By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Climbing Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak, will be costlier next year under a rule issued on Wednesday by the National Park Service.
Fees for climbers who tackle 20,320-foot Mount McKinley will be $350, up from the current $200, under the rule adopted for Alaska's Denali National Park.
The same fee will apply to nearby Mount Foraker, a 17,400-foot peak that attracts far fewer climbers but is considered more difficult. Climbers 24 years old and younger will have to pay only $250 under the new rule.
The fees fund the park's mountaineering program, which provides ranger patrols, climber-safety education, crowd management during the three-month climbing season and rescues and body recoveries.
A total of 1,203 climbers attempted McKinley this year, and 14 climbed Foraker, the Park Service reported.
Fifty-three percent of those attempting McKinley reached its summit, while only two reached Foraker's summit. Eight climbers died this year in Denali National Park, five of them on McKinley.
Some climbers argued that the increased fee -- and fees in general -- are antithetical to the freedom they seek in the mountains.
Any climber that pays the increased fee to ascend McKinley or Foraker should be branded a "disgrace to the history of mountain climbing," the head of a small Alaska climbing club said on his website this summer, during the period when the Park Service was weighing public comments on the fee increase.
"Those regulations do nothing to actually protect the climbers or the environment. They destroy climbing freedom, and create paperwork excuses for Park rangers to arrest and fine more climbers, to get yet more money for the government," Doug Buchanan of the Fairbanks-based Alaskan Alpine Club said in his essay.
Others said fees and occasional increases were unavoidable.
"It's not a shocker," said Gordon Janow, director of programs for Alpine Ascents International, a Seattle-based guiding company that operates in Denali National Park.
While he would have preferred a smaller increase, "I think most of the people preparing a trip to Denali are going to continue," he said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)