Sarah Palin Doing Dangerous Feats of Outdoorsmanship! Not Hardly.
Reality television, as most Americans know, is often less than real, but it appears still good enough to fool folk in the Big Apple.
In a belated review of the TLC cable network television show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the New York Review of Books somehow buys into the trumped-up idea that Palin risked life and limb filming in Denali National Park and Preserve last summer.
“Palin, who is both narrator and star of the series, performs arduous and sometimes even dangerous feats of outdoorsmanship to demonstrate the conservative virtue of self reliance. In the episode in which she struggles for a foothold on a vertiginously steep glacier at the foot of Mt. McKinley in eerily beautiful and vast Denali National Park … ” writes Janet Malcolm.
“Eerily beautiful and vast Denali National Park”? Yes.
“Dangerous feats of outdoorsmanship”? Not hardly.
Palin faced greater danger crossing the streets of New York City.
The whole time she was crossing glaciers and climbing rock (not a “vertiginously steep glacier”) in Denali, she was under the watchful care of guides from the Alaska Mountaineering School in Talkeetna. AMS owner Colby Coombs can’t talk about the film because he signed a confidentiality agreement, as did almost everyone involved with the production of the Palin show in Alaska.
Everyone, that is, except government employees who are prohibited from signing confidentiality agreements. National Park Service rangers and other personnel who monitored the activities of Palin and her producers in the park say no one involved with “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” was ever in any danger.
It is probably worth noting here that “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” did try to get employees of the Park Service, which had to issue a permit for filming in Denali, to sign the confidentiallity agreements. But they said “no,” noting that federal regulations generally prohibit them from engaging in secret operations.
A federal solicitor eventually wrote show producers a letter explaining the laws that would be violated, including “The Endangered Species Act,” if federal employee were to sign such agreements. It is hard to tell from the Park Service documents, which Alaska Dispatch obtained under the Freedom of Information Act last year, whether the reference to the “endangered species” act was supposed to be a joke or not.
Park service employees who monitored Palin’s adventure in the Ruth Amphitheatre told Alaska Dispatch that she was roped for safety, both when climbing and when glacier hiking. It is possible to fall into a crevasse when hiking on an Alaska glacier, but it rarely happens when traveling with experts in glacial route-finding. Still, everyone is always roped. The rope is like a seatbelt. It protects glacier hikers in the event of an accident, though most of the accidents amount to less than a fender-bender. Someone sticks a leg through the snowbridge over a crevasse, pulls it out and keeps on hiking.
Alaska Mountaineering, which teaches glacier travel safety and crevasse rescue has never lost a client in a crevasse fall. So much for that part of “dangerous.”
As for the rest, an AMS guide had Palin safely top-roped so she couldn’t fall anywhere when she climbed some rock above the Ruth Glacier. She might, however, have faced some teensy-tiny danger there. She could have gotten bopped on the head by a rock. Sources have told Alaska Dispatch that since “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” was filmed, Coombs has admitted to a few friends that he regrets giving in to demands from film producers that Palin climb the rock sans helmet.
Helmets are standard safety gear when climbing rock because of the danger of falling objects, but a helmet would have mussed Palin’s hair and obscured her pretty and apparently terrified face, a part of the story Malcom did get right in her reviewing for what Palin likes to call “the Lamestream Media.”
As Malcolm observes,
Forty-five minutes later (as a subtitle tells us), [Palin] is still clinging to the rock, helpless to take the next step up. “That’s so much worse than I ever thought it would be,” she groans. Finally, through a great effort of will, she manages to heave herself up to the pinnacle. “I don’t think that I have been that scared or that challenged in a long time,” she says, and we believe her. The episode has a realism not often seen in reality TV , and absent from most of the other episodes …
“…Manages to heave herself to the pinnacle….” Hmm. There again, unfortunately, not exactly.