Since 1979, mountaineering rangers in Talkeetna have written reports of that year's mountaineering season. These reports are available by year, below.
Nearly every year, these reports contain overall statistics on the number of expeditions and mountaineers attempting a climb, as well as a total number of summits, broken down by the route climbed on Denali. Download these mountaineering statistics, which have been compiled into one file.
Note: These reports are historical. Keep in mind that certain references are contemporary to the report itself (e.g., calling the mountain "Mount McKinley" instead of "Denali," old lists of guiding companies or advice on waste disposal that is no longer correct). For current information on planning a mountaineering trip on Denali or Mount Foraker, please check out our mountaineering info.
Annual Report: 2000
The 2000 climbing season at Denali National Park & Preserve was one of the most tragic and one of the most memorable seasons in recent history. The terrible plane crash that happened June 19th stunned the Denali National Park staff, the town of Talkeetna, the state of Alaska and the entire National Park Service. The crash killed mountaineering ranger Cale Shaffer, volunteer patrol members Brian Reagan and Adam Kolff, and pilot Don Bowers. This catastrophic accident happened during the height of the season requiring the South District staff to continue working during this heartbreaking time.
It was the last season for Annie Duquette, one of the most legendary people to work on the mountain, who after 10 years finally decided to retire. As Kahiltna basecamp manager, Duquette was Denali’s ambassador to pilots, climbers, and visitors. For the second year in a row there were no fatalities on Denali, although well known climber, Seth Shaw, was killed on the Ruth Glacier when an ice serac collapsed on him. It was the first year that the National Park Service initiated a comprehensive trash and human waste management pro- gram on Denali. Also, the mountaineering orientation program was revised with a greater emphasis on sanitation and re- source management It was the first year of modifying the NPS mountain patrol schedules to have two rangers at the 14,200-foot camp. This enabled the rangers to have increased presence and to better monitor the mountain at both the 17,200-foot high camp and the 14,200- foot camp.
There were three winter attempts on Denali, each unique because of the routes attempted: the American Direct, the West Rib, and the Muldrow Glacier. The winter on Denali turned back all of the attempts, but a pair of Canadian climbers on the West Rib reached the 19,500-foot level before descending because of the severe cold. The 322 expeditions that attempted Denali this year met with milder weather conditions overall than last season allowing more opportunities to attempt the summit from high camp. Of the 1,209 climbers, the weather permitted 52% of the climbers to reach the summit as compared to 43% last year. International climbers comprised 40% or 470 of the total number of climbers on Mt. McKinley this year.
Climbers came from 41 different countries and the top 5 countries represented were:
This year, the average age of mountaineers on Denali was 34. Women made up 10 percent of the total number of climbers, with 43% reaching the summit. Guided climbers comprised almost 18% of total climbers. As in most years past, climbs made in the milder month of June were more successful in reaching the summit than those in May. Of those parties that both started and finished their climbs in June, 60% reached the top; the comparative statistic for May was 37%. In 2001, our goal will be to instill a stronger climber commitment to “Leave No Trace” ethics.
- the United States (739)
- Canada (62)
- United Kingdom (55)
- France (38)
- Spain (33).
There is evidence of abandoned equipment and disposal of trash on the mountain from the earliest expeditions.
“When the mercurial barometer had been read the tent was thrown down and aban- doned. The tent-pole was used for a moment as a flagstaff… Then it was put to its permanent use… planted on one of the little snow turrets of the summit.”—Hudson Stuck, The Ascent of Denali
From this historic context it should come as no surprise that trash continues to be a problem on Denali. It is an unfortunate reality that for much of the history of mountaineering it was considered an accepted and necessary part of expeditionary climbing to leave behind gear and trash in the mountains. In the early 70s nearly 300 climbers a year were spending three weeks on the mountain.
Most of these people left their garbage behind on the mountain and dug pit toilets for their feces on the glacier. In the camps above 16,000-feet, human waste was deposited among small rock outcrops. Attempts were made by the National Park Service (NPS) and private organizations to cleanup some of this debris and to educate climbers about proper human waste disposal. In 1977, the Park Service initiated a ‘climb clean’ policy by requiring climbers to pack out all gear, re-fuse and fixed line. A pit toilet was also established at the 7,200-foot basecamp. Seven hundred climbers a year attempted ascents by 1980, and the park service had taken a passive approach to managing sanitation concerns primarily through education and orientation before each expedition’s departure. In 1982, a pit toilet was placed at the 14,200-foot camp. Two years later, all climbers were required to deposit their feces into crevasses. Twenty-one day ranger patrols became common practice, which helped with enforcement. By 1989 a toilet was placed at 17,200-feet using a removable box that would be dumped in a crevasse. In 1995, the NPS booklet ‘Mountaineering’ was made available in eight languages. This booklet provided educational information to the international climbing community on clean climbing ethics.
Even with all of these concerted efforts, a significant amount of garbage was still being left on the mountain and improper disposal of feces at the camps continued. In 1997, one mountaineering patrol cleaned up more that 700 pounds of garbage from the 14,200-foot camp alone. Then, in 1998, a college student instituted a simple study on one-gallon fuel cans. This study found that 30% of the expeditions left one or more fuel cans on the mountain. From this information, the NPS initiated a mandatory return system for fuel cans and found a 90% compliance rate with the climbers surveyed in 1999.
Because of the success in the fuel can monitoring program, the NPS began a pilot study to determine the amount of trash generated per person per user day that should be returned by a climbing party. A secondary objective was to determine if there was a correlation between the weight of food and packaging efficiency of each expedition to the amount of trash ultimately produced. A third objective was to track the return rate of fuel containers. The final objective was to study the practicality of an expedition removing all of its human waste from the mountain.
To accomplish the trash monitoring objectives, blue plastic bags were issued for garbage and clear bags for human waste. All blue bags were returned and weighed at basecamp while the clear bags were thrown into crevasses with the group’s human waste. Clear bags were chosen for human waste disposal so that rangers and other climbers could see that garbage was not illegally tossed into crevasses. The number of the expedition was written on both the blue and clear bags incorporating the same numerical system used on the fuel cans in the 1999 study. This mandatory weighing and numbering system made climbers more accountable for their garbage and human waste. Data on food weight was collected prior to an expeditions departure and all of their trash was weighed upon return.
On the human waste study, Park Ranger Roger Robinson’s patrol used a toilet system of sturdy plastic boxes devised for river travel and his patrol removed all of their human waste from the mountain. Rangers observed that one of the major benefits of these studies was that trash return rates improved simply because of the increased attention paid to resource management by the National Park Service. Also, rangers reported a significant decrease in garbage found in the popular camps and Denali appeared to be much cleaner than in years past. This project provided valuable baseline information upon which to build an education and enforcement program in future seasons. It established a framework that should provide accurate results in the coming years, but most importantly, it has also sent a clear message that the NPS is working hard to fulfill its mission to protect park resources by appropriately managing current uses.
On October 30 in Washington, D.C. former Denali Mountaineering Ranger Billy Shott received the Department of Interior’s Valor Award for two life saving rescues in 1999. Shott exhibited the highest standards in mountaineering for safety, self-sufficiency, resource protection and assistance to fellow climbers during these rescues. The first rescue occurred on May 21, near Denali Pass where a climber was found suffering from a broken leg and severe frostbite. In one of the more remarkable rescues ever accomplished on Mount McKinley, Ranger Shott performed a short-haul rescue mission from the 7,200-foot base camp to 17,500-feet while suspended 100 feet beneath a high altitude Lama Helicopter piloted by Jim Hood.
The second life saving rescue occurred on May 23, when a climber fell 200 feet on Thunder Mountain, a 11,300-foot satellite peak of Mt. Hunter in the Alaska Range. The climber broke both his ankles and legs and was stuck 2,500 feet above a glacier in a remote area of Denali National Park. Due to the climber’s precarious position, a decision was made to short-haul Shott to the site to extract the climber. He had to ascend 60 degree ice to reach the victim. In the final stages of the short-haul mission, Shott lost communication with the helicopter and had to resort to hand signals. Shott’s exceptional accomplishments earned him the highest level of respect and gratitude of his fellow rangers, the climbers’ and their families and friends.
A Decade of Commitment Fond memories were shared at a recent reception to honor the retirement of Annie Duquette as Denali’s basecamp manager. Duquette, fondly known in the Alaskan climbing community as Basecamp Annie, served from 1991 to 2000 as the Kahiltna Glacier’s air traffic controller, weather reporter, welcome wagon, visitor information desk, and multi-agency communications link. Acting South District Ranger Daryl Miller referred to Duquette as the climbers’ “guardian angel”. While not an employee of the National Park Service (she is an employee of the collective air taxi concessions that fly in and out of the Kahiltna basecamp), Duquette recently received the agency’s coveted “Arrowhead” award for her 10 years of dedicated service to the Denali mountaineering community. Denali National Park Superintendent Stephen P. Martin presented Duquette with the honorary plaque at a ceremony at the Talkeetna Ranger Station on October 26, 2000. Duquette’s energy, commitment, organizational skills, and personal devotion to the climbers and pilots of the Alaska Range will always be remembered by the staff at Denali Park.
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. For three years, the National Park Service and its partner, Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), a climbing equipment manufacturer, have presented this award and the lapel pins.
The recipients of the 2000-year 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.
- Denali’s Czech Direct: Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore made the second ascent of the route. Scott Backes, Steve House, and Mark Twight made the third ascent, utilizing the fast and bold style that distinguishes them in the alpine arena.
- Mt. Hunter’s North Buttress: Julian Cartwright and Ian Parnell completed a new route called “The Knowledge”. The climb is rated WI6, M5+, 5.7, A3.
- Mt. Foraker’s Infinite Spur: Barry Blanchard and Carl Tobin made the third ascent of the Spur with Glen Deal and Gren Hinton hot on their heels for the fourth ascent.
- Little Switzerland area: British climber’s Brian Davison, Lindsay Griffin, and Brian Griffiths made a total of 12 probable first ascents of unclimbed peaks, as well as two new routes on other mountains in the area.
- Mt. Huntington’s West Face: Brad Grohusky, Mike Gruber, John Lohuis, Mark Thompson, and Rod Willard climbed a 1,500-foot wall route rated 5.8 A3+.
- Mt. Huntington’s West Face: Joe Puryear and Mark Westman climbed a couloir to make a new variant to meet up with the Harvard route.
- London Tower’s West Face: Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio climbed a couloir naming it “The Trailer Park” and rating it WI6, M6+.
