The Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award program began in 1998 as a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI).
The program honors members of the Denali climbing community who exhibit the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, Leave No Trace ethics, and assisting fellow mountaineers. Throughout each climbing season, Denali mountaineering rangers recognize climbers with a Denali Pro lapel pin for exemplary expedition behavior, such as protecting the mountain environment, assisting fellow climbers, and using good judgment to limit or eliminate injury.
At the end of each season, mountaineering rangers collectively select a Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award winner from the pin recipients. The name of the annual winner, or winners in the event a team is selected, is added to the award plaque on display near the front desk of the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station.
Originally known as the Denali Pro Award, the name of the recognition program now honors the memory of mountaineers John Mislow and Andrew Swanson won the award for exemplary climbing ethics during the 2000 climbing season. The two men tragically died in a climbing fall on the West Rib in 2009.
The Mislow and Swanson families worked with Denali National Park to create a special donation account to honor the men and to ensure the continuation of highly valued program far into the future.
Denali mountaineering rangers selected Brian Muller and Fischer Hazen as the recipients of the 2018 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. Muller and Hazen were on Denali during the spring of 2018 working as expedition guides for Mountain Trip, one of the mountain guide concessions for Denali National Park and Preserve. Mountain guides, given their medical and rescue expertise, are frequently called on to help other climbers while working on the mountain. These two guides exemplified the spirit of this award when attempting to rescue two climbers that fell from 16,500 feet on Denali’s West Buttress.
Following a long acclimatization climb from the 14,200-foot camp with their climbing team, Muller and Hazen witnessed a two-person rope team fall along the 16,000-foot ridge and disappear down to the Peters Glacier. The guides immediately notified the National Park Service and started a lowering operation in the direction of the fallen climbers. Because of poor visibility, they were unable to locate the climbers, but were able to direct an NPS ranger team towards the most likely spot were the climbers could be located. After several hours and increasingly severe winds and poor visibility, the search was suspended for the day. Even though they were involved in the search, Muller and Hazen remained focused on keeping their climbing team safe and warm during the incident.
The following morning, multiple rescue strategies were initiated due to variable weather conditions and the unknown location and condition of the one severely injured and incapacitated climber (the partner had managed to self-rescue and return to camp that morning.) Muller and Hazen’s efforts were critical to the primary ground rescue mission – not only did they volunteer to carry the extremely heavy rescue loads back up to the ridge, they were prepared to help in a lengthy raise and lower operation of the patient. Meanwhile, an NPS ‘hasty team’ first on scene was able to locate and assist the patient, and fortunately, weather conditions allowed for a short-haul evacuation direct from the Peters Glacier accident site by the NPS helicopter.
Guides Brian Muller and Fischer Hazen completed multiple tasks in a professional manner which allowed for a seamless rescue in a demanding mountain environment at 16,000 feet. It is to honor extraordinary efforts similar to these that the annual Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award was created in 1998.
The 2017 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award goes to five mountain guides from the Alaska Mountaineering School: Wesley Bunch, Larry Holmgren, Lexie Hunsaker, Jake Kayes, and Chris Welch. These five guides were instrumental in the rescue attempt of a Nepalese climber who succumbed to altitude illness above the 17,200-foot high camp during the early morning hours of June 16. Bunch, Holmgren, Hunsaker, Kayes, and Welch assisted ranger Mark Westman’s patrol without hesitation as the struggling climber attempted to return to camp following a summit bid. The guides accessed, provided medical assistance, and transported the climber, who could not walk or descend under his own power, through the night for over six hours.
Bunch, Holmgren, Hunsaker, Kayes, and Welch spent those six hours in extremely adverse weather conditions. With temperatures around minus 20°F and wind speeds up to 35 mph, the guides performed a technical rescue, at altitude, and in a near-zero visibility white-out.
Rangers and mountain guides have worked side by side during rescue and recovery efforts for decades. We recognize that the selfless assistance provided by Bunch, Holmgren, Hunsaker, Kayes, and Welch is merely the tip of the iceberg for aid provided by each of the Denali National Park and Preserve concession operators, both in 2017 and before.
We would like to thank the Alaska Mountaineering School, Alpine Ascents International, American Alpine Institute, Mountain Trip, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated for years of generous aid provided to other parties while on the mountain. This season, we are grateful for the various rescue contributions made the following mountain guides:
We would also like to thank the countless guides who offered to help fellow climbers or responded to unreported incidents that occurred throughout the 2017 climbing season.
