Rescue Effort Underway on Mt. McKinley
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
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.
Although many details are unavailable at this time, what is known is that 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 secure 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 uninjured 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 uninjured 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.
Plans are currently being formulated for an evening rescue mission involving NPS and military aircraft, weather conditions permitting. The National Weather Service forecasts winds to subside Thursday evening. As of today, there were 275 climbers on Mt. McKinley, the majority of which are climbing the West Buttress route.
Did You Know?
Warmer average temperatures over several decades have resulted in expansion of woody vegetation. If this warming trend continues, it will change Alaska's ecosystems and drastically alter the physical appearance of Denali's landscape, as treeline marches higher up the mountains.