News Release

Rangers Respond to Multiple High Altitude Rescues on Denali

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Date: May 29, 2024
Contact: Paul Ollig, 907-683-9531

Denali National Park and Preserve mountaineering rangers received an SOS message from a team of three climbers on the 20,310-foot summit of Denali at 1:00 am on Tuesday morning, May 28. The message, sent via an InReach satellite communication device, indicated the team was hypothermic and unable to descend the mountain.

Rangers maintained two-way communications with the team until approximately 3:30 am, when the team texted that they planned to descend to the ‘Football Field’, a flat expanse at 19,600-foot elevation. Rangers did not hear back from the team after that transmission, nor did the location of the device change.

Variable cloud cover on Tuesday morning prevented the park's high-altitude helicopter from reaching the mountain from Talkeetna, resulting in rangers contacting the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) for assistance. At 10:00 am Tuesday, the Alaska Air National Guard launched an HC-130J Combat King II from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska to attempt to locate the climbing team.

The Alaska Air National Guard Pararescuemen on board the HC-130 spotted two of the three climbers between 19,000 and 20,000 feet shortly before noon on Tuesday. The third climber was located by a climbing guide near Zebra Rocks at 18,600 feet. Although winds were relatively calm on Tuesday, several stagnant cloud layers prevented the park’s high-altitude helicopter from reaching the climbers safely.

At 5:00 pm Tuesday evening, the park helicopter pilot and a mountaineering ranger took advantage of a clearing trend and made a second flight attempt of the day to the upper mountain. Although Denali’s summit was in clouds, the helicopter was able to reach the 14,200-foot camp.

In an unrelated incident, the NPS mountaineering patrol based at 14,200 feet had been treating a team of two climbers with frostbite injuries at the camp’s medical tent for multiple days. When the NPS helicopter was able to reach that camp Tuesday evening, they evacuated the two frostbite victims to Talkeetna. The more severely injured patient was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance for advanced care.

Around 9:00 pm, the park helicopter pilot and ranger attendant made their third attempt of the day to reach the distressed climbers on the upper mountain. By that point, one of the three climbers had made their way down to the 17,200-foot high camp with severe frostbite and hypothermia. A guided party initially assisted the patient until transferring care to an NPS ground team who had ascended to high camp from 14,200-feet to support the rescue effort.

At 10:15 pm, the park helicopter pilot flew to the 17,200-foot camp, picked up the ailing patient, then flew to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp to refuel. As clouds began to build up again on the upper mountain, the park helicopter and rescue crew returned to Talkeetna with the one critical patient and transferred care to a LifeMed helicopter.

Meanwhile, an experienced expedition guide on the upper mountain had diverted significant time to assist and provide care to the two non-ambulatory climbers at the Football Field (19,600 feet). However, when the clouds moved back in late Tuesday night, the guide was forced to return to the 17,200-foot high camp for his own safety and for the safety of his team.

As of Wednesday morning, rescuers are waiting for clouds and windy conditions to dissipate on the upper mountain before either a ground team or aviation resources can safely return to the Football Field to rescue the two remaining climbers.

Memorial Day weekend is the start of the busiest two weeks of the Denali mountaineering season. As of Wednesday morning, there are 506 climbers attempting climbs on Denali. So far this season, an additional 117 climbers have come and gone, 17 of whom reached the mountain’s summit, equating to a 15% summit rate.

Last updated: May 29, 2024

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Denali Park, AK 99755


907 683-9532
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