2011 Incidents

June 7, 2011 Gamow Bag

Three separate climbers, each of whom was suffering from severe altitude-related illness, were rescued using helicopter shorthaul technique from approximately 19,000 feet on Mt. McKinley on June 6.   read more...

A NPS Mountaineering Ranger and four patrol volunteers were descending from a summit of Mt. McKinley at 7:45 pm Monday night when they encountered an ataxic solo climber at 19,300 feet. As the patrol approached the subject, a 27-year old male climber was staggering and then collapsed due to altitude-related illness. The NPS patrol attempted to walk the climber down, however he was too ill to safely descend. At the time, the park's A-Star B3 helicopter was at the Kahiltna Basecamp having just completed flights related to a resource management project. After a high altitude reconnaissance flight, the pilot flew to the sick climber and an NPS Ranger secured the patient to the end of the shorthaul rope using a 'screamer suit' or fabric harness for the flight to the 14,200-foot camp.

While this rescue was in progress, a second individual, a 22 year old male, approached the NPS patrol and similarly collapsed due to altitude sickness. Again, the patient, who was also travelling solo, was non-ambulatory. The A-Star B3 helicopter returned to 19,300 feet and shorthauled the second patient to 14,200-foot camp using the screamer suit. Once at the camp, the helicopter landed and internally loaded the two patients for evacuation to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet.

Meanwhile, the Ranger patrol members had continued their descent only to encounter a third non-ambulatory, semi-conscious climber at 18,700 feet. The subject, a 20 year old male was a member of the same original expedition as the previous patient, though was travelling solo when found. After a rapid medical assessment, it was again determined that a helicopter rescue was necessary. The helicopter returned to 18,700-feet for the third rescue at about 10:40 pm, then shorthauled the patient to 14,200-feet, internally loaded him, and then flew him to the Kahiltna Basecamp.

The Ranger patrol descended to the 17,200-foot camp without further incident. Two of the three patients were transported to an area hospital via LifeMed air ambulance. The third patient refused further medical treatment and was released from care at Basecamp.  <<Collapse text>>

May 27, 2011

A fatal climbing fall at Denali Pass on Mt. McKinley took the lives of two mountaineers late Wednesday night May 25. The other two other members of their team were flown to area hospitals with critical injuries.   read more...

The fall was unwitnessed, however shortly after 11:00 pm, members of an NPS ranger patrol at the 17,200-foot high camp spotted the four-person rope team about a thousand feet below the trail from Denali Pass, and then immediately heard a shout for help. The NPS organized a hasty team consisting of Air National Guard pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron to respond to the fallen climbers. They confirmed that two subjects, a 34 year old female, and a 45 year old male had died in the fall.

The other two injured climbers were placed in rescue litters and lowered to the 17,200-foot high camp for emergency medical treatment. The first patient, a 31 year old male was responsive and in stable condition with a broken leg and head injury. The second patient, a 30 year old male was non-responsive with labored breathing; the medics at high camp worked throughout the night to maintain the patient's airway.

At 4:15 am on Thursday May 26, Denali National Park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter flew to the 17,200-foot high camp and evacuated each patient separately. They were flown to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp to two awaiting LifeMed air ambulances.  <<Collapse text>>

May 25, 2011

Two overdue climbers on Mt. Frances were confirmed dead after Denali National Park mountaineering rangers located their remains in avalanche debris near the base of the 10,450-foot peak. A 33 year old male and a 28 year old male were attempting a new route on the west face of Mt. Frances, a commonly climbed technical peak just north of the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp, when the avalanche occurred.   read more...

The two men were last seen at the Kahiltna Basecamp on May 21. When they had not returned to their campsite by May 23, NPS rangers skied to the western face with a spotting scope, but did not observe the two climbers. On the morning of Tuesday, May 24, mountaineering rangers on board the park's contracted A-Star B3 helicopter did an aerial search of the peak and identified one body lying in avalanche debris, with a partially buried rope attached. Rangers flew back to the debris zone early Wednesday morning May 25 when the colder morning temperatures created a safer recovery operation. Rangers were able to locate and recover the bodies of both men using helicopter shorthaul technique.  <<Collapse text>>

May 12, 2011

Denali National Park and Preserve mountaineering rangers launched a rescue effort the morning of Thursday, May 12 for two members of a guided expedition. A four-person rope team, including one guide and three clients, fell while descending from the summit ridge of Mt. McKinley very late on Wednesday or early Thursday.   read more...

One of the clients suffered a broken leg in the fall. The guide sent the two uninjured climbers down to the 17,200-foot camp while attending to the injured client. The guide was able to move the injured client down to a flat expanse at 19,500-feet known as the Football Field and secured the individual in a bivy sack, or light sleeping bag. The guide then continued down alone, arriving at the 17,200-foot camp, or 'high camp', at approximately 3:45 am. Another team at the 17,200-foot camp used a satellite phone to call 911 for assistance. They then tended to the guide who had frostbitten hands and feet, as well as a suspected broken rib incurred during another fall near 18,000 feet.