Denali National Park mountaineering rangers have selectedBlaine Horner as the recipient of the 2016 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. Horner was on Denali during the summer of 2016 leading a USGS expedition to determine the ice thickness on the summit of Denali, as well as to place a geological marker at a feature near Windy Corner. No stranger to the mountain, in past years Horner has served on multiple volunteer NPS ranger patrols and has worked as a guide on the mountain. This season, Blaine Horner exemplified the spirit of the Mislow Swanson Denali Pro award throughout his expedition, including sacrificing his own goals to assist two injured climbers to high camp following a fall above Denali Pass on June 23, 2016.
After a prolonged summit bid, one member of 4-person independent team fell while descending above Denali Pass, pulling the whole rope team off of their feet. When the team came to a rest, one person was unconscious, one had broken ribs, and two were uninjured. The two uninjured teammates took the team’s only rope and descended to high camp to seek help, while the injured remained at Denali Pass. The unresponsive climber regained consciousness within approximately ten minutes, and after spending some recovery time with a guided climbing party that had since arrived at the Pass, the patient progressed to the point that he could likely descend under his own power if he had some climbing assistance and a safety rope.
Blaine Horner’s USGS party was second on scene. Observing the situation and the resources at hand, Horner made the personal sacrifice to offer his rescue services. Blaine’s three teammates proceeded to the summit with their ice penetrating radar to measure the thickness on the top, a project that Blaine had been preparing for all year. Instead, Horner single-handedly assisted the two injured climbers safely down to the 17,200-foot high camp. During this descent, Horner safely arrested three separate falls by the climber who had suffered the head injury.
After safe delivery of the injured climbers to high camp, Blaine was strong enough to ascend back to the Football field where he met his team on their way down following the successful completion of their geologic measurements.
The following day, while descending from high camp, Horner, along with three guides, assisted an injured guide who had dislocated his shoulder while arresting the fall of a client. Once again forsaking his original plans to help a fellow climber in distress, the small group worked for almost an hour before finally reducing the guide’s shoulder dislocation and easing his pain.
For his selfless dedication to assisting others in medical need – as well as consistently helping the NPS rangers at the 14,200-foot camp maintain a clean mountain -- Denali National Park mountaineering staff are happy to award the 2016 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award to mountaineer Blaine Horner.
For the majority of climbers on Denali, the expedition begins and ends with Lisa Roderick. Lisa has gone well beyond her duties as flight coordinator for the Kahiltna Basecamp. She is the familiar voice on the radio, the steward of the Kahiltna, and sometimes the first to respond to emergencies. The Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station staff would like to recognize Lisa Roderick as the 2015 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award recipient.
For fifteen years, Lisa has been a fixture at basecamp. Maintaining a safe runway, coordinating flights on and off the glacier, and calling in weather reports to pilots have without a doubt made travel to and from the mountains safer. But perhaps she is best known for her willingness and good attitude toward helping climbers. Due to her dedication to keep tabs on climbers through her radio, Lisa has been the first alerted to accidents or any communications of parties needing help. Her influence on these visitors is far reaching and helps contribute to a positive and safe mountaineering ethic that is shared by all. In the 15 years at basecamp, Lisa has gone the extra mile keeping it clean. With the positive rapport that Lisa has with visitors, she has been able to instill those same values.
The Denali mountaineering rangers greatly value her contributions and would like to recognize her efforts with the 2015 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. Although it is a small token of our appreciation relative to the tremendous job she does, her name will have a place among the best.
Ben Adkison and Kyle Bates
The Denali South District Ranger staff has selected mountain guides Ben Adkison and Kyle Bates as the recipients of the 2014 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award.
Adkison and Bates, both professional guides for Mountain Trip International, were leading an expedition high on Denali when they orchestrated the rescue of a critically injured climber. Mountain guides are frequently called on to help other climbers while working on the mountain due to their medical and rescue expertise. In this instance, the self-directed and decisive actions of Adkison and Bates stood out as vividly exemplifying the spirit of the Mislow Swanson Denali Pro Award, which honors selflessness and self-sufficiency on Denali.
Following a long summit attempt with their client, Adkison and Bates were awoken in their tents in the early morning hours of May 24 when an independent rope team fell while descending from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp. One of the climbers had sustained a significant head injury that rendered her unresponsive for 30 minutes according to her teammates. Her fellow team members and another climbing group were able to transport the injured climber the remainder of the distance to high camp for further rescue and medical help.