- Mt Johnson: Seth Shaw and Tim Wagner climbed a new route in a snow gully in the middle of the east face.
- Moose’s Tooth: Steve House, Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore climbed a new 21-pitch route on the SE face of the Moose’s Tooth
This year, there were thirteen mountaineering related search and rescue missions in Denali National Park and Preserve. Costs incurred by the National Park Service (NPS) for these rescues were $73,137 and the costs to the Military were $158,047. The following are brief descriptions of the rescues performed this season. For more detailed information refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering-2001, published by the American Alpine Club.
On May 12th, a Czechoslovakian climber was evacuated by helicopter from the 14,200-foot ranger camp suf- fering from High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). The climber, along with other members of his expedition, had made a two-day ascent from the 7,200-foot basecamp to the 14,200-foot level on the West Buttress. Because of the rapid ascent, the climber’s condition over two days at the higher elevation progressed from a mild cough to pulmo- nary edema. He received medical care at the ranger camp and was evacuated off the mountain where he recovered in a Palmer hospital. It is suggested that mountaineers ascend at a rate of 1,000 feet per day above 10,000 feet so that they can properly acclimatize.
On May 16th, an Austrian climber fell 800 feet below Denali Pass while descending unroped on the West Buttress route. The climber had been using ski poles, which are not effective for arresting a fall. NPS Ranger Kevin Moore and several NPS volunteers witnessed the fall from their position at 17,200 feet and immediately responded to the scene. They assessed the climber’s condition and stabilized him for a helicopter evacuation. Moore short-hauled the climber from the scene at 17,000 feet to the 7,200-foot basecamp (9 miles). The climber was then transported to a hospital in Anchorage where he recovered.
Serac collapse, Ruth Glacier
On May 25th, an American climber was killed in a serac fall near the base of the 8,400 foot Mt. Johnson. The American, along with his climbing partner, had hiked up to the lower eastern flank of the mountain. They were free ice climbing and taking photographs within a large ice cave when a section of the ice collapsed and buried the American climber. His partner suffered a leg fracture during the event but was able to extricate himself and report the accident to climbers in the area. He was later flown off and received medical treat- ment. NPS rangers responded to the scene but concluded that the area was too unstable to initiate a ground search or body recovery. The American climber’s remains are buried underneath an estimated 20-30 feet of large ice boulders.
On May 27th, two American climbers who were members in separate guided expeditions, experienced symp- toms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Both climbers were evacuated via helicopter from the 17,200-foot high camp. They were both transported to a hospital in Anchorage where they recovered.
Avalanche, Mount Foraker
On May 27th, an American expedition climbing the Infinite Spur of Mt. Foraker witnessed an avalanche that may have buried an American/Australian team climbing below them. On the 28th, they informed the NPS that the pair were missing and feared dead. The NPS conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the avalanche debris and did not find any evidence of the climbers. Later that night the expedition reported seeing the American/Australian climbing team above the couloir, and on May 29th, NPS rangers confirmed that they were unin- jured and had cleared the avalanche site. Both expeditions continued their climbs without incident.
On May 29th, an American climber descending solo near Denali Pass became disoriented due to High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and was assisted down to the 17,200-foot camp. Later that same day, the other two members in his party had descended with the group’s tent and stove. The sick climber was provided shelter that night at 17,200 feet, then escorted down the ridge the following day where Ranger Gordy Kito and NPS Volunteers as- sisted the climber to the 14,200-foot camp. Because of a breakdown in group dynamics this near tragedy had to be prevented by fellow mountaineers.
On May 30th, an American climber was diagnosed with severe Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema at the 17,200-foot camp. A few hours later he was assisted by his climbing partner and other climbers down to the 14,200-foot camp where he recovered. Unlike the previous incident, here was a good example of early recognition and a quick descent with the cooperation of expedition members and other climbers.
On June 2nd, an American was reportedly suffering from respiratory distress above Windy Corner. NPS volunteers and National Air Guardsmen lowered the victim to a landing zone where he was evacuated by Lama helicopter from the 13,500-foot level. He recovered in an Anchorage hospital. This climber may have used poor judgment in attempting the climb with a pre-existing respiratory condition.
On June 2nd, a Canadian climber was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema at the 17,200-foot camp. She was assisted down to the 14,200-foot camp by her climbing partner, NPS Ranger Joe Reichert and NPS volunteers. She made a complete recovery at 14,200 feet.
On June 8th, an Italian climber was evacuated by helicopter from the 14,200-foot camp on Mt. McKinley due to a disabling ankle injury. The Italian was injured during his descent from the summit of Mt. McKinley on June 3rd. Inclement weather prevented an evacuation until the 8th where he was treated in Talkeetna. This was a good example of an expedition assisting one of it’s own members off the upper mountain.
Falling ice, Ruth Glacier
On June 8th, an American climber was injured by icefall while climbing on Mt. Johnson. He was transported by fixed wing to Talkeetna, where NPS personnel assisted him with transport to a local clinic for medical care.
On June 9th, an American climber reported symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema to the rangers at the 14,200-foot camp on Mt. McKinley. He was put on oxygen and he was able to descend with NPS assistance to the 11,000-foot level where his condition improved.
On June 9th, a climber from Hong Kong collapsed from abdominal distress at the 16,700-foot level of the West Buttress. Severe pain rendered the climber immobile. The climber was lowered to the 14,200-foot level by a team led by Ranger Joe Reichert. The climber’s condition improved with rest and he was able to descend without assistance. This incident was caused by a pre-existing condition that the climber had not dis- closed to his team members, placing all involved personnel in harm’s way.
On June 10th, a Russian climber was descending un-roped from Denali Pass using only ski poles when he stumbled at the 17,400-foot level and fell 400 feet. The climber sustained numerous broken ribs and was stabilized at the 17,200-foot high camp. On June 12th, a large rescue team led by Ranger Joe Reichert lowered him to the 14,200- foot camp where he was evacuated by military Chinook helicopter. He was treated at a hospital in Anchorage. The traverse down from Denali Pass has been the location for more accidents than any other place on the mountain.
On June 25th, a solo American climber was reported to be having difficulty descending along the traverse from Denali Pass back to the 17,200-foot camp. NPS volunteers assisted him down to the 17,200-foot camp where he continued the descent on his own the following day.
A total of 88 patients were treated for medical reasons this year on Mt. McKinley. There were 48 international climbers treated and 40 American climbers treated. The busiest period of medical activity was during the week of May 28 through June 3. The adjoining chart shows that altitude sickness played a major role in the medical prob- lems that climbers experienced this season.
On June 19, 2000, four friends were lost in a plane crash in Denali National Park & Preserve.
In turbulent weather, a Hudson Air Service Cessna 185 aircraft piloted by Don Bowers, crashed near the Yentna Glacier. Killed in the crash were National Park Service Ranger Cale Shaffer, National Park Service volunteers Adam Kolff and Brian Reagan, and Don Bowers. Cale, Adam and Brian were flying to the 7,200-foot basecamp to begin the last ranger patrol at that camp for the 2000-climbing season. The plane turned around due to deteriorating weather and the wreckage was found the following day. On June 25, over 500 friends and family members came together in Talkeetna to celebrate the lives of these four special people who will be remembered for their contribution to the National Park Service, their willingness to help others and for their love of the outdoors and the mountains. The lasting legacy of these men will be the love and passion for the mountains that inspired them in their work and personal lives.
- Cale Shaffer, 25, was born in State College, Pennsylvania on July 24, 1974. He loved outdoor activities such as bicycling, rock climbing, caving and mountaineering. During summers, he worked as a counselor and taught outdoor adventure and wilderness skills. Cale was known for his dedication to helping others. While living in Arizona, he served as Assistant Program Director of the Apache County Probation Search and Rescue Program where he taught search and rescue operations to community members. He worked for the National Park Service in Grand Canyon from 1997 to 1999 performing search and rescue operations and providing emergency medical assistance. In 1999, he worked for Denali National Park at Wonder Lake as a Park Ranger and Emergency Medical Technician. In February 2000, Cale was hired to work in Talkeetna as a Mountaineering Ranger on Mt. McKinley. Prior to the accident, he had spent 30 days in May and June on Mt. McKinley providing climber education and rescue services. Cale will be remembered for his ability to look at the good in life, no matter the circumstances, his capacity to put the needs of others first and his commitment to the protection of the park visitor.
- Brian Reagan, 27, was born July 16, 1972 in McHenry, Illinois. He graduated from high school and completed two years at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Arizona. He worked for a concessionaire in Denali Park in 1993, 1995, and 1997. In 1998, he moved to Anchorage and worked for the Alaska Natural History Association. He enjoyed mountain climbing and hiking. Brian climbed Mt. McKinley in 1999, reaching the summit of the mountain on June 12th. Brian attended an NPS slideshow on mountaineering in Anchorage last winter, which sparked his interest in volunteering for a patrol. He was excited to be a part of Cale’s mountaineering patrol on Mt. McKinley, sharing his enthusiasm freely with all of the staff at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. His parents said, “Brian will be remembered for his love of God, God’s creation, his family and his numerous friends.”
- Adam Kolff, 27, was born in Seattle on December 7, 1972. He graduated from Garfield High School in Seattle, attended Whittman College for a year and then spent several years in South America. He studied at the School for International Training in Brattleborough, Vermont before he returned to Peru to work for The Mountain Institute, a non-profit organization that fosters the advancement of mountain cultures and the preservation of mountain environments. He completed his master’s thesis at the University of Colorado on the preservation of the Andean mountains and the indigenous people who live there. Adam and his girlfriend were going to settle in Alaska so that he could pursue his passion for mountains and nature conservation. Adam’s parents said, “Adam will be remembered for the way he loved life, nature and other people.”
- Don Bowers, 52, was born April 1, 1948 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was valedictorian of his high school graduating class. He went on to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy and obtained a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Ohio State University. Don was a C-130 Hercules pilot, retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel in 1994. After he retired, he continued his education, earning a Master of Arts degree in teaching and an elementary teaching certificate. Don wrote several articles and books on aviation including, “Flying to Alaska” and “The Alaskan Airmen’s Association Logbook for Alaska, Northwest Canada and Russia.” He caught the dog mushing bug when he volunteered as a pilot for the Iditarod Race. The story of his efforts to become an Iditarod dog musher was told in his last book, “Back of the Pack.” In 1997, he was chosen by his Iditarod racing peers to receive the Iditarod Sportsmanship award. Don was the chief pilot for Hudson Air Service in the summer and during the winters he was a substitute teacher. Don was involved in many different organizations such as the Talkeetna Bachelor Society, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the local community council and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. One of Don’s close friends said, “Don will be remembered as a passionate man. Don did not just care for things; he embraced them with a passion that was unbelievable.”
