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Meet the Army Helicopter Crew That’s Helped Set Up Denali Basecamp for 4 Decades

Army Chinook
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Almost every year since the late ’80s, an Army unit loads up helicopters with gear to drop off on Denali. Their efforts help the National Park Service and climbers alike.

A company of CH-47F Chinook helicopters, known as the Sugar Bears of Fort Wainwright, helps haul gear and set up basecamps for the National Park Service. The rangers oversee the climbing season on Denali.

Last week, the Army reported that two helicopters ferried approximately 7,000 pounds of gear to the Kahiltna Glacier. This gear will be used to create two base camps on Denali. The drop-off includes medical supplies, camping equipment, and other necessities for the climbing season.

Meet the Sugar Bears Soldiers

Sugar Bears
Soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, also known as the Sugar Bears, pose for a group photo with National Park Service staff on Kahiltna Glacier; (photo/US Army, Eve Baker, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office)

“It helps these guys to be able to come to the park and train at altitude,” Ranger Joe Reichert said. “They do some stuff in the eastern Alaska [mountain range] group on Deborah, Hess, and Hayes, but then they can come here and go to 14,000 and 17,000 feet on Denali. So it’s kind of an exchange — they get their training, and we get some help every year,” continued Reichert.

Glacier Travel

Army Denali
A CH-47F Chinook helicopter parked on Kahiltna Glacier; (photo/U.S. Army, Eve Baker, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office)

The Sugar Bears have provided critical help and assistance to the National Park Service throughout the partnership. For example, in 2018, a sightseeing plane tragically crashed into a mountain near the vicinity of Denali, and the Sugar Bears were thankfully available to assist in the recovery mission.

CH-47F Chinook on Ruth Glacier, AK
The shadow of a CH-47F Chinook helicopter on Ruth Glacier as the soldiers return to Talkeetna; (US Army photo, Eve Baker, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office)

Presently, the crew is staged in Talkeetna and is flying into Denali National Park each day this week. “[Crews are] training at different altitudes with weights onboard to fine-tune our skills and performance planning for these helicopters,” said Mission Coordinator Chief Warrant Officer 4, Francois Collard.

Mountaineers on Denali

Denali base camp
Soldiers transporting gear for the National Park Service to a nearby mountaineering base camp; (photo/U.S. Army Eve Baker, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office)

The unit will remain in the area for the next few weeks and return in August 2022 to retrieve all the gear from the rangers.

The Sugar Bears’ decades-long relationship with the National Park Service in Alaska is beneficial to both units. Because of this, they will continue to work together as weather and funding allow.

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