Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Bob Gerhard

Bob Gerhard was interviewed on June 23, 2000 by Dave Krupa at Bob's office at the National Park Service Regional Headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska. In this interview, Bob talks about his experience as a ranger at Denali National Park, being involved with search and rescue operations, and the establishment of a regulatory management system for mountaineering at Denali. Bob's understanding of the history of NPS backcountry policy and management is exceptional, and he has been one of the Park Service "insiders" not afraid to take on difficult and sometimes unpopular positions in the interests of protecting the Park experience on Denali. His reflections offer an insightful perspective on the many challenges faced by those managing an increasingly popular climbing destination.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-17

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jun 23, 2000
Narrator(s): Bob Gerhard
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
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1) Personal background

2) How he got his job at Denali National Park

3) Moving to Alaska and his first summer at Denali

4) His first climbs on Denali

5) The National Park Service's presence and the issues of concern at the time of his arrival

6) A bad year for accidents on Denali

7) The establishment of the medical camp at 14,000 feet, and the popularity of the West Buttress route

8) The National Park Service's original system of management regarding the guiding business on Denali

9) How the guiding permit was changed

10) Differences between guided and private climbs and the history of flying into Kahiltna basecamp

11) Changes in National Park Service regulations concerning mountaineering at Denali

12) The process of changing National Park Service regulations on Denali

13) The issue of rescue cost

14) Memorable rescues and how rescues work

15) His involvement in post-accident recovery before permanent rangers were posted on the mountain, and the difficulty of body recoveries at the time

16) How rescue technology has remained more or less the same, but become more available

17) The story of Chris Kerrebrock's death and body recovery

18) The body recovery continued

19) How Gerhard was able to dislodge Kerrebrock's body, and why he does not believe he could have been saved by Jim Wickwire

20) The risk involved in the body recovery attempt

21) The disappearance of Naomi Uemura on Denali

22) How the National Park Service dealt with the disappearance of Uemura

23) The search for Naomi Uemura continued

24) How rescues are dealt with when no acclimatized personnel are available

25) A winter plane crash that resulted in a lawsuit with the National Park Service

26) An attempted helicopter rescue which resulted in a lawsuit

27) Finally reaching the crash site after the weather cleared

28) Responsibilities of the National Park Service

29) His feelings about the rescue duties of the National Park Service

30) Development of educational programs at Denali

31) The establishment of a ranger station in Talkeetna

32) Establishing a presence in Talkeetna, the benefits of a station there, and the introduction of Bob Seibert

33) The decision not to move to Talkeetna, and the development of key issues over the years

34) The impact of the 14 Camp on expectations of rescues

35) Prevention of accidents is not predicted by experience

36) The benefits of working with the Park Service

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Section 1: Washington D.C.\ Gerhard -- father\ worker -- federal\ Gerhard -- parents\ Japan\ outdoors -- interest\ hiking\ skiing\ camping\ East Coast\ travel\ National Parks\ cave -- exploration\ high school\ college\ Colorado State University\ mountaineering\ Park Management\ Mt. Rainier National Park\ job -- climbing ranger\ Paradise Ranger Station\ Mt. Rainier -- South Side|

Section 2: Denali National Park\ McKinley National Park\ climbing ranger\ activity -- climbing\ Search and Rescue\ climbing -- recreational\ hiking\ camping\ Yosemite Wall\ summers -- busy\ Alaska\ Regional Director\ National Park Service\ Kuehn, Dan\ Brown, Gary|

Section 3: Seattle, WA\ Haines, AK\ ferry\ Alcan Highway\ Alaska -- move\ South District Station\ East District Ranger\ headquarters -- operations\ Park Rangers\ visitor -- protection\ mountaineering\ help -- seasonal\ Talkeetna, AK -- presence\ National Park Service\ season -- climbing\ bicentennial\ Denali -- climbing\ West Buttress\ Denali -- summit\ traverse\ Denali -- North Side|