In camp, Adkison and Bates took over all patient care needs, warmed and fed the remaining members of her group, and initiated the call for rescue to National Park Service (NPS) personnel at 14,200-foot camp. For the next five hours, Adkison and Bates led the efforts to maintain patient care until daybreak when the NPS helicopter could be utilized for evacuation. The two guides performed skilled medical assessments, provided appropriate medical interventions, and maintained clear, confident radio communication with NPS staff and medical volunteers. Their professionalism allowed for a seamless and timely evacuation in the demanding mountain environment at 17,200 feet, and their extraordinary efforts resulted in a positive outcome for a severely injured patient.
Jennifer Latham, Heide Provencher, and Cortney Kitchen
The 2013 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award goes to Jennifer Latham, Heide Provencher, and Cortney Kitchen for their combined efforts in founding Denali Rescue Volunteers (DRV), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created to assist the many volunteers that annually serve the mountaineering program at Denali National Park and Preserve.
In 1976, former mountaineering ranger Bob Gerhard led the first Mt. McKinley patrol to utilize skilled volunteers to clean garbage and other waste on the mountain as they traversed up the West Buttress and down the Muldrow Glacier. With this historic patrol, the Denali Mountaineering Program was born. As it grew through the late 1970s and 1980s, mountaineering volunteers became an indispensable tool for keeping the mountain clean and for providing search and rescue capability. Today, volunteers commit to a 10- to 30-day patrol that can be cold and arduous, requiring both specialized equipment and rescue skills. With over 12,000 volunteer hours contributed each year, Denali National Park is indebted to the many who have served.
In 2011, three former Denali volunteers—Latham, Provencher, and Kitchen—launched Denali Rescue Volunteers (DRV), a 'friends group' modelled after the successful Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue (Friends of YOSAR) organization. DRV was created to directly support Denali's Mountain VIP Program, and in turn the park's mountaineering program as a whole, by providing additional resources such as a high quality gear cache, access to training opportunities, and logistical support to national and international volunteers. Thanks to the vision, determination, and leadership of these three women, Denali volunteers now arrive for patrol more prepared and better equipped—easing the burden placed on both volunteers and Denali National Park resources.
The Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award recognizes accomplishments in safety, self-sufficiency, assisting other mountaineers, and 'no impact' expeditions.Few achieve this standard like the Denali Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs) who dedicate weeks away from their families and busy work schedules to assist the Denali climbing community.And through their vision and efforts, Jennifer Latham, Heide Provencher, and Cortney Kitchen amplify the contributions of our volunteer force and the NPS mission of resource and visitor protection.
Bernie Babcock and Ben Smith were selected by Denali National Park and and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) as the 2012 recipients of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. The award which originated as a partnership between the NPS and PMI to honor mountaineers who demonstrate the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, assisting fellow mountaineers, exemplary expedition behavior, and clean climbing. The efforts of Babcock and Smith are a classic example of selfless actions that allowed for a lifesaving rescue.
In the early morning hours on April 21, the NPS was notified by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) that there was a climber in distress at the base of the "Shaken Not Stirred" route on Moose's Tooth. The reporting climber, Bernie Babcock, stated that a member of Japanese party of three contacted him and his partner Ben Smith just after midnight asking for help because one of his team members was seriously injured. Babcock reported that he and Smith, along with a two person Dutch team, responded to the accident scene where they found a critically injured climber.
Babcock and Smith worked with the Dutch team to stabilize and evacuate the unconscious climber. The climbers -- now turned rescuers -- worked through falling snow, cold, and dark morning hours to get the injured climber back to their camp. At camp, Babcock used his satellite phone to make an emergency call for help to the RCC. Subsequently, Babcock and Smith worked tirelessly to triage and stabilize the injured climber, which would later involve transporting the patient closer to a safe helicopter landing zone. Unfortunately for those on scene, the early attempts to evacuate the injured climber were thwarted by un-flyable conditions. With a UH-60 PaveHawk Helicopter waiting nearby, and C-130 Hercules circling above the clouds overhead, Babcock and Smith worked to manage the scene and eventually were able to convey crucial weather observations that allowed a life-saving hoist operation to be conducted.
Had it not been for their preparedness, selflessness, and willingness to spring into action, the fate of the injured climber would have been dire.
Master Sergeant Bobby Schnell
The Denali mountaineering ranger staff selected MSgt. Bobby Schnell as the recipient of the 2011 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. Bobby, an Anchorage-based Air National Guard Pararescueman from the 212th Rescue Squadron, was a team member on a Dutch-American military expedition. While climbers with medical and rescue expertise are frequently called on to help others while climbing Denali, few circumstances compare to the incredible efforts of Bobby and his team.