At the time the guide arrived in camp, the two ambulatory clients had not yet returned from their descent. One of these two clients was spotted several hours later descending the lower portion of the slope known as the Autobahn. Members of the team at the 17,200-foot camp went out and assisted the client, who also had frostbitten hands and feet, back to camp. The remaining client was last seen near Zebra Rocks at 18,300 feet, just above Denali Pass.

At 8:00 am, at the request of the National Park Service, the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard launched a HC-130 aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron in an effort to spot the injured and missing climbers. By mid-morning, two pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron personnel on board the HC-130 spotted the client with the broken leg at 19,500-feet. The individual was observed waving to the aircraft. The other client that was last seen at 18,300 feet was possibly spotted above Denali Pass, although the pararescuemen were unable to confirm movement or verify it was the client in question.

Skies were clear up high on Denali on Thursday, although wind was gusting to 70 mph and temperatures were hovering at 25 to 35 below zero Celsius at 17,200 feet. Denali National Park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter departed Talkeetna at 10:45 am for the Kahiltna Basecamp to stage for a rescue once winds subsided.

While waiting for the high elevation winds to calm, the A-Star B3 helicopter with NPS rangers on board evacuated a different guided client who had been treated for frostbite at the 14,200-foot medical tent. This client, a member of the same expedition as the climbers involved in the fall near the summit ridge, had descended with another guide earlier in the day on Wednesday due to symptoms of frostbite.

At 5:00 pm that evening the winds subsided and both the HC-130 aircraft and the NPS helicopter were able to make a reconnaissance flight up high on the mountain. The helicopter pilot and an NPS ranger verified the location and status of the injured climber at 19,500-feet, and for the first time rescue personnel were able to confirm the location of the second climber above 18,000 feet.

The Park A-Star B3 helicopter pilot returned to the climber at 19,500 feet. The injured client was able to climb into the basket as the helicopter hovered overhead. Once the patient was secure in the basket, the helicopter flew down to the Kahiltna Basecamp to an awaiting LifeMed air ambulance for transport to Anchorage.

Next, the A-Star B3 helicopter returned to the site of the climber near 18,000 feet, this time with a NPS mountaineering ranger on the end of the 125-foot shorthaul line. The helicopter pilot hovered while NPS Ranger set down adjacent to the climber and buckled him into a canvas sling known as a 'screamer suit'. The climber was flown on the end of the shorthaul line to the Kahiltna Basecamp. The patient showed no obvious signs of life during the shorthaul flight. The patient was transferred to a CH-47 'Chinook' helicopter from the 52nd Aviation Regiment out of Ft. Wainwright for a more thorough medical assessment. Two NPS ranger medics, also on board the CH-47, confirmed that the climber had died. The cause of death is unknown at this time.

The two remaining injured climbers were evacuated from the 17,200-foot high camp on Mt. McKinley in the afternoon of Friday, May 13. Both climbers suffered from frostbite to the hands and feet after a night spent at high elevation in cold temperatures and gusty winds.  <<Collapse text>>

May 16, 2011

Mountaineers at the 17,200-foot high camp on Mt. McKinley witnessed a climber fall from Denali Pass near 18,000 feet at approximately 10:00 am on Monday, May 16.   read more...

A NPS mountaineering ranger and three patrol members responded to the fallen climber and confirmed that a 67 year old male had died of traumatic injuries sustained in the 1,000-foot fall. At the time he fell, the subject was beginning the traverse from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp along a 45-degree slope of hard, windblown snowpack. He was travelling ahead of his two teammates and was unroped at the time of the fall.

Weather at the time of the accident was clear with relatively calm winds. The subject's body was transported to the 17,200-foot high camp, for recovery.  <<Collapse text>>

April 29, 2011

An avalanche claimed the life of a climber near the Ruth Gorge during the early morning hours of Thursday, April 28. Two climbing parties were camped overnight on the 'Root Canal', a glacier landing strip and camping area that lies directly south of the commonly climbed 10,300-foot peak known as the Moose's Tooth.   read more...

A large serac, or column of ice, at the eastern end of the glacier collapsed at approximately 1:00 a.m. Thursday, shedding ice and snow onto the camp below. One male climber was fatally injured by the falling ice. The four surviving climbers attended to the injured climber, who was found unconscious and barely breathing immediately after the ice fall. One of the climbers called 911 via satellite phone, and National Park Service rangers were immediately notified. Weather and darkness prevented a night time rescue using military aircraft, so just after daybreak, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Denali National Park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and two NPS mountaineering rangers launched out of Talkeetna en route to the accident site. Upon arrival at the scene, rangers immediately loaded the injured climber into the helicopter for transportation to an Aeromed air ambulance from Anchorage that was staged at Mile 133 on the Parks Highway, near the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. During the flight the ranger/paramedic determined that the climber had died from his injuries. This was confirmed when the helicopter rendezvoused with the air ambulance. The NPS helicopter flew the climber's remains back to Talkeetna, and then returned to the accident site to evacuate the surviving climbers, all of whom were uninjured but had lost their climbing gear, tents, and a pair of boots in the avalanche.  <<Collapse text>>