Section 4: West Buttress\ Denali Pass\ weather -- storm\ Muldrow Glacier\ Denali -- summit\ traverse\ Alaska\ mosquitoes\ Wonder Lake\ trail system\ river -- crossings\ McKinley River -- crossing\ National Park Service -- personnel\ Denali -- climbing|

Section 5: National Park Service -- presence\ climbers -- numbers\ accidents\ management\ rescues -- cost\ rescues -- numbers\ deaths -- numbers\ Denali\ Mt. Foraker\ complexities\ day -- typical\ climbing\ garbage -- problem\ expeditions -- private\ cleanup\ climbing -- ethics\ caches\ gear\ community -- climbing\ ethics -- change\ education\ Muldrow Glacier|

Section 6: accidents -- numbers\ Denali\ weather\ climbers -- numbers\ deaths\ Denali -- summit\ bicentennial\ climbers -- foreign\ commitment -- strong\ climbing -- ethics\ climbing -- style\ Kahiltna Glacier\ basecamp\ pilots\ manager -- basecamp\ Randall, Francis\ weather reports\ National Park Service\ communications|

Section 7: 14 Camp\ Hackett, Peter\ Houston, Dr. Charles\ camp -- medical research\ fixture -- permanent\ basecamp\ contact -- radio\ West Buttress\ West Rib\ fixed lines -- maintenance\ services -- guiding|

Section 8: Genet, Ray\ guides\ services\ Rainier Mountaineering\ Fantasy Ridge\ Covington, Michael\ guiding -- increase\ climbers -- numbers\ National Park Service -- management\ climbs -- guided\ permit -- special use\ limits -- none\ management -- minimal\ management -- need|

Section 9: climbers -- numbers\ groups -- guided\ permit -- switch\ permit -- special use\ permit -- concession\ applications\ permits -- numbers\ guides -- traditional\ review -- process\ National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)\ Denali -- North Side\ guide -- service\ National Park Service\ ratio -- guide to client\ trips -- limit\ clients -- limit\ spacing|

Section 10: rescue -- activity\ comfort\ climbs -- guided\ groups -- private\ safety\ mountain -- problem\ resource -- people\ basecamp -- flights\ Sheldon, Don\ Hudson, Cliff\ Washburn, Bradford|

Section 11: National Park Service -- regulations\ climbers -- permission\ gear -- inspection\ Talkeetna, AK\ Mt. Rainier\ climbing -- approval\ climbers -- gear\ ice axes -- wood\ ice axes -- strength\ physical -- required\ climbers -- registration\ doctor -- exam\ radio -- two way\ requirements -- effectiveness\ requirements -- changes\ tools -- essential\ National Park Service -- responsibility|

Section 12: National Park Service\ regulations -- Federal Code\ regulations -- change\ situation -- help\ climbers -- registration\ Mt. McKinley\ Mt. Foraker\ altitude -- limit\ regulations -- requirement\ Big Brother\ community -- climbing\ regulations -- burdensome\ stipulations -- none|

Section 13: perspective -- regulatory\ irony\ guide service -- management\ control\ limits\ climbing -- regulation\ Denali\ rescues -- payment\ newspapers -- local\ study\ bonding\ insurance -- cost\ companies -- bonding\ feelings -- mixed\ government\ funds\ Coast Guard -- rescues\ funds -- use\ climbing -- fee|

Section 14: radios\ patrols -- few\ rangers -- seasonal\ Talkeetna, AK\ rescue -- call\ radio -- relay\ basecamp -- manager\ pilots\ assistance\ Denali -- South Face\ West Buttress\ helicopter\ problem -- mechanical\ 14 Camp\ involvement -- direct|

Section 15: rangers -- guarantee\ accident -- recovery\ rescue -- involvement\ communication -- radio\ communications -- quality\ radio -- CB\ airplane -- fly over\ contact -- establish\ helicopter -- rescue\ Talkeetna, AK\ helicopter -- altitude\ pilot -- capable\ pilot -- interest\ Denali\ climbers -- German\ West Buttress -- route\ helicopter -- Lama\ Alaska\ job -- contract\ group -- climbers\ bodies -- move\ altitude -- lower\ Okonek, Brian\ coroner -- state|