Firstly, while his team was acclimatizing at the 14,200-foot camp, Bobby assisted rangers with the patient care of multiple sick climbers. Bobby volunteered his medical skills, starting IV fluids for a climber suffering from altitude sickness and dehydration. Throughout the climb, Bobby always made himself available to help.
On the night of May 25, a climbing team sustained a 1,400-foot fall from Denali Pass. Bobby joined the initial response as a rescue team leader, using his extensive rescue training as a paramedic to triage the four fallen climbers, finding that two had died in the fall and two were critically injured. In the demanding environment at 17,200 feet, not to mention sub zero temperatures, Bobby performed a lifesaving "cricothyrotomy", a surgical technique to insert a breathing tube into the trachea of the critically injured climber. Bobby led the efforts to maintain the patient's breathing, administer drugs, and keep the patient stable through the night until a helicopter evacuation could occur the next morning. Without the efforts of Bobby, James Mohr would have died from his injuries.
Bobby's willingness to help others exemplifies the spirit of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. The rangers are honored to recognize Bobby for his exceptional service to others and his life-saving actions.
Felix Camire, Nancy Hansen, and Doug Fulford
Denali National Park rangers selected Felix Camire, Nancy Hansen, and Doug Fulford as the 2010 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award winners. Felix, Nancy, and Doug began their climbing trip on Denali as if they were at the local crag. They climbed the lower West Rib to the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress, back down the 7,800-foot camp to retrieve a cache and then on to the summit via the West Buttress. Felix and Nancy went on to climb the Cassin via the Wickwire route.
Soon after their arrival at the 14,200-foot camp, a guide in camp fell victim to altitude problems at the 17,200-foot camp and needed assistance down. The trio quickly offered assistance to the NPS Rangers and were integral in the technical lowering of the patient from the top of the fixed lines at 16,200 feet.
On the Cassin, Nancy and Felix contacted a solo climber in the lower rock band who was exhausted and having difficulty finding his way. They offered to rope up with him and the three worked their way through the difficulties. As they progressed up the climb they continued to offer the occasional water or soup to the taxed soloist. After topping out on the Cassin, Felix and Nancy descended the West Buttress for the second time and returned to Talkeetna to meet up with Doug.
This team’s love for the challenge of the mountains and kindness was contagious to all of those whom they came in contact with. Their willingness to always lend a hand exemplifies the spirit of the mountains.
Sarah Fritz and Irena Overeem
Sarah Fritz and Irena Overeem were selected by Denali National Park and Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) as the 2009 Denali Pro Award winners for their efforts in leading an independent technical rescue of an injured climber on the Moose’s Tooth.
On May 11, while ascending the Ham and Eggs route of the Moose’s Tooth, Sarah and Irena witnessed a fall directly below them. A climber from Washington had fallen 60 feet, fracturing his left leg and dislocating the left ankle. Realizing the party was in dire need of assistance, Sarah took the lead on organizing a rescue. During this time period, the wind picked up and spindrift began to pour down the couloir. In these inclement conditions, Sarah performed a rapid assessment of the injured climber and decided he could be lowered by a “buddy rappel”. In doing so, Sarah strapped him to her back and with a belay provided by Irena and several other climbers on scene, she began slowly rappelling with down the very steep ice and rock couloir. It took four rappels totalling approximately 600 feet to reach the easier angle slopes at the bottom. Another group of climbers met the rescuers at the base of the couloir were they secured the patient in a sled and lower him down to the glacier airstrip. The climber’s air taxi flew in and picked up the injured climber later that day.
We would like to commend Sarah and Irena for their selfless act in rescuing this party. At no time did the rescuers request additional assistance other than the resources they had at hand. Without their expertise and rapid extraction, more complications could certainly have arisen.
Bengt Bern and Jan Vinterek
This year’s recipients epitomize why the Denali Pro award program was created: to recognize mountaineers who spring into action to help climbers in desperate need, without being asked or directed. On June 16, Swedish climbers Bengt Bern and Jan Vinterek alerted the NPS via radio of a climber that they had encountered who was unable to descend to the 14,200-foot camp on his own. The climber’s fatigued teammates were also in no condition to help get their partner back to camp. In light of the individual’s condition, Bern and Vinterek began lowering the climber towards the 14,200-foot camp. Upon initial contact, the pair of Swedish climbers believed that they could safely assist the patient down to the 14,200-foot camp without the assistance of the NPS. After lowering the climber for several hundred feet on a makeshift litter, the pair informed the NPS rangers of his worsening condition and requested assistance.
