Military Assists in Climber Evacuation
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 773-9103
A 25-year-old solo climber from Pennsylvania 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.
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, who 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.
NPS personnel at the camp had the individual strapped and secured on a backboard when the single 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.
Did You Know?
Denali is home to both black bears and grizzly (brown) bears. Black bears inhabit the forested areas of the park, while grizzly bears mainly live on the open tundra. Almost all bears seen by visitors along the Park Road are grizzlies.