Climber Suffers Fatal Fall on the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
A French mountaineer fell to his death while climbing Mt. McKinley on Sunday, May 16. Pascal Frison, age 51, 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 Frison 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. Frison, 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.
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 NPS mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright on the end of a ‘short-haul’ line, i.e. hanging beneath the helicopter at the end of a 120-foot rope. Helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky lowered Wright into the crevasse a distance of approximately 20 feet. Wright could not safely reach the climber who was lying an additional 20 feet down in the crevasse; however Wright readily determined that the climber had not survived the long fall. Hermansky and Wright returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp. NPS rangers will return to the site today for further reconnaissance and to determine if a body recovery is an option.
Frison’s 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.
Did You Know?
Recent climate warming has affected Denali in ways that are readily apparent, such as reduced spring snowfall, earlier snowmelt, earlier green-up and thawing of permanent snowfields. Subarctic ecosystems, like Denali, are extremely sensitive to climate variability and change.