NPS rangers and volunteers responded from the 14,200-foot camp and rendez-voused with the party midway between the base of the fixed lines and the 14,200-foot camp, after Bern and Vinterek had completed the majority of the lowering. When rangers arrived on scene, the climber was in a semi-conscious hypothermic state. The climber was taken to camp’s medical tent, treated and stabilized, and later evacuated from the mountain. According to the NPS volunteer physician on patrol at the time, had it not been for the timely and selfless actions of Bern and Vinterek, the outcome would have been dire.
Robert Durnell and Heidi Kloos
Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) and the National Park Service are proud to recognize guides Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell of Mountain Trip International as joint recipients of the 2007 Denali Pro Award for their selfless assistance to other climbers in need.
On May 17, Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell were at the 17,200-foot camp on Denali when they witnessed two climbers from another expedition suffer a 2,000 foot fall. They immediately volunteered to assist a National Park Service patrol with the rescue of these two climbers. They both were assigned to the hasty team dispatched to evaluate the situation. One of the two climbers had perished in the fall, and the other was in serious condition with a compromised airway and active bleeding. Kloos and Durnell were instrumental in assisting the NPS mountaineering ranger in providing immediate emergency medical treatment and preparing the victim for evacuation back to the 17,200-foot camp.
After the evacuation was underway, they both stayed behind at the accident site, unbidden, to collect and consolidate as many personal effects that could be found from the surrounding area, and to mark the gear and deceased climber with wands. This was a very unpleasant but vital task since the majority of the gear would have been buried by the snow that was falling and being blown by the 30 mph winds that were present. Upon completion of this task they returned to the 17,200-foot camp where they took upon themselves the chore of providing sustenance for all the rescue personnel and hot water bottles for the surviving victim throughout the night. Lamentably, the climber died the following morning without ever regaining consciousness, but the hard work put forth by Kloos and Durnell ensured that everything possible was done to save the severely injured climber. Their selfless efforts to render aid to fellow climbers illustrate the highest quality of character that the Denali Pro Award seeks to recognize.
Denali National Park & Preserve, in partnership with climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), are pleased to announce that the 2005 Denali Pro Award goes to Clark Fyans, a lead guide with Mountain Trip, for his selfless assistance to other climbers and for his efforts at keeping Denali clean.
This season, Clark Fyans was instrumental in helping locate two missing climbers that were overdue after summiting the previous day. Fyans had taken his team to the summit on May 10th, and while descending he passed a total of five climbers who were still on their way up. Due to the ice conditions on the route, he left some pickets between Denali Pass and high camp for the descending climbers to use for their safety. While in his descent to high camp, Fyans encountered two brothers Terry and Jerry Humphrey who were still ascending very slowly. Fyans was concerned about their slow pace and the late time of day. Once back to their camp at 17,200 feet, Fyans left his handheld radio on all that night just in case the brothers needed assistance. He heard no calls over the night. The next morning, Fyans checked the brother’s snow cave to see if they had returned, but he found the cave empty. Fyans immediately contacted the Park Service at the 14,200-foot camp and notified them of the overdue climbers. Fyans then spotted what he believed to be the missing party at the base of Denali Pass. After consulting with the Park Service, he assembled emergency gear, hot liquids and first aid supplies before proceeding with another member in his party to their location. He found the brothers deceased and confirmed their identity with the NPS.
Additionally, on another guided trip late in the season, Fyans and members of his party cleaned up an abandoned climber’s cache at 8,500 feet and brought the contents back to basecamp.
Neil McNab and Andy Perkins
British climbers Andy Perkins and Neil McNab exemplified the true spirit of mountaineering by volunteering to assist the NPS in two hazardous rescues high on Mt. McKinley in May 2004, resulting in at least one life saved. They assisted in these rescues at tremendous risk to themselves and with the distinct possibility of losing their chance of a summit attempt.
On May 16, Andy and Neil offered their services to assist rangers in a major lower from the 17,200-foot camp. The pair ascended with the rangers from the 14,200-foot camp to reach the start of this highly technical lowering. This lower was the first time that a 1,000-meter rope and associated techniques had been used operationally from this location. Andy and Neil’s expertise in mountaineering rescue skills played an important role in making this a safe operation.
On May 21, again Andy and Neil offered their assistance. They ascended 4,000 feet to Denali Pass in cold, stormy conditions to assist in lowering an injured Korean climber who was non-ambulatory and semi-conscious. Under extreme weather conditions they rendered initial medical treatment and were instrumental in assisting the ranger patrol in lowering the patient on very technical snow and ice to the 17,200-foot camp. The following day, Perkins and McNab assisted in lowering the patient an additional 3,000 feet down to the 14,200-foot camp. Their efforts helped save this man’s life.