Annual Report: 2001
The 2001 climbing season finished on a great note this year with safe and successful experiences enjoyed by climbers, guides, pilots, as well as the National Park Service. In fact, even long-standing park employees indicate that the 2001 season was one of the most enjoyable seasons to date.
The weather in June was ‘severe clear’ throughout the entire month, with climbers summitting the mountain on all but three days; air taxis were able to fly in and out of the Kahiltna basecamp with very few delays. There were some new routes and numerous repeat ascents of hard climbs in the Alaska Range by experienced teams blessed with stable weather.
It was also a great year for the wilderness thanks to the continued labors of park staff as they led a passionate environmental awareness campaign. These determined efforts by rangers and volunteers in weighing trash, numbering fuel cans, and educating on human waste disposal made a huge difference in re- turning Denali to its pristine state. Despite a record number of climbers in 2001, many seasoned veterans agreed that the mountain was the cleanest it has been in modern history.
A partnership with the American Alpine Club (AAC) in the development and use of the ‘Clean Mountain Can’ and in the purchase of biodegradable waste bags, helped in the effort to explore new methods of human waste disposal. The AAC grant provided financial support for a pilot study involving rangers and volunteers, as well as guided and non-guided expeditions. Nevertheless, with the growing numbers of climbers, we are still seeing occasional abandonment of caches and improper disposal of human waste; the mountaineering staff issued nine citations for waste-related violations.
It was a relatively smooth rescue season. Not only were there no fatalities in the park, but no climbers or backcountry users suffered critical injuries. On the topic of search and rescue, this season the South District was tasked by Congress with completing a cost recovery study that looked at a variety of rescue-related financial issues. The rangers on the mountain busily carried out 11 separate mountaineering patrols on Denali, supplemented by patrols into the Ruth Glacier and Little Switzerland. Mountaineering volunteers again provided invaluable support to rangers on Denali—their experience and expertise truly enabled mountaineering patrols to professionally carry out rescue and environmental education efforts.
- A record 1,305 climbers attempted Mt. McKinley, with a record 772 summits recorded.
- Four expeditions attempted climbs during the winter months. Only Masatoshi Kuriaki reached the top, summitting Mt. Foraker on March 31, 2001, via the South-east Ridge.
- The average trip length for an expedition on Mt. McKinley was 17.1 days.
- The average age of a Denali climber was 36 years old. The oldest climber this season was 70 years old, and the youngest was 11, both record-breaking climbs.
- Women comprised 10% of the climbers on Mt. McKinley. Collectively, women posted a 45% summit percentage rate.
- Guided clients accounted for 18% of climbers on Mt. McKinley. Guided expeditions as a whole (including clients and guides) accounted for 25% of the climbers on the mountain.
- A total of 189 summits were made during the month of May, 549 in June, and 34 summits in July.
- The busiest days on the summit of Denali were June 4th (69 climbers) and June 8th (68 climbers). There were only three days in June that climbers did not reach the top.
- In terms of international makeup, climbers came from 39 nations
- Northwest Buttress
Aaron Zanto and Torrey Riches com- pleted a new variation to the start of the Northwest Buttress, joining the route from the south at just below 13,000 feet. They went on to complete their ascent alpine style, reaching the north summit in 3 days.
- Northwest Face, West Buttress
Americans Ben Gilmore, Kevin Mahoney, and Bruce Miller completed a first ascent to the left of “Beauty is a Rare Thing” (1996). Their route “Common Knowledge” (V WI6 R), the fourth line to as- cend the wall, was done in 26 hours from the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress route. .
- Father and Sons Wall
British climbers Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool climbed a new line to the left of “First Born” (1995). Their route “Second Coming” (V) is the second ascent up the wall and was done in 46 hours from the 14,200- foot camp on the West Buttress route.
- Southwest Face
Stephen Koch and Marko Preselj climbed a new line between the Cassin Ridge and Denali Diamond. Their route “Light Travelers” (VI M8) was completed in a 51 hour push from the 14,200- foot camp on the West Buttress route.
- West Buttress
On June 17, Galen Johnston, age 11, became the youngest person to summit Denali, trimming seven months off the record previously held by Kim Young Sik. He climbed the route with his mother and father, Cari Sayre and Dave Johnston.
- West Buttress
On June 16, Japanese climber Toshiko Uchida, age 70, became the oldest woman to summit, upping the ante by 8 years over the previous record holder. She was part of a 6-member private expedition.
Infinite Spur: Speed ascent by Steve House and Rolando Garibotti, ~45hrs round- trip from the base of the route back to basecamp on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna.
- South Ridge
Greg Corliss and Rick Taylor completed a 2,000-foot un-climbed spur (5.8, WI 3) to the right of the South Ridge, joining the route at 10,500 feet. They descended the Southwest Ridge.
- North Buttress
On a face commonly referred to as the “Mini Moonflower,” two new lines were completed by two separate parties. Stephen Koch and Marco Prezelj were the first to make an ascent, and British climbers Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool climbed a line just left of theirs. Both routes are rated IV/V, WI6.
- Royal Towers
River Lee-Elkin and Eric Siefer climbed a new mixed route (“Spam and Legs” 5.8, WI4/5) to reach the South Summit of Royal Towers.
- South Troll
Paul Turecki, Brian Teale, and Kirsten Kremer added a new line to the West Pillar of the South Troll (“Pure Retro” V- 5.10+).
- Mt. Barille (Ruth Glacier)
Brian Teale and Scott Thelen put in a new line up the Northeast Pillar, naming it “Baked Alaska” (IV+ 5.10 A1).
- Peak 8600 (Yentna Glacier)
River Lee-Elkin and Jim Larue completed a first ascent of an unnamed peak via its west ridge.
- Mt. Barille
Jon Allen and Ken Sauls repeated the Orgler route on East Face (45 hours climbing, 12 hours on top, 64 round- trip)
- Kichatna Spire
Jay Smith and Nathan Martin completed a new route on the East Face of Kichatna Spire in July.
"Any person who becomes a wilderness mountaineer has a deep and abiding responsibility to help preserve the wilderness environment for present and future generations. Walking softly is a fair start. …This dwindling and finite resource depends on the wilderness traveler for its future preservation."—Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills
“Wilderness management is 80-90 percent education and information and 10 percent regulation.”—Max Peterson, former Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, 1985
In many ways these two sentiments sum up the goals of the park service’s ongoing efforts, led by Ranger Roger Robinson, at studying trash and human waste issues on Denali. In 2001, a two-part study was conducted on the mountain. Part I built upon the 2000 trash monitoring study, while part II looked at the efficacy of having climbers remove some or all of their human waste from the mountain.
For much of the season basecamp was staffed with a Resource Management Technician, Michelle O’Neil, who worked with a randomly selected sample group who agreed to have their food weighed and looked at prior to leaving on their expedition.
This group, composed of foreign, domestic and guided expeditions, also had their left-over food and trash weighed and examined before leaving the glacier. Additionally, Michelle, along with other park service personnel and the basecamp manager, Lisa Roderick, contacted all the expeditions coming into basecamp and issued them fuel cans marked with their expedition number. They also contacted and weighed trash and checked fuel cans from about three-quarters of the expeditions that visited the mountain this year.
The results of part I of the study were generally consistent with those found during the 2000 season, but also added much valuable information to our understanding of trash issues. Both years of the study found that expeditions, on average, generate approximately one-third of a pound of trash per person per day. This unit is referred to as a ‘User Day’ and is very helpful in that it removes the variables presented by expeditions of varying length and size.
In 2001 this information was further refined by looking at various types of user groups:
- Foreign teams and guided expeditions produce similar amounts of trash, 0.35 and 0.36 lbs. per User Day respectively, while domestic teams produce notably less, 0.24 lbs. per User Day.
- All the more interesting is the fact that foreign teams used significantly less food, 1.78 lbs. per User Day, than either domestic or guided teams, which carried 2.05 and 2.49 lbs. per User Day respectively.
Again, as with last year’s study, no correlation was found to exist between food weights and amount of trash ultimately generated by an expedition. However, by looking at the food packaging and meal planning techniques employed by each expedition, the staff found the relationship.
Whether an expedition had various types of food packaging was noted at the time food was weighed. Foreign and guided groups had larger percentages of the heavier packaging types than did domestic groups. It should also be noted that seven expeditions in the random sample were able to eliminate all the commercial packaging from their rations. These groups also followed meal planning techniques outlined in outdoor skill manuals, and all these groups generated less than 0.25 lbs. of trash per User Day. Based on this information, the Park Service is planning to send out literature to future climbing expeditions to assist them in packing their food most efficiently, to minimize waste.
While the problem of trash being left on the mountain is improving, the problem climbers most frequently reported in their post-trip report this season was improper disposal of human waste. In an effort to address this issue, the second part of the NPS waste study involved volunteer trials of the new Clean Mountain Can (CMC), prototype canisters designed by Roger Robinson and funded by a conservation grant from the American Alpine Club specifically for this pilot study. Climbers were asked to use the canisters for part or all of their expedition both to test the usability of the canisters and determine the feasibility of expeditions removing their human waste from the mountain.
Twenty-one groups volunteered to use the cans; two guided expeditions, 14 independent groups and five NPS patrols. The majority of these groups were on the West Buttress route of Denali with four of them using the cans all the way from basecamp to high camp. CMCs were issued from Talkeetna, basecamp and the 14,200-foot camp and, once used, could be turned in at any of those locations. A septic pumping company picked up the dirty canisters in Talkeetna, then cleaned, disinfected, and returned them for reissue, a process that worked well in this initial phase. Feedback on the canisters was generally positive. Out in the field volunteers found the CMCs easy to use with some modifications.
The degradable bags originally intended for use with the cans proved to be too delicate in the cold and susceptible to moisture, so it was easier to go directly into the can. The CMC will undergo some design changes for the 2002 season. Robinson hopes to have constructed a more compact, lighter version with a similar strap system for attaching the CMC to a pack or sled. With these promising results and the increasing need to address waste management issues on Denali, the NPS is planning to expand the study next season to include all climbers using high camp for a 20-day period during the season. During that time all expeditions will be required to use the CMCs at the 17,200-foot high camp. It is hoped this pilot study can answer some of the logistical and environmental issues that need to be addressed before considering further implementation of this program.