Section 16: National Park Service -- helicopter\ solution -- none\ bodies -- disposal\ Hood, Jim\ helicopter -- Lama\ technology -- age\ technology -- availability\ summit -- rescue\ helicopter -- Hiller 12E\ weather\ Rescue Ranger\ climbers -- numbers\ crisis\ Wickwire, Jim\ incident\ Kerrebrock, Chris\ Geeting, Doug -- pilot\ Mt. Foraker\ Peters Glacier\ Wickersham Wall\ radio -- line of sight|

Section 17: Geeting, Doug\ Wickwire, Jim\ partner -- dead\ crevasse -- fall\ body recovery\ helicopters -- availability\ site -- location\ Kahiltna Glacier\ Mt. Foraker\ pilot\ weather -- clouds\ trip -- aborted\ Talkeetna, AK\ accident -- story\ crevasses\ sled -- fall\ Kerrebrock, Chris -- death\ Kerrebrock -- parents|

Section 18: site -- location\ National Park Service -- policy\ safety\ parents -- choice\ body recovery\ group\ flight\ site -- landing\ helicopter\ crevasse -- narrow\ hatchet -- wooden\ ice axes\ ice\ tool -- size\ pulley system|

Section 19: Wickwire, James\ Talkeetna, AK\ Kerrebrock, Chris\ crevasses\ experience -- sobering\ crevasse -- width\ sled -- weight\ hatchet\ group -- size\ decisions\ rope -- short\ blame\ shoulder -- dislocated|

Section 20: area -- danger\ judgment\ risk\ glacier -- large\ avalanche -- debris\ routine\ altitude -- low\ body -- removal\ risk -- degree\ decisions -- critical\ rescue -- attempt\ body recovery\ rescue coordinator\ rangers -- seasonal\ climbers\ Search and Rescue\ climber -- Japanese\ hero -- national\ Uemura, Naomi\ climb -- winter\ climb -- solo\ climb -- winter\ disappearance\ adventurer -- famous\ National Geographic\ North Pole\ trip -- solo\ Denali\ press -- coverage\ birthday|

Section 21: pilot\ communication -- CB\ summit\ fatigue\ plans\ snow cave\ weather -- good\ pilots\ Geeting, Doug\ climbers -- visibility\ motion\ rocks\ feeling -- bad\ Uemura, Naomi -- missing\ interest -- level\ television crews -- Japanese\ Talkeetna, AK|

Section 22: helicopter -- contract\ pilots -- searching\ flying -- helicopter\ flying -- airplanes\ news crews -- Japanese\ mountain -- scope\ rescue -- feasibility\ climbers -- searching\ search -- suspended\ people -- Japanese\ disappearance\ climbing clubs -- Japanese\ expeditions\ high camp|

Section 23: search\ West Buttress\ camp -- 16,000 feet\ contract -- radio\ snow cave\ climb -- winter\ acclimatization\ rescue\ climbers\ oxygen -- bottled\ helicopter\ flying\ pilot\ ranger\ oxygen -- use|

Section 24: scenario\ acclimatization -- time\ situation -- rescue\ risk\ mountain\ helicopter\ airplane\ climbing party -- guided\ rescue\ evacuation -- ground based|

Section 25: airplane -- accident\ publicity\ lawsuit\ National Park Service -- capacity\ expectations\ responsibility\ staff -- none\ headquarters\ Denali\ altitude\ flight -- scenic\ passengers -- number\ pilots\ Talkeetna, AK\ helicopter -- capabilities\ helicopter -- Chinook\ Griffiths, Tom\ Mt. Foraker\ weather -- threatening\ cable -- hoist\ pararescue|