In recognition of their selfless and exceedingly strenuous efforts to help in two technical mountaineering rescues, Denali National Park & Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) would like to present Andy Perkins and Neil McNab with the 2004 Denali Pro Award. This prestigious annual award is presented to individuals or teams who make exemplary contributions to the Denali climbing community in regards to safety, self-sufficiency, and assistance to other mountaineers.
Continued thanks to climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), without their generous support the Denali Pro Award program would not be possible.
This year we deviated from naming a climber as the Denali Pro Award winner, and instead honor one of our park partners, Paul Roderick, owner of Talkeetna Air Taxi. Roderick, both a pilot and a climber, contributed to our efforts to maintain Denali’s pristine qualities. Paul embraced the Clean Mountain Can (CMC) program this season, flying a considerable number of dirty CMCs out of basecamp of his volition, as well as encouraging his staff pilots to do the same. This was the most extensive and successful season ever in the removal of human waste from Denali, and Paul’s help contributed to the success of this nationally recognized program.
Roderick also performed a rescue this season -- picking up two injured climbers on the glacier below “Ham and Eggs” route on the Moose’s Tooth. He performed this evacuation with no prompting or assistance from the National Park Service.
Paul receives the 2003 Denali Pro Award for these acts of goodwill and his selfless drive in promoting Denali’s “Climb Clean” program.
The National Park Service and its partner Pigeon Mountain Industries (“PMI”) have named Thomas Laemmle as the Denali Pro 2002 recipient of the year, for his self-initiated rescue effort that went above and beyond the call of duty.
While climbing the Messner Couloir in a single push from the 14,200-foot camp, Thomas Laemmle and his climbing partner came across an abandoned ice axe on the ‘Football Field’ at approximately 19,500 feet. Thomas then noticed a yellow object off the trail approximately 300 meters to the west. Thinking it may have been a pack left by a previous expedition, Thomas went over to investigate and found an unconscious climber that was missing a glove and had his torso partially exposed. The two climbers initially thought the fallen climber was deceased, but after further investigation they realized he was severely hypothermic and possibly suffering from High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). In a selfless act of true heroism Thomas, who works with a search and rescue team back home in Austria, decided to take on the responsibility of trying to rescue the climber in a place where most just struggle to take care of themselves.
Thomas quickly recruited six additional independent climbers, including several doctors, in the vicinity to help with the rescue. Thomas also fired “signal rockets” in an attempt to attract attention. The climber was administered medication by one of the doctors and became semi-conscious, but was still unable to walk. Using a makeshift litter, this small team of climbers began dragging the semi-conscious climber down toward the 17,200-foot camp. At 1:00 p.m. Thomas’s partner and one other rescuer descended toward the 17,200-foot camp for help.
Thomas borrowed a CB radio to contact the National Park Service (NPS) rangers at the 14,200-foot camp to inform them of the situation. Since the weather at the 17,200-foot camp and below was completely covered in clouds, the NPS Rangers at the 17,200 foot camp initiated a ground rescue and headed up to meet the rescue party descending from high on the mountain.
Unable to descend any further because of a lack of manpower, Thomas stopped the rescue team at the 18,800-foot level. Thomas borrowed equipment from the rescue team and other climbers, put the stricken climber in a sleeping bag and bivy sack and waited for help to arrive. Stopping at this location was definitely one of the deciding factors in this rescue, below their location the mountain was shrouded in clouds.
The NPS rangers again made contact with Thomas. After Thomas explained his search and rescue experience and ability to make a harness for the patient out of on-site materials, it was decided the patient would be short-hauled from his current location. Short-haul is a technique in which the patient is suspended beneath the helicopter by carabiners attached to a 100-foot long rope. Armed with the knowledge of Thomas’s rescue skills, along with improving weather conditions lower on the mountain, the NPS launched the high altitude Lama helicopter to pick up the patient.
With weather moving in and only the minimum amount of fuel on board due to the extreme altitude, there was little room for error. When the helicopter arrived on scene, Thomas quickly and efficiently hooked the patient up to the 100 foot line that hung below the ship. The patient was then flown to the 7,200-foot base camp where he was met by awaiting rangers and transferred to an airplane and flown to Talkeetna to rendez-vous with the hospital-bound LifeGuard helicopter.
