95
Forward by Daryl Miller (Retired South District Ranger, Denali National Park and Preserve)
Denali Ranger is an inspiring biography about a man who dedicated most of his life to North America’s highest peak, Denali, and the land surrounding it. In many ways, it is a love story.
As a national park ranger on 20310-foot Denali for nearly 40 years, Roger Robinson became a major figure in the mountain’s history by pioneering a new environmental ethos in climbing management: removing waste from the slopes, or “cleaning” the mountain.
The story is told in first-person style by Robinson, but researched, compiled and edited by prize-winning journalist Lew Freedman. Organized in short chapters with black and white photos, the book traces Robinson’s first forays as a young man into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, his ascent of 19541-foot Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory; expeditions in the Alaska Range that included two challenging ascents of 12240-foot Mount Huntington – one of which included the first ascent by a woman, Cindy Jones; his many Denali climbs; participation in several mountain rescues that saved lives; and his marriage to Pam Bauer.
Freedman describes Robinson’s first attempt to climb Denali was in 1975 that marked the beginning of his long and enduring quest to educate mountaineers on “clean” climbing, or “leave-no-trace” operations. (In the early days the common practice was to throw human waste, or feces, into crevasses.) In recent years the practice has evolved considerably. Climbers below 14000 feet are now required to put human waste in portable toilet cans provided by the National Park Service and carry them off the mountain. Removal of other garbage is also required. Non-compliance with these rules can bring fines up to $250.
Climbers above 14000 feet are required to use an approved crevasse for human-waste disposal. Further disposal methods at this elevation are being investigated by park rangers.
Challenge greater than Denali: In the book’s latter chapters, the author details how Robinson became aware of kidney disease and in 1992, received a kidney transplant in Oregon from his brother Ron. By 1993 Robinson was able to resume his Denali ranger duties, which later included another successful summit at age 43.
Throughout the book, there are references to many climbing luminaries with whom Robinson rubbed elbows during his decades as a ranger; including Bradford Washburn, Ray Genet, Vern Tejas, Mugs Stump, Dave Johnston, Gary Bocarde, Brian Okonek, Fred Beckey and a host of others.
Over the decades Robinson also embarked upon many memorable backcountry trips in the vast Denali National Park.
Today he is a “part-time” ranger at Denali and continues to educate climbers and actively promote “clean mountaineering.”
In 25 chapters, Freedman ably captures the spirit and lore of Denali climbing as it has evolved over the past four decades, framing it around Roger Robinson, a landmark person in the mountain’s climbing history.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.