On May 9, a Korean became ill with both High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) at the 14,200- foot camp on Mt. McKinley. For three days the climber was treated with sup- plemental oxygen at the National Park Service camp and was able to descend with his team and under his own power on May 12.
On May 11, a French climber was treated for symptoms of HAPE at the 14,200- foot camp. After spending roughly 24 hours on oxygen, the climber’s condition stabi- lized and NPS staff recommended that he descend. The climber signed a release from NPS care refusing any further medical treatment or advice.
A Korean climber was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp to basecamp via the NPS high altitude Lama helicopter (contracted with Evergreen Helicopters) on May 14 due to symptoms of a gastrointestinal bleed. An Air National Guard Pavehawk then transported the climber to Anchorage, where a few hours later he underwent surgery for a bleeding ulcer at Alaska Regional Hospital.
On May 17, an Ecuadorian climber was seen falling just below the fixed lines at 15,400 feet. NPS personnel lowered the climber, who suffered an ankle injury, to the 14,200-foot camp. That evening, the climber was evacuated by the Lama helicopter to 7,200-foot basecamp and transferred to an Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter for transport to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.
On May 17, an American climber was discovered by NPS volunteers to be unresponsive in a tent at the 14,200-foot camp. The climber was brought to the ranger camp by sled and was treated for HACE and HAPE. Along with the fallen Ecuadorian climber noted above, the sick climber was evacuated by the Lama helicopter to the basecamp and transferred to a Pavehawk helicopter for trans- port to Providence Hospital.
An American climber reported frostbite on his right toes and left little finger to the rangers at the 14,200- foot camp on May 19. The injuries were sustained while making a carry to 16,200 feet and compounded by the fact that the climber did not inspect his feet until the next morning, by which time they had re-warmed. On May 20 the climber was flown to the 7,200- foot basecamp where he boarded a commercial plane to Talkeetna.
On May 23, a Swiss climber fell and hurt her left knee while descending below the fixed lines on the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley. The NPS Lama evacuated her from the 14,200-foot camp to the basecamp on May 26.
On May 26th, an American climber was brought to the ranger camp at 14,200 feet, complaining of a severe headache and persistent cough. He was treated for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and HAPE as well as a pos- sible respiratory infection. After being re-evaluated on the morning of May 27 he was lifted via Lama helicopter to basecamp where he was transferred to a LifeGuard helicopter and flown to Providence Hospital.
In the early morning of May 29, two British climbers were injured in a 700-foot fall while climbing on the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Hunter. The remaining four team mem- bers descended to assist the injured climbers. Two of the teammates then skied out to the glacier to make CB radio contact with an aircraft and inform the pilot of the accident. Once the incident was relayed to the NPS, a rescue effort was mounted. Both patients were short- hauled from the accident site by Lama helicopter to the Thunder Glacier by early afternoon, and then transported to Alaska Regional Hospital via an Air National Guard Pavehawk.
On June 16 an American climber was evacuated from the Cassin Ridge on Denali after falling ice caused a disabling leg injury. Immediately following transport to Denali basecamp by the NPS Lama helicopter, the climber was flown by LifeGuard Helicopter to Providence Medical Center where he was treated for his injury.
NPS received word on June 18 that a guided client was complaining of severe neck pain after self-arresting from a short fall from Karsten’s Ridge on Mt. McKinley. The park helicopter remained on standby for more than three days, although low visibility precluded an air evacuation. During this period the climber’s condition stabilized enough for the guide staff to clear him of a suspected spinal injury and resume an unassisted descent.
A total of 43 patients were treated for medical reasons this year by Denali National Park South District staff. All but two of these individuals were climbing Denali. This is half the number of patients seen last year. There were 18 foreign and 25 American climbers treated. Of the 43 patients, eight were on guided expeditions. Interestingly, these represent the same proportions seen in the total climbers registered for Denali this season. The busiest period of activity was the week of May 13 to 19.
There was standing room only at the Talkeetna Elementary School Gym on July 10 as the community celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley with Bradford and Barbara Washburn.
Along with seven others, Washburn pioneered the route in 1951, reaching the summit on July 10. Today, roughly 85% of the mountaineers on Denali climb via the West Buttress route. A celebrated scientist, photographer, author, lecturer, cartographer, explorer and mountaineer, Washburn is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on Denali. He has stood on its peak three times, including once in 1947 with his wife, Barbara, who was the first woman to reach the summit.
During the evening festivities, the Washburns were presented with a Legislative Citation sponsored by Alaska Senator Lyda Green honoring the couple’s contributions to Alaska. A dessert potluck followed a slide presentation by Bradford, which highlighted his climbing and photographic adventures in Alaska, the Alps and the Himalayas. When asked why Denali tempts the world’s top mountaineers, Washburn replied, “There are few mountains of any size, anywhere on earth, that share it's pristine beauty or offer the fascination of its rugged and exquisite wilderness…and everyone of us who has climbed to the crest of the final windswept drift will remember Robert Tatum’s very personal thrill of pausing there to look ‘out the windows of Heaven’.”
After a two-person American expedition endured an exhausting summit day, one member suffered second degree frostbite on both hands. The team struggled to descend to the 14,200- foot camp, at which point one group of concerned climbers went out of their way to assist them.
Again, while descending from a summit bid, a five-person Belgian team became overwhelmingly burdened with a sick climber who was repeatedly falling. Luckily, the same team of concerned climbers attempting an evening summit intercepted the Belgian team just as a sick member tumbled head first down a slope at 18,200- feet. The summit-bound climbers assisted the Belgians back down to high camp. Who where these heroic climbers? 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. At the time of the aforementioned incidents, the second and third weeks of July, there were only five expeditions on the mountain. The NPS 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.
Continued thanks to climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI)- the Denali Pro Award program would not be possible without their generous support!
Last autumn, the United States Congress enacted Public Law 106- 486
, sponsored by Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, directing the National Park Service to complete a mountain climber rescue cost recovery study. Much of the analysis was compiled by Mike Gauthier, who was on a detailed assignment from Mt. Rainier National Park, where he holds the position of Lead Mountaineering Ranger.
The report described the role of the National Park Service and Denali National Park and Preserve (DNP&P) in search and rescue activities. The legislation required that the report address the following three items:
- recovering the costs of rescues on Denali
- requiring climbers to provide proof of medical insurance before the issuance of a climbing permit
- review the amount of fees charged for a climbing permit.
Gauthier gathered public comment from individuals in the climbing community, as well as input from a variety of organizations, including the National Park Service, (Alaska Regional Office and Washington Office); American Alpine Club; 210th Alaska Air National Guard; U.S. Army at Fort Wainwright; Mountain Guide Concessionaires; Access Fund; Alaska Mountain Rescue Association; Alaska State SAR Coordinator; Providence, Valley, and Alaska Regional Hospitals; Mountain Rescue Association; and the Alaska Mountaineering Club. The report is in its final stages of review at the Department of Interior, and the find- ings will be published once the report is presented to Congress.
Long-time Mountaineering Ranger Kevin Moore will be missed by his co-workers and by the Denali climbing community as he moves on to a new position at Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Moore began his career at Denali National Park as a Student Conservation Association volunteer in 1990, then returned to Denali in 1994 as a mountaineering ranger. Shortly before his move to Utah, Moore was presented with a prestigious Star Award from the National Park Service honoring his extensive short-haul rescue work. Throughout his tenure in Denali, Moore performed 12 short-haul rescues on Mt McKinley and six short-hauls on the Chulitna River. These life saving missions were conducted at high altitude in sub-zero temperatures, as well as in steep terrain and swift water on the Chulitna River.
Kevin has also been instrumental in developing the search and rescue training for the park’s mountaineering rangers. His knowledge of rescue skills as well as his contributions to the presentations have been of tremendous value to climbers and rangers alike. With his first-hand climbing and patrolling experiences throughout the Alaska Range, Kevin has been an invaluable resource for Denali National Park and Preserve.
Also this summer, former South District Ranger J.D. Swed departed Denali National Park & Preserve for a new position as chief ranger of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. Swed began working at Denali in 1992, when his family moved to Alaska from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah. J.D.’s wife, Maureen Swed, also worked several years in the South District of Denali as an interpretive park ranger. Swed’s major contributions as South District Ranger include the facilitation of the new Ranger Station construction and the implementation of the climber registration and special use fee programs.
Several other key personnel changes occurred within Denali National Park over the past year. Diane Chung is now the Deputy Superintendent of the park, with Nick Herring in the role of Chief Ranger. Within the South District, Daryl Miller, who has served for the past two seasons as the Acting South District Ranger is now the official South District Ranger and Roger Robinson was promoted to Supervisory Park Ranger. Gordy Kito was promoted from a seasonal ranger to a permanent mountaineering ranger. Beginning next season, Maureen McLaughlin will serve as the South District’s Administrative Assistant, a position vacated by Miriam Valentine; Miriam was promoted to the role of Division Staff Support Specialist, shifting her focus from administration to special projects and community outreach.
Annual Report: 2002
Our human vulnerability became painfully evident again this year when three brothers perished on Mount Foraker in an apparent avalanche and one soloist fell to his death from Denali Pass on Mount McKinley. National Park Service mountaineering patrols were kept busy this climbing season with numerous search and rescue incidents.
As always, the patrol volunteers and the military pararescuemen were an important asset, working with the rangers in assisting other climbers in distress and providing resource protection. All nine of the Denali mountaineering rangers climbed Mount Silverthrone in March and skied over Anderson Pass and out the West Fork Glacier on a preseason patrol.
This past season also marked the first ranger patrol since 1932 to successfully climb Denali from the north side of the Alaska Range. The foursome ascended via the Muldrow Glacier route, successfully traversing over and down to the 14,200 foot ranger camp on the West Buttress. In other ‘patrol firsts’, one ranger patrol spent over two weeks at the 17,200 foot high camp at the tail end of the season, setting a new standard for high altitude camping.
Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs) were used extensively this year above the 14,200 foot ranger camp to deal with solid human waste. Also in the resource management realm, preprinted cache tags were implemented for the first time to uniformly indicate all expedition names, dates, and permit numbers for use in cache identification. The weather was unseasonably warm with early May temperatures approaching overnight lows of 34 degrees Fahrenheit, causing crevasses to open in early June on the 7,200 foot Kahiltna Glacier.