Were it not for the heroic efforts of Thomas Laemmle, this solo climber would have surely perished high on the mountain.
Dave Hahn, Dave Hanning, Adam Clark, and Matt Helliker
The National Park Service and its partner Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) would like to announce Dave Hahn, Dave Hanning, Adam Clark and Matt Helliker as the Denali Pro 2001 Award recipients in recognition of their self-initiated rescue efforts that went above the call of duty.
Dave Hahn was leading the final group of Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI) clients of the season with assistant guides Adam Clark, Dave Hanning, and apprentice guide Matt Helliker. Hahn's team was climbing Denali during the second and third weeks of July, when there were only five expeditions on the mountain. The Park Service ranger camp had been dismantled for the season, and Hahn was the most experienced person on Denali.
Upon returning to the 14,200-foot camp on July 10 after making a carry with his group to the 16,200-foot level, Hahn noticed another climbing team’s disheveled tent. As he expected those climbers to have descended that day, he checked up on the inhabitants’ condition. One member requested that Hahn have a look at his partner’s hands, which were seriously frostbitten up to the second knuckle. Dave used his cell phone to report the climber’s condition to the Talkeetna Ranger Station. After conferring with Ranger Roger Robinson, Hahn volunteered to assist this injured party down to a lower elevation in order to help prevent additional injury to the patient’s hands.
On the morning of July 11, assistant guides Dave Hanning and Adam Clark roped up with the team of two and escorted them down to the 11,200-foot level where they excavated the climbers’ cache. The four then continued down to the 9,800-foot level. As it had been snowing all day, the two guides dug out a camp for the team and ensured that they were well established before they post-holed their way back up to the 14,200-foot camp where they reunited with their group at 6:00 that evening. Of note, this outstanding effort to aid a fellow climber took place on Adam’s birthday.
Relatively undistracted from these events, the RMI expedition continued to high camp, and ultimately all but one client made the summit on July 15. That evening after returning from the summit and eating dinner, Hahn and apprentice guide Matt Helliker, who had remained behind at high camp with the sick client, headed back for the summit. In addition to allowing Helliker an opportunity to summit, Hahn wanted to determine the status of a struggling Belgian team that the RMI group had passed on the descent earlier that day. Leaving high camp at 11:30 that night, Hahn and Helliker arrived at Denali Pass in less than an hour. Helliker was just in time to witness one of the Belgians stumble and fall a full rope length, until the third person on the rope team luckily arrested the fall. Hahn and Helliker assisted the team back up to a flat spot where they provided food and water to the fallen climber who was weakened with altitude illness. The guides then set up to short rope that person down to the 17,200-foot camp.
Without the assistance of this team of guides, two expeditions may have ended on a less-than-happy note. Such selfless efforts to assist fellow climbers is exactly what the “Denali Pro Award” was established to recognize. Over the course of the 2001 season, 75 Denali Pro Pins were given out to commend various good deeds done by climbers on Denali - deeds ranging from assisting the NPS with its Clean Mountain Can program, outstanding efforts in keeping the mountain clean; and assistance during search and rescue incidents.
John Mislow and Andrew Swanson
The Denali Pro lapel pin was presented this season to over 70 individuals. The Pro Pin recognizes climbers, mountain guides, pilots, and volunteers who selflessly assisted our mountain operations whether on the mountain or in Talkeetna. The mountaineering rangers nominate a climber or an expedition out of these pin recipients to be given the annual Denali Pro Award. This award reflects the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, assisting other mountaineers, and “no impact” expeditions.
The recipients of the 2000 Pro Pin award are John Mislow and Andrew Swanson of the Chicago West Rib expedition. Mislow and Swanson assisted several expeditions which were having difficulties. They built camps and retrieved caches for these expeditions. In addition, they assisted the National Park Service with several jobs that resulted in better visitor protection. Mislow and Swanson wanded a route up the West Rib cutoff route. Wanding the trail is an important mission because the trail aids climbers in finding their way from the West Rib route to the 14,200-foot basin during poor weather.
During the 14,200-foot camp insertion in April, a cargo net was accidentally dropped from 50 feet in the air. This accident posed a problem for the mountaineering rangers regarding storage of supplies, and more pressingly, the ability to get the damaged equipment functioning. Mislow and Swanson spent a day building an igloo that was used to store the supplies. They also assisted the NPS in wiring the electrical system for the 14,200-foot ranger camp that is used to provide communications.
While Mislow and Swanson were climbing they made an excellent attempt on the West Rib route reaching the high camp. They waited patiently for improved weather but were eventually forced to abandon the summit. They demonstrated good judgment and risk assessment.
