Four Chinooks and 19 Fort Wainwright soldiers were helping shuttle equipment for the National Parks Service for the base camp at 7,200 feet. On Monday, they did the same for the 14,200-foot high camp where park rangers will be stationed May through June for the peak climbing season.
Without the help of the CH-47 Chinooks and the soldiers from the Company B, 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation Regiment's high-altitude rescue team, the equipment would have to be brought up in smaller aircraft, expending more fuel and taking more time.
Instead, four Chinooks--considered the Army's workhorse, capable of carrying up to 50,000 pounds of cargo either by a sling or inside--took only a few days. It was written off as training in case the Park Service needs help with rescuing climbers off the highest mountain in North America.
For the past few years, the Park Service has handled the rescues themselves, but the Sugar Bears, as the company is nicknamed, have accounted for the highest rescues off Mount McKinley.
The highest occurred in 1995 when an Army Chinook carried three Park Service mountain rangers to 19,600 feet to rescue two Spanish climbers suffering from frostbite and altitude sickness.
"Anytime you can walk way from one of these helicopters at the end of the day and realize you made a difference, it's really great," said Boynton who participated in the last rescue the Army was involved with about four years ago.
Otherwise, the Park Service relies on the much smaller Lama helicopter to conduct rescues.
"This is a salmon and (the Lama) is a guppy," Roger Robinson, lead rescue ranger for the Denali National Park and Preserve said while riding in one of the Chinooks.
As of Wednesday morning, 950 people have registered with the Park Service to climb Mount McKinley and that's not including the guided trips, said Kris Fister, spokeswoman for the Denali National Park and Preserve.
Typically, there's a ranger and one to two volunteers at the base camp. Two rangers and between six and 10 volunteers man the camp at 14,200 feet and a high camp at 17,200 feet. Fister said four-person patrols will hike up from the base camp and spend around 20 days at the higher camps, depending on the weather.
Meanwhile, the base camp is the jumping off point for climbers and a stop for tourists on sight-seeing flights, mostly from Talkeetna, located at 330 feet above sea level about 50 miles away.
The base camp also has a dispatcher who controls radio communications for the flow of small airplanes carrying climbers and tourists seeking to catch a closer glimpse of Denali, or "the Great One" in Athabascan as it's known as to locals.
Robinson said he's seen as many as seven planes parked on the glacier at the same time and more than 150 people milling around.
"It was a mob scene," he said.
Robinson said about 95 percent of Denali's climbers come through the base camp to do the West Buttress route of ascent and 25 percent of the climbers come in the guided groups. The camp at 14,200 feet is often used by climbers to acclimate to the higher elevations.
Robinson said he expects more climbers from Europe this year. If so, it might break the record of just more than 1,300 people who will attempt to climb the highest peak in North America.