- 1,232 climbers attempted Mt. McKinley, with 52% reaching the summit. 36 attempted Mt. Foraker, seven reached the top.
- The average trip length for an expedition on Mt. McKinley was 17.7 days.
- The average age of a Denali climber was 36 years old.
- Women comprised 9% of the climbers, or a total of 110 climbers.
- Guided clients accounted for 20% of climbers on Mt. McKinley. Guided expeditions as a whole (including clients and guides) accounted for 31% of Denali mountaineers.
- A total of 224 summits were made during the month of May, 391 in June, and 30 summits in July. The busiest days on the summit of Denali were June 13th (56 climbers) and June 16th (49 climbers). There were only five days in June that climbers did not reach the top.
Overall, the 2003 climbing season was not nearly as productive as the 2002 season in terms of first ascents. Lack of winter snow and a warm May combined to devastate the ice conditions on many mixed routes. The unusual weather also created poor snow conditions at mid elevations (8,000 to 11,000 feet) which turned around numerous parties, especially on Mount Hunter which received only one team summit this year.
Americans John Kelley and Stephen Farrand made the second true ascent of Deprivation on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter, following the original line. The North Buttress also hosted a notable first free ascent this season. In June Jimmy Haden and Russel Mitrovich, both of California, repeated the Wall Of Shadows to the third ice band in a two day push without the use of direct aid.
On Denali, the Denali Diamond received its second ascent by British climbers Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool in late May. Also on Denali, two Russian paraplegic climbers, Grigoriy Tsarkov and Igor Ushakov, reached the summit in June via the West Buttress route making direct variations up the rescue gully and from 17,200feet to 18,800feet. The route was prepared with fixed line by their other nine team members and then they used their mechanical ascending ski sleds to ascend with their arms. Elsewhere in the range, four Polish climbers, Janusz Golab, Stanislaw Piecuch, Grzegorz Skorek, and Jacek Fluder, completed a new wall route on the east face of the Bear's Tooth in June. "You Can't Fly" was 1,400 meters long and 41 pitches with difficulties up to A3. The group spent 10 days on the wall climbing and waiting out poor weather.
Earlier in March, Sean Easton and Uli Steck completed a new route on Mount Dickey’s East Face. Finding a runnel of ice that does not routinely form, the pair was able to climb the nearly 4,000 foot route mostly on ice. A French team made climbs on both Mount Dickey and Mount Barilles’ East Face in April, further details are lacking. Americans Brian Teale and Pete Lowney completed a new route on the East Face of Mount Wake in April. This route climbs the large gully in the center of the face and is not recommended (unless in winter conditions) due to high objective hazards. They climbed the 5,000 foot route in three days and took one more to descend. Entirely on ice, the route included several grade five cruxes and over 3,500 feet of 45’ to 65’ ice.
Twid Turner and Stuart McAleese climbed a new route on the Citadel in the Kichatna Spires. “Off the Wall Bunkers” climbs directly up the northeast buttress on very coarse granite to where it ends at the junction with the Embick route. The summit was not reached this year. The west side of Mount Huntington was in better condition than other peaks in that elevation range and as a result saw numerous ascents. The most notable was a 17 hour solo effort by Chris Turiano. He climbed the West Face Couloir to the summit on May 22, finding plastic ice and stable snow conditions.
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, Steffen Voelzke, 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 Dr. Egfried Miller, Franz Deubler and Dr. Hans-Ernst Scharinger of the “Austrian Denali Bears” expedition; Hans-Jochen Netzar and George Forstner of the “Empor” expedition; and Miguel Mendez of the “Alaska Expedition” 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 semiconscious, but was still unable to walk. Using a makeshift litter, this small team of climbers began dragging the semiconscious climber down toward the 17,200 foot camp. At 1:00 p.m. Hans-Jochen Netzar and Thomas’s partner Steffen Voelzke, descended toward the 17,200 foot camp for help. Thomas was able to borrow a CB radio from “Team Chola” a three person American team. Thomas used this 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 onsite materials, it was decided the patient would be shorthauled from his current location. Shorthaul 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. In Talkeetna the patient was again transferred, this time to the LifeGuard helicopter for transport to the hospital.
Were it not for the heroic efforts of Thomas Laemmle, this solo climber would have surely perished high on the mountain. Continued thanks to climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), without their generous support the Denali Pro Award program would not be possible.
During the 2002 season, climbers on Denali broke new ground in the removal of human waste. The Clean Mountain Can (CMC) that was developed in 2001 in partnership with the American Alpine Club has secured its role in the destiny of waste management on Denali. This 1.75 pound (0.8 KG) cylinder was used by over 500 climbers on Denali from 20 different nations.
In a noteworthy 2002 winter climb, Japanese soloist Masatoshi Kuriaki spent 55 days on Mt. Foraker and carried off all of his trash and human waste. This is the longest reported trip into the Alaska Range in which all human waste was packed out.
The main focus of Denali National Park’s 2002 CMC project was to see if a large number of climbers could remove their human waste from the 17,200 foot high camp on the popular West Buttress. The high camp, with its lack of crevasses for waste disposal and its severe weather conditions, has been known to be exceptionally filthy. Denali National Park, in partnership with the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club, purchased 220 CMCs to be used in this project. Of these, 150 cans were given out to climbers at the 14,200 foot camp over a 30day trial period. This translates to nearly one half of the West Buttress climbers carrying their waste off certainly a major breakthrough in waste management on Denali! The used CMCs brought back down to the 14,200 foot camp were placed in cargo nets and then slingloaded by helicopter down to the Kahiltna basecamp. From basecamp, they were flown out of the Range in fixed wing aircraft and then commercially cleaned.
In addition to climbers on Denali, many expeditions in other areas of the range opted to use CMCs due to their convenience and minimal impact to the environment. In 2003, park staff will be encouraging all other climbers in the Alaska Range to use them. Due to the success of this year’s test, the Clean Mountain Can will be required for the West Buttress high camp in 2003. The CMC will again be distributed from the 14,200 foot camp, although the National Park Service will be encouraging climbers to use them along the entire route. Climbers that use them all the way will receive the coveted Denali Pro pin. For climbers that plan to carry them all the way up and down Denali, please reserve them ahead of time, as the supply is limited and the demand is growing!
The South District staff was involved in over twenty search and rescue missions this past season. These SAR missions where not limited to mountaineering accidents, nor, for that matter, were they limited to Denali National Park and Preserve. A wide range of circumstances led to these missions including climbing falls, crevasse falls, plane crashes, avalanches, gastrointestinal illness, altitude illnesses, a syncopal episode, and frostbite. Of note, five climbers fell on different occasions at Denali Pass this season, all of whom were traveling unroped at the time of the fall; four were evacuated from high camp, while one climber fell to his death, representing the first fatality on Mt. McKinley since 1998. Instead of summarizing each of the 21 incidents this season, we have highlighted seven major SAR events.
Fall at Denali Pass
Late on May 15th, two members of a Spanish expedition had independent falls while descending unroped from Denali Pass at 18,200 feet on the West Buttress route of Mt. McKinley. Both climbers sustained serious traumatic injuries and were brought by NPS rangers to the 17,200 foot camp. At the 17,200 foot camp, rangers stabilized the patients who were then evacuated by the NPS Lama helicopter to the 7,200 foot base camp on the morning of May 16th, 13 hours after their initial falls. Aircraft Accident at Kahiltna Basecamp: Late night on May 24th, a Cessna 185 aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff near the 7,200 foot airstrip on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The pilot and four passengers were uninjured in the crash. National Park Service rangers and volunteers responded immediately to the accident site to attend to the passengers and to control any potential hazardous material spills. The aircraft wreckage was removed from the glacier on June 9th.
Avalanche Fatalities on Mt. Foraker
On June 17th three American climbers were found deceased at the 8,500 foot level of the southeast ridge of Mt. Foraker by an aerial search conducted by the NPS. The threesome had flown in for their climb of the Southeast Ridge on June 11th, with their last radio transmission recorded at 8:30 p.m. on June 13th, calling in from the 10,000 foot level. It is speculated that a small avalanche triggered the fall from the 10,500 foot level. Their bodies were recovered the evening of June 17th.
Fall on West Rib
On June 18th an American climber fell approximately 150 feet from the Notch Camp on the West Rib of Mt. McKinley. Unable to walk, he was initially immobilized by his two teammates. The injured climber’s partners then contacted the NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp and requested assistance in the rescue of their injured teammate. NPS rangers and volunteers facilitated a lowering of the injured climber to the 14,200 foot camp. Due to inclement weather, the injured climber was unable to be evacuated until June 22nd. The injured climber was ultimately diagnosed with 21 fractures.
On June 18th, the Denali National Park mountaineering staff received a request for assistance in the rescue of an American climber that had been struck by falling rock on the north face of Mount Augusta, a peak which straddles the border of WrangellSt. Elias National Park and Canada’s Kluane National Park. On June 19th, an Alaska Air National Guard Pavehawk with NPS personnel onboard performed a winch extraction of the injured climber from the 9,200 foot level on the north face of Mt. Augusta. The climber was later diagnosed with broken vertebrae, a bruised spinal cord, along with other internal injuries.
Fatal Fall at Denali Pass
Early on June 30th, a Canadian solo climber fell to his death from just below Denali Pass (approximately 18,000 feet) while descending the West Buttress route. Following a week of inclement weather, a team of NPS rangers and the NPS Lama helicopter recovered the deceased on July 7th.
Avalanche on Harper Glacier
A 16-member guided party was hit by debris from an avalanche at approximately 17,200 feet on the Upper Harper Glacier of Mt. McKinley on July 3rd. Although no members of the party were injured in the initial incident, a substantial amount of gear was lost and a number of students ended up with mild frostbite. The National Park Service resupplied the group with requested supplies and equipment at approximately 15,100 feet on the Harper Glacier using of the NPS Lama helicopter. The entire group was then able to descend to Wonder Lake without further assistance.