During the May patrol the National Park Service responded to incidents involving several ill-prepared expeditions that put them in jeopardy. The National Park Service also responded to an accident where improper climbing technique was the cause. These incidents along with disputes between expeditions about camping etiquette, skiing over another’s climbing rope, and trash violations made the conduct of Mislow and Swanson exceptionally refreshing.
Although Mislow and Swanson did not participate in any rescues, their good humor, selfless behavior and respect for the mountain earned them this award.
Michal Krissak of Slovakia was attempting a solo summit of Mount McKinley this spring when he found a semi-conscious Japanese climber lying face down near 19,500 feet. With temperatures well below zero and no shelter, Krissak knew the climber could not descend on his own. Slowing his own descent, and risking his own life, Krissak lifted the man to his feet and for several hours painstakingly eased him down the mountain to shelter and other help.
For this selfless act, Denali National Park and Presrve and Pigeon Mountain Indistries (PMI) have named Krissak the 1999 Denali Pro Mountaineer of the Year. South District Ranger J.D. Swed noted that, “there were so many heroic efforts on the mountain by climbers that it was difficult to select one recipient of this awared. Michal’s physical and moral strength enabled him to single-handedly save another man’s life. There is no more selfless act that one can perform.”
In 1998, rangers partnered with PMI, a leading rope manufacturer, to begin a climber recognition program at Denali National Park and Preserve. The ‘Denali Pro’ program is designed to recognize and reward mountaineers who reflect the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, aiding climbers, and practicing ‘no impact’ outdoor ethics. This year rangers awarded over 60 individuals Denali Pro lapel pins. This past climbing season was the first time since 1991 that there were no fatalities, due in part to climbers helping each other.
Tragically, Krissak was just one year old when his father, Milan, died in a helicopter accident. His father was attempting to rescue a fellow climber in the High Tatra. The High Tatras divide Slovakia and Poland, the highest and most majestic part of the Carpathians. In 1980, a Slovakian team completed a memorial climb on one of the more challenging routes on McKinley in his honor.
Several other climbers were nominated for this year’s Denali Pro award including:
• Mike Mays and Gerard McDonnell, Anchorage, assisted five extremely fatigued climbers, one of whom was snow-blind. They guided them down the summit ridge to the 17,200-foot camp in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.
• Stuart Parks, Dave Lucey, and Paul Berry: saved the life of a British climber. The three Anchorage mountaineers ascended from the 14,200-foot camp to Denali Pass in time to prepare the severely injured climber for a helicopter rescue.
• Josie Garton and Forrest McCarthy: volunteer patrol members at the 7,200-foot base camp during the busiest search and rescue period of the season. On a personal climb after their patrol ended, they abandoned their summit attempt to aid a climber with cerebral edema.
The sound decisions and selfless actions of these and many other climbers helped save lives and avoided costly search and rescue operations. “PMI is committed to promoting safe and no-impact climbing ethics” President Steve Hudson said. “We are proud to be involved in a program that promotes personal stewardship of the mountain, the national park, and of each other.” PMI is located in LaFayette, Georgia, and many of their employees volunteer on rescue teams in that area.
Denali National Park and Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) have selected Adrian Nature as the 1998 Denali Pro Mountaineer of the Year. “Adrian often acts as the ‘mountain vigilante’ and is effective in getting groups to comply with trash and human waste regulations’ wrote Denali National Park Ranger Billy Shott in his nomination. Nature assisted with a variety of tasks at the 14,200-foot ranger camp at the high camp at 17,200 feet on Mt. McKinley.
He also helped install a new weather station on Mt. McKinley and assisted rangers in maintaining and constructing latrines at various mountain camps. Nature was also instrumental in several search and rescue missions, including one where he led a ground search for two missing NPS volunteers and a fallen Canadian climber.
“It is a great honor to be recognized out of all the good people on the mountain”, said the 40-year-old Nature. “The time I spend on Denali makes me a better person. I always try to be humble and show respect in the mountains.” Nature has reached the summit of Mt. McKinley 11 times in the last 12 years.
Nature was selected from among 96 pro pin recipients to receive this season’s annual award, which was presented in Salt Lake City, Utah, in November 1998.
Denali National Park and Preserve would like to thank the continued support of Pigeon Mountain Industries, as well as the generous contributors to the Mislow-Swanson Memorial Fund. For more information on contributing to the fund, contact us.
(907) 683-9532 A ranger is available 9:30 am—5 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.