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Contact: Maureen Gualtieri, 907.733.9103A long awaited window of favorable weather in the Alaska Range means more climbing teams are on the move. Denali National Park mountaineering rangers responded to two different mountaineering rescues earlier this week, both with successful outcomes thanks to the self-sufficiency of the climbing parties rescued; the use of satellite communication technology; and dynamic teamwork on behalf of mountaineering rangers, NPS volunteers, and mountain guides.
First, on Sunday, May 20, a party of two was hit by falling rock and ice debris while rappelling the Mini-Moonflower climbing route, located on a sub-peak of Mount Hunter. The team alerted the NPS via their InReach device, which permitted two-way communication between the rescue personnel and the team. Despite the fact that one of the climbers suffered a broken upper arm and significant lacerations, the pair was able to descend to the base of the route on their own. The injured climber was evacuated from a nearby landing zone via helicopter to Talkeetna and transferred to a ground ambulance for further care.
In the second rescue, a party of two was ascending the West Buttress route on Denali when they fell off the narrow ridge near 16,500 feet down toward the Peters Glacier. The team was roped together, however they were not using any snow anchors. The initial fall was witnessed and reported to the NPS by a guided party, who described seeing one of the two climbers attempting to self-arrest during the fall. Soon thereafter, when the climbers’ fall came to a stop, they activated their own Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), which relayed their location to the Rescue Coordination Center who alerted the NPS. The climbing team fell a distance of approximately 1,000-feet, stopping in a large crevasse on the Peters Glacier, out of sight from the ridge above.
An NPS ranger patrol in the vicinity of the accident responded to the site of the fall, however visibility soon deteriorated and winds picked up. The patrol returned to the 14,200-foot camp to gather a larger rescue team and technical rescue equipment. An aerial reconnaissance flight that evening was turned around due to high winds on the ridge.
Before sunrise on May 21, as the first rescue team was preparing to depart from the 14,200-foot camp, one of the two fallen climbers stumbled into camp on an injured knee. He reported that his female partner was injured and non-ambulatory, but alert and stable at approximately 15,800 feet on the Peters Glacier.
Several ground crews comprised of rangers, volunteers, and mountain guides ascended the fixed lines to the ridge, with the first team then descending to her location in the crevasse on the Peters Glacier. In coordination with rescue personnel on scene, the NPS helicopter pilot flew to the site with a short-haul line and a rescue harness. As weather began to deteriorate, the rangers on scene performed a medical assessment while rigging her for the short-haul flight to the 14,200-foot camp. There she was further assessed and loaded in the helicopter for evacuation to Talkeetna, where she was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance for treatment of significant spinal injuries.
Her two climbing partners, one with a knee injury, were evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp on Tuesday, May 22.
For current mountain statistics, ranger operations, mountain weather, and climbing conditions in the Alaska Range, read the Denali Dispatches blog.