A total of 81 patients were treated for medical reasons this year by Denali National Park South District staff. This is a significant increase over last season when only 43 patients were treated, albeit similar to the number seen in 2000. There were 31 foreign climbers and 50 American climbers treated, reflecting similar percentages to those seen in the total climbers registered for Denali this season. The busiest period of activity was the week of June 16th to 28th though activity was fairly uniformly spread from mid May to the end of June. The adjoining chart shows the percentages for traumatic injuries, altitude related conditions, cold injuries and miscellaneous medical treatment.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Division Staff Support Specialist: Miriam Valentine
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: Roger Robinson
- Mountaineering Rangers: John Evans, Karen Hilton, Gordy Kito, John Leonard, Scott Metcalfe, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Mik Shain
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Ray Touzeau
- Admin Assistant: Maureen McLaughlin
- Lead Visitor Use Assistant: Missy Smothers
- Visitur Use Assistants: Shelly DeNike, Julia March
- Education Specialist: Howard Carbone
- Interpretive Rangers: Noelle Carbone, Laura Wright
- SCA: Sue Peters
- Medical Directors (non-NPS): Jennifer Down, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2003
The 2003 mountaineering season was eclipsed by the tragic crash of a McKinley Air Service flight in late May. While en route to basecamp, all four on board died when the plane crashed at South Hunter Pass. We lost several good friends, including Keli Mahoney, a wonderful pilot who had flown many missions for the NPS over the years, and Bruce Andrews, a gifted guide with Alaska Mountaineering School.
The number of climbers was down slightly from previous years, with 1,179 climbers attempting Denali this year and 34 climbers attempting Mount Foraker. Elsewhere in the park, new routes were climbed on several peaks including a ski descent of Mount Hunter; a new route on the East Face of the Citadel in the Kichatna Spires; and a new route on the Mother and Sons Wall..
Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs) were used successfully again at the 17,200 foot high camp on the West Buttress which made a huge difference in keeping the camp free of human waste. The season saw several high altitude rescues, a couple of which, in retrospect, were of questionable necessity considering the post incident victim interviews. These rescues were very distressing for all of us, particularly in light of the heightened risk they put our pilot, Jim Hood, at in performing the high altitude short hauls.
A crew from National Geographic “Ultimate Explorer” filmed the mountaineering ranger operations this season, spending three months filming both on Denali and through out Talkeetna. The two hour film aired on MSNBC in early November. In exchange for our cooperation in making the film, the park will receive digital footage for an informational film that will used at the new visitor center currently under construction in Denali Park.
This season, we were again privileged to operate under the medical direction Dr. Jen Dow and Dr. Peter Hackett, along with the many capable medical volunteers who made a difference for a lot of climbers on the mountain. The partnership between Denali’s mountaineering rangers and the mountaineering Volunteers In Parks (VIPs) was honored in Washington, DC at the annual “Take Pride in America” awards ceremony.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) recognized Roger Robinson, Denali Mountaineering Ranger, for his dedication to wilderness education and innovative land management. Roger was presented the distinguished Stewardship Award in October at the 14th annual NOLS award ceremony in Lander, Wyoming. Congratulations Roger!
- The average expedition lasted 17.8 days
- The average age of a Denali or Foraker climber was 35 years old
- 125 women attempted Mt. McKinley 11% of the total
- Guided expeditions accounted for 30% of climbers on Denali. Guided groups were more likely to reach the top this season, posting an summit percentage of 65% (relative to a 58% overall average)
- 45 nations were represented on Denali this season. Most (685) came from the United States; 87 were from the United Kingdom; 52 from Canada; 41 from France; and 34 from Spain. Climbers also came from Costa Rica, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.
- Of the American climbers, most came from Washington (133), Alaska (100), or Colorado (91).
- June 12 was a record setting summit day with 115 climbers reaching the top. The second busiest day was June 22 with 42 summits
Noteworthy expeditions during the 2003 season involved a wide array of activities from the first complete ski descent of Mount Hunter to long ice climbs in the Kichatnas. There were no winter summits on Denali or Foraker this year and activity coincided with the most popular time period on Denali May and June.
- On May 15, a group of four made the first continuous ski descent of Mount Hunter via the West Ridge to the newly coined Ramen Couloir. From their advanced base camp on a spur glacier immediately south of the West Ridge, Lorne Glick, John Whedon, Armond DuBoque and Andrew McLean climbed to the summit in 12.5 hours and made their descent in four hours.
- Also based out of the Kahiltna International Airstrip were climbers Kelly Cordes and Johnny Copp. After various outings they made a new ascent on an unnamed peak on the south border of the east fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. “Going Monk” on point 13,790 was established on May 30. This route begins in the northwest bowl or face and then continues on the west ridge to the summit for a total gain of 4,300 feet. Crux pitches were rated AI6 and M6 and the route was climbed in 24 hours round trip from a base camp in the east fork. The team has proposed naming point 13,790 “Mt. Andrews” for Bruce Andrews who perished in a local plane crash the previous week.
- Technical ice climbing was added to the Kichatna Spires predominantly rock climbing repertoire in May when a British team made the first ascent of the “Supa Dupa Couloir” on the east face of the Citadel. Mike Turner, Stuart McAleese and Ollie Sanders climbed this brilliant couloir in 21 pitches over 3 days in May and rated it Scottish 6. Their summit day, May 3, coincided with a summit by the only other group in the Kichatnas; Chris Belczynski, Dawid Kaszlikowski and Marcin Tomaszewski who were wrapping up “the Last Cry of the Butterfly”. This wall route was completed over 12 days on the East face of the Citadel and is rated A4.
On Denali, two new routes were climbed this season, as well as a speedy ascent of the West Buttress.
- From June 14th to 16th, British climbers Paul Ramsden and Guy Willett climbed another line on the Father and Sons wall, to the right of the existing routes, dubbed “Great White Fright”. A day later, Robert Adams and Brendon Cusick added another variation to the West Buttress Direct. Their line “Patience for Purity” is situated to the left of all of the routes indicated on page 106 of High Alaska that begin above Motorcycle Hill. As training for an alpine speed climbing competition in Central Asia, Chad Kellogg made a speedy ascent of the West Buttress.
- On June 17 at 2:15 am, Kellogg departed base camp, climbed the entire West Buttress Route in 14 hours and 22 minutes, and was back in base camp before the day was over! (total time of 23 hours and 55 minutes) Kellogg had climbed to the summit twice the previous week once via the Upper West Rib in order to acclimatize. Over on the Tokositna Glacier, three new routes were established from the seldom traveled Northwest Fork. Malcolm Bass and Simon Yearsley from the United Kingdom climbed two ice lines on the south face of Kahiltna Queen during the first week of May.
- A week later, Pat Deavoll and Marty Beave made a probable first ascent of a couloir on the north side of point 11,520, directly south of Kahiltna Queen, a local name for the pyramidal peak that sits at the head of the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, dividing this from the Ruth and Tokositna glaciers.
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 on his own 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 the “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 Denali Pro Award program is supported by climbing equipment manufacturer Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), a partner of Denali National Park & Preserve.
This year saw a significant breakthrough in human waste removal on Denali. Almost every climber ascending to the heavily used 17,200 foot high camp on the West Buttress removed their waste using Clean Mountain Cans (CMC). This equated to over 1,000 climbers from forty countries participating in this year’s project.
Of these, 148 climbers carried their human waste all the way back to basecamp, earning those climbers the coveted 2003 Denali Pro pin. The remaining climbers turned in their CMCs to the rangers at the 14,200 foot camp. The Clean Mountain Can had its beginnings in 2001. Through financial support from the American Alpine Club, 50 prototype cylinders (1 3/4 gallon) were designed and distributed to anyone wishing to volunteer and attempt to remove their human waste. In that first year, twenty one groups used the CMCs. Just three years later, the program has grown to over 400 CMCs being used throughout the Alaska Range.
The program has become so successful that at times we were unable to give CMCs to everyone that asked for one. “CMC – GREAT – PERFECT” was the comment was made by the five person “Austrian German 2003 expedition. We heard similar responses over and over as climbers returned from their trips. Rainier Mountaineering Inc. took one step further and purchased 50 of their own CMCs, using them in addition to ones borrowed from the park. Two RMI guided expeditions (17 clients and guides) used CMC’s for their entire climb.
For the third year, the American Alpine Institute continued to use CMCs all the way on their West Buttress guided ascents (three climbs which included 25 clients and guides). With our strict ‘Climb Clean’ policies and increased ranger presence at the 17,200 foot high camp, the human impact on this desolate location has significantly improved. This location was once heavily contaminated with human waste and garbage. Due to the efforts of many volunteers and park rangers, the trash has been eliminated and through the invention of the Clean Mountain Can, almost all human waste is carried off. Only a few climbers still pollute, although those caught are fined $100 dollars. We continued to check that all garbage was returned to basecamp, and generally had very good compliance.
In 2004, we plan to distribute the CMCs from basecamp (7,200 feet) to be carried up and down the mountain with the primary focus for their use at high camp. We’ll also encourage all other climbers that fly into remote glacier strips to use them for their basecamps.
We would like to thank everyone involved in the CMC project. This project would not be where it is today without the support and dedication of the climbing community, Denali mountain guides, the Talkeetna flight services, The American Alpine Club, and The Access Fund.
The South District Staff was involved in 14 search and rescue missions this past season, including aircraft accidents, traumatic injuries, and many medical related rescues and evacuations. Several incidents this season generated concern over the factors going into climbers’ decisions when calling for a rescue. In response, the National Park Service has instituted a policy that all individuals who are ground rescued or evacuated must return to Talkeetna at their own cost prior to re-initiating any climbs that season. This will ensure that accurate information about each incident can be gathered as well as ensuring that individuals are prepared to return to the mountains.
Another point worth noting, in the previous season (2002), five climber falls at Denali Pass required ranger intervention, including one fatality. At the start of the 2003 season, NPS placed pickets along the length of the traverse to Denali Pass, a measure taken not only for the protection of rangers performing rescues, but also for the benefit of climbers that chose to use them. As a result, this season there were no major incidents here and at least one instance (witnessed by a ranger) where the pickets helped to arrest the fall of a climber who had chosen to use them as part of a running belay.
Abdominal distress—West Buttress
On May 19th an American climber was evacuated from the 14,200 foot camp by the NPS Lama helicopter (on contract from Evergreen Helicopters). The climber was suffering from severe and prolonged abdominal pain that persisted more than 24 hours and did not resolve with treatment (intravenous fluid therapy and analgesics).
On May 17th an American climber frostbit three fingers while ascending the West Rib couloir. Three days later, his team requested a rescue and he was evacuated from 14,500 feet on the West Rib. He was rescued using the NPS Lama helicopter utilizing a short haul technique with a rescue basket. The climber’s frostbite turned out to be minor.
