2019 Search and Rescue Summary
(March 11) A private climbing team ran out of food and fuel during a winter expedition on Denali’s West Buttress. Nearing the completion of their 26-day climbing trip, a large weather system moved over the mountain range and the climbers depleted their 5-day base camp cache of supplies waiting for a flight. These two climbers notified their local air service of their depleted supplies and requested assistance. The NPS prepared multiple contingencies to rescue these climbers by both air and ground during the ensuing days. A predicted break in the weather on day 8 of the storm allowed the air service to retrieve the team and negate the need for any further NPS involvement.
Fall While Snowboarding
(May 8) A male climber fell while descending Windy Corner on a snowboard at approximately 13,500 feet. The climber lost an edge and was unable to arrest his fall before sliding into an open crevasse. The climber fractured multiple ribs when he landed at the bottom of the crevasse. He was unable to self-rescue due to significant pain from his injuries. This climbing team alerted the NPS rangers in Talkeetna of this incident and were in regular contact during the remainder of this extended rescue. Due to adverse weather and winds at the accident location, the climber and his partner sheltered in place for 5 days until NPS ground personnel were able to reach them and ultimately rescue them via helicopter short-haul.
Fall While Climbing
(May 10) A male climber injured both of his knees during a fall on Denali’s West Buttress at 15,200 feet. This solo climber was able to crawl back down to 14,200-foot camp and notified NPS personnel lower on the mountain by radio of his need for a rescue. This climber also developed frostbite injuries to his fingers while crawling back to camp. Another climbing team in camp was able to assist this injured climber until he could be flown off the mountain three days later when the weather cleared.
Fall While Skiing
Above 14,200-foot Camp
(May 20) A male climber fell while skiing above 14,200-foot camp. This climber was assessed and treated for a suspected dislocated right hip by NPS rescuers. The patient was transported by NPS personnel in a rescue toboggan back to camp. After further assessment and with consultation with medical direction, NPS rangers determined that this climber should be flown to definitive care for dislocation reduction.
(May 20) A male climber was evacuated by helicopter following a deterioration in his condition. The patient was evaluated multiple times by NPS medical personnel over the course of a day for complaints originating in his abdomen. This patient’s nausea and anorexia progressed to bloody vomiting and intense pain. The climber was evacuated by air for further evaluation at a local hospital.
(May 22) A female climber unexpectedly collapsed while ascending toward 7,800-foot camp. NPS rescuers assessed, treated and evacuated the patient to base camp via helicopter. Her vitals began to stabilized and the NPS personnel then accompanied the patient via fixed wing aircraft to Talkeetna. Once in town, the patient was transferred to a local ambulance and taken to the hospital for further treatment.
Upper West Rib
(May 25) A solo male climber was treated and evacuated for severe frostbite injuries to his fingers and hands. This climber ascended and descended the Upper West Rib over the course of roughly 22 hours. Upon returning to 14,200-foot camp, he noticed that he had injured his hands and sought help. He was assessed and evacuated by air with NPS personnel.
Avalanche, Fall while Skiing
(May 28) A male climber fell 700 meters after triggering an avalanche on Kahiltna Queen. This climber was descending the peak on skis and was caught in a slide that he triggered. Air and ground NPS rescuers assessed and treated this patient on scene. The NPS rangers suspected upper spinal injuries and the patient was flown to Talkeetna for further care. Fractures of two cervical vertebrae were later confirmed by x-ray at the hospital.
(May 29) A male climber left for Denali’s summit solo with no food or water and minimal survival equipment. This patient was rescued by a guided party and NPS personnel after falling repeatedly on the Autobahn slope above 17,200-foot camp. The NPS team assessed and assisted this climber throughout the following night before helping the climber to descend to 14,200-foot camp the next day.
(June 6) A male climber was rescued and evacuated from 17,200-foot camp with deep frostbite to most of his toes and fingers. This patient had to be lowered from Denali Pass due to the severity of his injuries. He was then evacuated from camp by helicopter due to his inability to safely descend on his frostbitten feet.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
(June 10) A female climber suffering from HAPE was evacuated by air from 14,200-foot camp. NPS ranger assessed and treated the patient until the helicopter to retrieve the patient and transport her for further care at a local hospital.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
(June 14) A male climber and his two climbing partners left late in the afternoon for a summit attempt from 17,200-foot camp. When one of the climbers began to exhibit signs of severe altitude sickness, the group split up. During descent, the ill climber became nauseated and had difficulty walking. Another private climbing team helped the patient back to camp. This climbing team was in regular contact with NPS rangers at 14,200-foot camp and took care of the patient for the next 18 hours. Weather prevented NPS rescuers from ascending safely to high camp until late the following evening. Once on scene, NPS rangers evaluated the patient, confirmed the HACE diagnosis and called for a helicopter evacuation given the improving weather trend.
Fall in Camp
(June 17) A guided female climber injured her right knee after slipping and falling in the group kitchen. This climber had previously injured this knee and assessment by NPS medical providers confirmed an unusable knee injury. Without the possibility of bearing weight, the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna by helicopter from 11,200-foot camp and then taken by ground to a local clinic.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
(June 17) A guided male climber was evacuated from 14,200-foot camp by helicopter. This climber was treated for HAPE for two days by NPS personnel without improvement. At that point, it was decided to evacuate this climber when he was unable to spend any time off of supplemental oxygen.
(June 18) Two male climbers attempting to climb Denali’s West Buttress from Anchorage on foot became lost and ran out of food. The climbers were located and rescued after two days of coordinated searching by both local air taxis and NPS rangers near the Hidden Glacier.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
(June 22) A male climber on a guided expedition began to suffer from acute mountain sickness at 14,200-foot camp. He and his guides requested NPS assistance. After a full night of treatment in the medical tent, the patient failed to improve and could spend minimal time off of oxygen. This patient was flown off the mountain the next day with another patient who was also being evacuated from 17,200-foot camp.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
(June 22) A team of five climbers began calling for help over the radio late in the evening. This team had ascended to the Football Field at 19,500 feet when one of their teammates became ill. The team reported that their sick teammate was unable to continue descent. With medical guidance over the radio from NPS rangers and help from a guided group in the vicinity, the group was able to slowly descend. The patient was helped down from Denali Pass to 17,200-foot camp by ascending NPS rescuers and then treated in high camp throughout the night. With minimal improvement by morning, the call was made to evacuate this patient by helicopter for further care.
~Compiled by Mountaineering Ranger-Paramedic David Weber