Section 26: flight -- stability\ Supercub -- turbulence\ conditions -- difficult\ wind -- downdraft\ Mt. McKinley\ helicopters -- stripped\ weight -- factor\ crew\ Griffiths, Tom\ packs\ landing -- impossible\ pass\ pilot -- control\ visibility -- survivors\ lawsuit\ equipment -- effectiveness\ weather -- break\ clouds\ storms\ airplane -- C130\ contact -- radio|

Section 27: weather -- terrible\ team -- ground\ climbers -- volunteer\ Talkeetna, AK\ Alaska Mountain Rescue\ Kahiltna Glacier\ group -- volunteer\ climbing\ flying\ helicopter\ weather -- clear\ Mt. Foraker\ survivors\ death\ frostbite\ pilot\ passengers\ tragedy|

Section 28: survivor\ estate\ law suit\ government\ National Park Service\ military\ judge -- decision\ negligence\ air drop -- survival gear\ trauma -- responsibility\ judge -- Federal District Court\ attorneys\ testimony\ emotions\ accident\ court room\ precedent\ litigation\ National Park Service -- presence\ case -- elements\ National Park Service -- rescues\ Organic Act\ act -- congressional|

Section 29: Coast Guard\ legislation -- enabling\ National Park Service\ lawyers\ rescues -- duty\ expectations\ Park Rangers -- responsibilities\ visitors -- protection\ radios -- portable\ National Park Service -- requirements|

Section 30: education -- activities\ development -- role\ climbers -- education\ rescue -- availability\ South District Ranger Station\ rangers -- seasonal\ Talkeetna, AK\ McKinley Park -- headquarters\ National Park Service -- presence\ Talkeetna Fire Department\ material -- educational|

Section 31: registration -- requirement\ booklet -- information\ climbers -- correspondence\ contact\ rangers\ Talkeetna Fire Department\ mobile home\ government surplus\ railroad -- tracks\ Talkeetna, AK\ Ranger Station\ living quarters\ office\ kitchen\ presence -- establishment\ station -- permanent\ cabin -- log\ helicopter\ contract system\ funding -- congressional\ rangers -- seasonal\ patrols\ capability -- limited\ Talkeetna, AK -- community\ credibility\ mountaineering -- community|

Section 32: Park Headquarters\ job -- supervision\ East District -- operations\ rescue -- coordination\ Talkeetna, AK\ contact -- radio\ change\ presence -- permanent\ school\ mountain rescue\ National Park Service\ Seibert, Bob\ job -- divided\ South Side\ East Side|

Section 33: Talkeetna, AK -- move\ family\ reasons\ decisions\ operations -- mountaineering\ National Park Service\ budget\ people -- numbers\ staffing -- plans\ work loads\ development -- observations\ recommendations\ period -- transition\ access\ climbers -- numbers\ carrying capacity\ National Parks -- wilderness\ values\ beliefs\ judgments\ Denali|

Section 34: 14 Camp\ camp -- research\ Hackett, Peter\ Houston, C.S.\ time -- limit\ problems -- assistance\ rescues -- capability\ rescues -- quantity\ lives -- saving\ deaths -- number\ fixtures -- permanent\ climbing -- ease\ scale -- comparison\ Mt. Rainier\ Mt. McKinley\ climbers\ Alaska\ Alaska Range\ differences -- size\ altitude\ weather -- temperature\ rescues\ similarities\ route -- basic|

Section 35: quest -- difficult\ respect\ Denali -- accidents\ people -- experience\ National Park Service\ equipment\ experience -- prevention\ climbers -- top\ people -- inexperienced\ success\ preparation -- mental\ respect -- healthy\ altitude -- factor\ climbers -- trouble\ Denali -- Everest\ North Pole\ atmosphere -- density\ Himalayas\ temperature\ hydration\ advice\ climbing\ rescues|

Section 36: satisfaction\ National Park Service\ people -- helping\ career\ Denali\ correspondence\ climbers -- world wide\ climbing -- community\ involvement\ job|