A Cessna 185 operated by McKinley Air Service crashed on the east side of South Hunter Pass on May 28. A pilot flying for Talkeetna Air Taxi discovered the wreckage and relayed the crash information to the National Park Service. The Lama helicopter flew to the site and confirmed four fatalities, including pilot Keli Mahoney of Talkeetna, AK; mountain guide Bruce Andrews (Lafayette, Colorado); climber Mark Wagoner (Snow Camp, North Carolina); and flightseer Carolyn Disselbrett (Salem, Oregon). The bodies were recovered and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) initiated an investigation with cooperation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Park Service (NPS).
On May 30th an Ameri can climber was evacuated from the 14,200 foot camp by the NPS Lama helicopter due to a disabling knee injury. The climber requested a rescue the previous day from below the fixed lines and had to be lowered back to the 14,200 foot camp. The climber had originally injured the knee on May 28th, but chose to do a carry the next day anyway, at which time he sustained further injury that required rescue. Additionally, his partner was evacuated along with him due to safety concerns about her minimal climbing experience and the fact that she was now solo.
Frostbite, hypothermia, exhaustion—Messner Couloir
On June 4th three climbers, one Colombian and two Czechs, were evacuated from 19,000 feet in the Messner Couloir by the NPS Lama helicopter utilizing a short haul technique with a rescue basket. Due to the extreme altitude and resultant weight restrictions, three separate missions were flown between base camp and 19,000 feet. The party had requested a rescue when the Colombian climber became incapacitated, reportedly suffering from frostbite to his toes, hypothermia, and exhaustion. The two Czechs decided they were too exhausted to descend under their own power due to their prolonged stay with their injured teammate, and were evacuated. At the time they requested a rescue, the party had taken more than 17 hours to climb the approximately 5,000 vertical feet from the 14,200 foot camp to their location.
On June 5th a Czech climber was treated at the 17,200 foot camp by NPS personnel for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. He was assisted down to the base of the fixed lines by a Canadian expedition where he was met by NPS personnel who descended with him to the 14,200 foot camp. The climber was treated and monitored for two days and released on June 7th to descend with his party. AIRCRAFT MISHAP – RUTH GLACIER: On June 9th a Cessna 185 crash landed while attempting to take off from the 5,600 foot level of the Mountain House airstrip in the Sheldon Amphitheater. The four passengers aboard the flightseeing aircraft were uninjured, although the pilot sustained minor injuries.
On June 13th an Ameri can climber was found unconscious in his tent by his teammates at the 17,200 foot high camp. They sum moned NPS personnel camped nearby who rendered medical care that resulted in the climber regaining con sciousness. They performed a ground evacuation of the climber using short rope techniques to the 14,200 foot camp where he was monitored overnight. He was re leased on June 14th to descend with his team to the 7,200 foot base camp. The team arrived at base camp in the early morning hours of June 15th where the climber again lapsed into unconsciousness and his team contacted NPS personnel. He was again treated, regained con sciousness and was monitored until he was evacuated to Anchorage Regional Hospital via Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter on June 16th.
Every year, Denali National Park and Preserve South District staff treat numerous climbers that become ill or injured while on their expeditions. Mountaineering rangers and patrol members are available to assist those who find themselves in emergency situations and or circumstances that they or their teammates cannot man age. This medical assistance would not be possible if not for the many doctors, nurses, and paramedics that participate in mountaineering patrols, as well as the medical direction, support, and instruction provided by Denali National Park and Preserve South District medical advisors Dr. Jen Dow and Dr. Peter Hackett. A total of 61 patients where treated for medical reasons this year by Denali National Park and Preserve South District staff. Numerous other medical contacts were made with climbers that did not require treatment.
Congratulations to the Denali Mountaineering Volunteers! On September 26, 2003, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton presented the Denali Moutaineering Volunteers with one of 15 national ‘Take Pride in America’ awards. Volunteer Dahr Jamail and mountaineering ranger Meg Perdue accepted the award on behalf of the program at the ceremony held in Washington, D.C. As members of the National Park Service’s Volunteers In Parks (VIP) Program, Denali’s mountaineering volunteers were honored for their outstanding stewardship of public lands tasked with such duties as protecting the mountain from illegal trash and human waste disposal; participating in rescue and emergency medical operations; and helping provide resource and route information to climbers on Mt. McKinley and throughout the Alaska Range.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: Roger Robinson
- Mountaineering Rangers: John Evans, Karen Hilton, Gordy Kito, John Leonard, Scott Metcalfe, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Mik Shain
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Ray Touzeau
- Staff Support Specialist: Miriam Valentine
- Admin Clerk: Maureen McLaughlin
- Lead Visitor Use Assistant: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Shelly DeNike, Al Gallo
- Education Specialist: Howard Carbone
- Interpretive Ranger: Noelle Carbone
- SCA: Brian Napier
- Medical Directors (non-NPS): Jennifer Down, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2004
Raindrops were falling at the Kahiltna Basecamp the first week of May as unusually warm temperatures (unpleasantly) surprised early season climbers. Longtime mountaineers can’t recall a season so balmy, with official temperatures throughout Alaska breaking state records.
As summer temperatures soared, most of the glaciers inside Denali National Park experienced considerable meltout. Previous landing areas on many glaciers were riddled with crevasses running every direction, thereby preventing landings after midJuly. Denali’s unpredictable potency once again became evident this climbing season when a massive rockslide at Windy Corner hurled down car-sized boulders. Tragically, this unusual, colossal event killed climber Clint West, age 47, and severely injured two others on the same rope team as they descended from the 14,200 foot camp. This is one of the few accidents in the history of Denali mountaineering where human error was not the key factor involved.
The grave of deceased mountaineer Gary Cole eroded and was partially exposed at the 17,200 foot high camp. Cole died in 1969 from HAPE and was buried in a shallow grave by a medical research team that was on the mountain at the time of the death. The Alaska State Medical Examiner, the Alaska State Troopers, and the NPS Regional Director agreed to allow for his reburial after the identification of the climber with helpful information from the family. Gary Cole was lowered to the 14,200 foot camp and reburied by a National Park Service mountaineering patrol in a deep and undisclosed location. We can only speculate that these two unusual events, the massive rockslide and the discovery of human remains, were precipitated by the record-breaking temperatures in the Alaska Range.
In addition to all of our wonderful mountaineering volunteers, this year we were particularly fortunate to have a patrol of seasoned Grand Teton National Park climbing rangers who performed several difficult and life saving rescues. Renny Jackson, former Denali mountaineering ranger, co-led the first patrol of the season along with Denali mountaineering ranger John Loomis. The experienced Teton patrol members saved the life of an incapacitated Korean climber just above Denali Pass. They performed this rescue in “full weather conditions” along with a strong pair of British climbers, Andy Perkins and Neil McNab, who were chosen for the 2004 Denali Pro Award for their contribution to this significant rescue.
- 1,275 climbers attempted Mt. McKinley, with 51% reaching the summit.
- 16 attempted Mt. Foraker, four reached the top.
- The average trip length for an expedition on Mt. McKinley was 17.3 days.
- The average age of a Denali climber was 37 years old.
- Continuing a gradual upward trend, women constituted 11% of the total climbers.
- Guided expeditions as a whole (including clients and guides) accounted for 33% of Denali mountaineers.
- No surprise that June was the busiest summit month, with 510 summits recorded. 90 climbers summitted in May, 56 in July.
- The liveliest days on the summit of Denali were June 4th (71 climbers), June 27th (48 climbers), and June 26th (42 climbers).
Only a handful of new routes were completed in 2004, with little action on non-trade routes!
On Denali only three primary routes were successfully climbed, the West Buttress, the West Rib and the Cassin Ridge. Only 4 people reached the summit of Foraker, all part of a NPS ranger patrol, and local knowledge does not recall anyone reaching the summit of Mount Hunter.
In early June Zach Shlosar and Steve Lyall climbed a possible new route on the Northwest Buttress of Denali. Their line climbs the prominent couloir to the left of the Father and Sons Wall. The duo made the trip in a 34-hour round trip from the 14,200 foot camp on the West Buttress route. They descended to the Peters Glacier from the top of Motorcycle Hill to begin their route and exited across the upper Peters Glacier to the top of the fixed lines at 16,200 feet on the West Buttress. Also in the Kahiltna area, Vince Anderson and Carl Tobin put up two new mixed routes on the southeast face of East Kahiltna Peak in May.
“Dirty Sanchez” (ED2 M6 WI7) climbs 2,000 feet of sustained difficult ice while “Filthy Jorge” climbs less technical terrain and finishes on top of the peak. Both were descended via the respective route, and each was completed without a bivouac.
The Ruth Gorge saw the bulk of the new route activity this season. Climbing March 31st to April 4th, shortly after the spring equinox, Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore completed the 4,800 foot “Arctic Rage” on the East Face of The Moose’s Tooth. It took the team two efforts and they encountered WI6+ R A2 climbing on their fourday climb. A week later, across the gorge, UK climbers Andy Sharpe and Sam Chinnery climbed a new ice/snow line on the southeast face of Mount Dickey. Surprised that the “obvious” line had not seen an ascent, the two climbers where happy to pick the plum on their second attempt. Climbing 40 pitches, the hardest rated WI 5+, with two bivouacs on April 9th and 10th they reached the summit and descended the standard route back to the Gorge. This line saw a second ascent two weeks later by Ben Gilmore, Owen Samuel and Fredrick Wilkinson.
Back on the Moose’s Tooth a new line was completed; “Levitation and Hail Mary’s James” by James Stover and Scott Adamson just right of HamnEggs. This route was climbed alpine style over May 26th to 27th.
Climbing successes in the Ruth continued in June. On the 14th Joe Puryear and Chris McNamara completed the first oneday ascent of the Cobra Pillar on Mount Barrill. This was the fourth ascent of the route and most likely the quickest at 15 hours and 10 minutes. This team put up a 6 pitch variation to the StumpQuinlan line on the South Face of the Stump. Unnamed, Puryear and McNamara rated the route IV 5.11a and reported the 12 pitch route to be “direct and supersolid with easy access and good fixed descent” During a July visit to the Ruth a Norwegian team, Mars Lund, Steinak Holden, Lars Mjaavatn and Jarle Kalland, climbed several rock lines around the Gateway.
