2010 Incidents

July 8, 2010 Helicopter

A 25-year-old solo climber was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp on Mt. McKinley on July 7 after his erratic behavior and alarming statements revealed signs of mental illness with a likelihood of causing serious harm to himself or others.   read more...

Prior to flying to the Kahiltna Basecamp, the solo climber told a Talkeetna resident that he intended to paraglide from the summit, an activity prohibited by federal regulation in Denali National Park. When NPS staff members in Talkeetna were informed of this, rangers confronted the individual who signed an affidavit saying that he would not bring his paragliding equipment on the mountain. After he began his ascent of the West Buttress on June 28, other climbing parties on the route made numerous reports to rangers that the soloist demonstrated unsafe glacier travel, a lack of appropriate gear, improper disposal of human waste, littering, and unusual inter-personal interactions.

When he reached the 14,200-foot camp, Denali mountaineering volunteers and rangers evaluated the climber. He was cold, wet, and in distress. While treating the man for hypothermia, rangers discovered paragliding equipment in his sled. The paraglider was seized, at which time the individual's behavior and language grew increasingly unusual and erratic. Two NPS volunteer medical professionals at the camp consulted over a 24-hour period by telephone with the park's medical director in Anchorage about their patient observations. A determination was made that the patient's behavior and condition presented a potential risk to his life and others.

Under provisions of Alaska State law, a 72-hour protective custody order was prepared by the medical director in Anchorage. It was deemed unsafe to transport a mentally unstable person within the small confined cabin of the park's high altitude helicopter. Denali staff requested military assistance through Alaska's Rescue Coordination Center. Two Army Chinook CH 47 helicopters from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Ft. Wainwright responded to Talkeetna on the morning of July 7 and transported two Denali law enforcement rangers to the 14,200-foot camp.

The Chinook landed early in the afternoon. The individual was placed in the aircraft and flown directly back to Ft. Wainwright. Alaska State Troopers assisted the park by taking custody of the individual on the ground and transporting him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.  <<Collapse text>>

June 8, 2010

A 27-year-old mountaineer was killed in a fall while climbing the Cassin Ridge of Mt. McKinley in the early afternoon of Monday, June 7. The subject was leading a highly technical section of the route known as the Japanese Couloir when his anchor appeared to fail and he fell 100 feet in rocky terrain.   read more...

The climber fell to the approximate elevation of his partner, age 24, who was positioned below him. The partner was not injured, and after confirming that his friend had died in the fall, he used his satellite phone to call Denali National Park rescue personnel.

A climbing ranger was flown in the park helicopter to the accident location at the 13,000-foot level to assess the terrain for a possible shorthaul rescue, although fog and clouds moved in before a rescue could be performed.  <<Collapse text>>

May 31, 2010

Two climbers were killed in an avalanche in the Ruth Gorge of Denali National Park and Preserve the afternoon of Saturday, May 29. Two males, age 39 and 42, were descending a steep snow and ice gully wedged between Werewolf Tower and London Tower on the southeast side of the Gorge when the avalanche occurred.   read more...

Another climbing party in the Ruth Gorge witnessed the avalanche. Aware that a team had been climbing in the vicinity and had not returned to their camp, they skied closer to investigate and observed what appeared to be two climbers and gear in the avalanche debris. The witnessing party used a satellite phone to call National Park Service mountaineering rangers at 9:00 p.m. Saturday night. The Talkeetna-based NPS helicopter with two rangers on board flew to the Ruth Gorge and picked up one of the witnesses who directed them to the debris site. Shortly before 11:00 p.m., NPS rangers confirmed that the two men had died in the fall. Due to the late hour, the helicopter and crew returned to Talkeetna. Both bodies were recovered on Sunday morning.  <<Collapse text>>

May 27, 2010

A 40 year old male climber was evacuated from the West Rib route of Mt. McKinley on Thursday afternoon, May 27. The climber reportedly fell 1,000 feet while solo climbing the technically challenging West Rib route the evening of May 26. Unable to safely ascend or descend from his elevation at 14,000 feet due to an injured shoulder and a loss of gear, he radioed for assistance the following morning.   read more...

At midday, the park's A-Star B3 helicopter flew to the site with a Denali mountaineering ranger on board. Unable to find a suitable landing zone, the helicopter pilot performed what is known as a 'toe-in' landing maneuver (a stabilized hover technique in which only the tips of the skids touch down on the snow). The climber was swiftly evacuated to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet where he was examined by an NPS volunteer physician, then flown to Talkeetna in a fixed wing aircraft and released from NPS care.

Three additional air evacuations occurred earlier in the week. On the night of May 20, NPS rangers treated a guided client for high altitude pulmonary edema at the 17,200-foot camp. The following day, rangers assisted the patient down to the 14,200-foot camp, from where he was evacuated on May 22 when his condition did not sufficiently improve. On May 24, a non-ambulatory climber suffering from severe altitude illness was treated and evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp. His symptoms quickly resolved once he reached Talkeetna. Lastly, a climber experiencing acute pain and illness related to a kidney stone was evacuated from the 7,800-foot camp on the West Buttress on Wednesday evening May 26. The park helicopter transported him back to Talkeetna and transferred him to a ground ambulance for further medical care at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.  <<Collapse text>>

May 17, 2010

A mountaineer fell to his death while climbing Mt. McKinley on Sunday, May 16. The subject, a 51 year old male, and his partner were approaching a feature at the top of Motorcycle Hill known as 'Lunch Rocks' near 12,000 feet on the West Buttress when he lost control of his sled. In an attempt to stop it from sliding over the ridge, both the climber and his sled tumbled towards the Peters Glacier. The subject, who was unroped at the time, was unable to self-arrest and ultimately fell over 1,000 feet to a steep, crevassed section of the Peters Glacier.   read more...

A nearby team witnessed the fall and made a radio distress call shortly after 3:00 p.m. to the Denali National Park rangers. At the time of the notification, the park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter was at the 14,200-foot camp on a re-supply flight. Within five minutes, the helicopter flew to the accident site with two mountaineering rangers on board as spotters. They saw several pieces of fallen gear, and then followed the fall line down to what appeared to be the climber lying in a crevasse at approximately 10,200 feet.

As the steep terrain at the fall site offered no feasible landing areas, the helicopter and crew flew back to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet. After a two-man communications team was inserted at the top of the Peters Glacier, the A-Star B3 helicopter then returned to the crevasse site with a NPS mountaineering ranger on the end of a 'short-haul' line. The helicopter pilot lowered the NPS ranger into the crevasse a distance of approximately 20 feet. However, the ranger could not safely reach the climber who was lying an additional 20 feet down in the crevasse; but it was readily determined that the climber had not survived the long fall. The helicopter returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp.

This accident represents the park's first known fatality in this area of the route. The terrain where the fall started features smooth, compact snow and a slope of roughly 20 degrees, but it quickly drops to a crevasse-ridden, 40 to 50 degree slope  <<Collapse text>>