On the West face of the Gargoyle their route “Electric View” (A2+ 5.11a 18 pitches) was climbed during the period from July 13th to July 25th. They also established a seven pitch route on the east face of the feature just north of Mount Barrill. “Phanerotime” is 300 meters long (graded 511b/A1) and was climbed on July 17th by Kallano and Mjaavatn. One new wall route was added to the East Face of Mount Nevermore in the Kichatnas in April of this year. Mike 'Twid' Turner, Dai Lampard and Stuart McAleese climbed the Pillar on the furthest right of the half mile long face, which also led straight to the summit. The capsule style ascent took 6 days and is the first route on the face to reach the true summit of the peak. “The Perfect Storm” 1000 meter A1 E4 (UK) 25 pitches plus easy summit scrambling sounds like a Kichatna Classic!
Congratulations to new Denali recordholder Mario Locatelli! Mr. Locatelli is now the oldest individual to summit Mt. McKinley. Mario (age 71 years, 6 months) reached the summit on July 5th, 2004, closely edging out longtime record-holder Donald Henry (age 71 years, 5 months at the time of his climb in 1988).
The demand for Clean Mountain Cans was astonishingly high this season, with our entire stock of 500 cans in use all over the range at a single time. This season cans were distributed at Kahiltna Basecamp for the West Buttress and at the Talkeetna Ranger Station for cans used in other parts of the Range. Our main push was to have everyone using the CMC at high camp.
Unfortunately, we found that some groups did not pack their CMCs all the way up, but instead cached them along the route. To remedy this, we will go back to providing them at the 14,200 foot camp for their use up high. Overall, the program has evolved to a new level the newness has worn off and the removal of waste has become the standard.
Here is a statement from RMI mountain guide Dave Hahn who traditionally guides on Denali in July, after our ranger camps are removed:
“My teams of these past two years have had the slightly unique experience of taking all of their solid waste off the mountain in Clean Mountain Cans. I know that many others use them, but they have access to the "throne" at 14,000 feet whereas my teams don't. I've been interested to find that it is quite easy to accomplish taking it ALL off the hill.
Last year, my team of thirteen climbers (nine clients and four guides) took 24 days on the mountain and filled 13 cans. This year, the same sized team used about 13 for twenty days. There is a little variation, but I'll go by the rule of taking one per person on the team, plus a couple of extra just in case. We set one can up at each camp as the group latrine, rather than having each individual use their own can on each day. I have found the CMC's to be quite easy to work with and have not experienced any troubles with leakage.”
Our ranger presence at high camp does keep most folks honest with using their CMC’s and removing all their trash. One particularly rough storm in June found some climbers leaving a mess in the area, but our diligence and the cooperation of most climbers have kept the upper mountain from backsliding to its former condition. As we look to the future we are currently working with the CMC manufacturer on a slightly different design that will streamline cleaning and eliminate the foam rings. We are also looking at installing a SCAT Machine in Talkeetna, enabling local cleaning and a more rapid turnaround time.
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 Denali 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 16th, 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 21st, 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 semiconscious. 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.
Detailed below are fourteen search and rescue missions performed by Denali National Park and Preserve rangers in 2004. For more detailed information on the missions listed below and information on the other missions performed in 2004 refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2005, published by the American Alpine Club.
On April 23rd, a group of three climbers were knocked off of their feet and down part of the Japanese Couloir on Mount Barrill. One climber sustained a leg injury that prevented him from walking so the group activated their ELT and summoned help from a nearby group. After making contact with a plane, their air taxi service was notified and was able to evacuate the injured party the same day. The injured climber was subsequently transported by ground to Anchorage and treated for a broken right tibia.
On May 22nd, a private Cessna 180 crashed while taking off from the 5,600 foot level on the Mountain House airstrip in the Sheldon Amphitheater. No injuries were sustained in the accident, and the pilot and the two passengers were able to egress the aircraft under their own power. The three were subsequently transported to an Anchorage hospital by the 210th Pararescue Squadron.
On May 15th, the ranger camp at 14,200 feet received CB radio notification of a climbing fall. Initial assessment was that the patient had broken his leg and was being lowered by his guide toward the 17,200 foot camp. As there were no rangers at high camp at the time, the informing party was told to contact an expedition consisting of members of the 210th Pararescue Squadron (PJ’s) who were at the 17,200 foot camp. The PJ’s located the injured team and escorted them back to camp, where they rendered medical aid to the patient overnight. The next morning a five-person team of rangers and volunteers were dispatched to the high camp to supervise operations. As the patient was non-ambulatory, a lowering from the high camp to the 14,200 foot camp was carried out. Owing to weather conditions, a helicopter evacuation was delayed until May 19th.
On May 20th, the 14,200 foot ranger camp was notified of an accident regarding a climber above Denali Pass (18,000 feet). His fellow teammates at 17,200 feet went out to attempt a rescue but could not get through Denali Pass owing to bad weather. The next morning an NPS ranger team was dispatched from the 14,200 foot camp to the 17,200 foot camp to take charge of the operation. On gaining more information and with an improvement in weather, this team went through Denali Pass and located the patient who was suffering from a head injury, hypothermia, frostbite, and exhaustion. They lowered him from Denali Pass to 17,200 feet where they rendered medical aid overnight. The following day, a helicopter evacuation was precluded due to poor weather below 7,200 feet, thus a technical lowering from 17,200 feet to 14,200 feet was performed. The patient was evacuated via helicopter on May 24th.
On June 3rd, the NPS ranger stationed at the 14,200 foot camp requested a search for two overdue climbers attempting the Cassin Ridge. According to ranger staff, the party was reported to have 5 days of food and 7 days of fuel when they departed the 14,200 foot camp 9 days prior. The pair did not carry radio communication. During an aerial search of the route, a tent was spotted on the summit by the NPS-contracted Lama helicopter. A subsequent flight confirmed that the two climbers that were camped on the summit were wearing clothing similar to that of the overdue climbers. When the two climbers reached the 17,200 foot camp, they were confirmed to be the overdue Cassin climbers.
Multiple illnesses (two SARs)
On the evening of June 6th, an expedition requested the assistance of the NPS volunteer doctor at the 17,200 foot camp because one member of the team was ill. Upon investigation, the volunteer doctor discovered the climber suffering from acute mountain sickness and possibly high altitude pulmonary edema. An NPS ranger and the doctor escorted the patient down to the 14,200 foot ranger camp where she remained on oxygen for 30 hours before descending with her team to basecamp. Several days later, another member of this same team was brought to the NPS camp at 7,200 feet. The patient was observed to be visibly limping and in some distress. Examination of the patient's right leg revealed a suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Consultation with an Anchorage ER doctor recommended immediate evacuation. Attempts were made to use an ambulance helicopter from the Alaska Air National Guard rescue unit, but the climber’s air taxi service ultimately carried out the evacuation. In Talkeetna, the patient was transferred to an ambulance helicopter for final transport to Anchorage. Patient was definitively diagnosed as having a DVT and was admitted for treatment. Illness On June 12th, a guided client began experiencing medical problems while on a summit bid. Around noon her guides decided to turn her around at Denali Pass since she was moving very slowly. The climber reached the 17,200 foot high camp with assistance from one of her guides. They immediately contacted an NPS ranger at high camp. After assessing the client’s condition and weighing options, the decision was made to short-rope the patient down to the 14,200 foot high camp. After further assessment, treatment, and monitoring, the patient was released the following day to descend and fly out with her party.
On June 17th, a leader of an expedition contacted an NPS ranger at the 17,200 foot high camp requesting a tent. He stated that the group’s two tents had been destroyed during the storm of the previous several days. The ranger went to retrieve a tent for the group only to find that two of its members had already entered the rescue cache and removed all the ropes it contained and were inside the container itself. This was after an encounter on June 13th resulting from the group leaving sick and injured members alone on the route and otherwise showing poor organization and a clear lack of ability to appropriately deal with conditions. The group was cited for both Disorderly Conduct and Tampering due to their negligent actions in removing items from the cache that are critical for rescue and were rendered useless by virtue of being frozen and packed with snow. The group required the assistance of NPS staff at both high camp and the 14,200 foot camp and otherwise acted in a manner that indicated a complete lack of individual and group responsibility.
NPS staff stationed at the 14,200 foot camp were notified on June 18th of a climber unable to descend from 15,200 feet. NPS staff climbed to his location and found the patient presenting with an acute abdomen. The patient was litter lowered to the 14,200 foot camp and evacuated from the mountain via Lama Helicopter and LifeGuard air ambulance helicopter.
The Talkeetna Ranger Station was contacted on June 24th by the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) about emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signals being received from the Riley Creek area. The National Park Service dispatched two helicopters to search the area. The search was suspended once it was determined that an ELT had been activated accidentally on an air strip nearby.
The owner of a mountain guiding concession informed the NPS that a guide in the Pika Glacier had phoned and stated that one of the clients was exhibiting mental instability and threatening the group. The guides in the field were requesting that the client be pulled out. Two NPS rangers and a State Trooper flew into the Pika Glacier at 1:15 a.m. The client was contacted and agreed to fly back to Talkeetna with the rangers and trooper without incident.
On June 27th, an NPS patrol member was contacted regarding a possible body found near the Rescue Cache on the outskirts of the 17,200 foot camp. An NPS ranger and two volunteers investigated and found the remains of a climber that was buried in a shallow grave. The body, that was later determined to be that of Thomas Gary Cole, was exhumed and lowered to the 14,200 foot camp for subsequent removal at the request of the State of Alaska Medical Examiner. After some discussion with Mr. Cole's widow and family, the NPS Alaska Region Director, the Alaska State Troopers and the State Medical Examiner, it was determined that Mr. Cole’s remains should remain on the mountain. Thomas Gary Cole was reburied in the 14,200 foot basin on July 1st.
Rockfall injuries and fatality
On the evening of July 27th, a guided expedition was struck by a major rock fall while traversing the Windy Corner feature on the West Buttress route of Mount McKinley. Three clients were injured, one fatally, and required immediate helicopter evacuation.
A guided team contacted NPS staff stationed at the 14,200 foot camp on June 28th, presenting a client with signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). His medical condition was treated and monitored over the following 36 hours. The following day, the patient was released from NPS care and continued his descent with the guides.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: Roger Robinson
- Mountaineering Rangers: John Evans, Karen Hilton, Gordy Kito, John Leonard, John Loomis, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Mik Shain
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Ray Touzeau
- Administrative Assistant: Maureen McLaughlin
- Lead Visitor Use Assistant: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Al Gallo, Pam Robinson
Annual Report: 2005
This season was not only another warm one, but also a record year for climbers. Attempts on Denali alone totaled a whopping 1,340, solidly breaking the former record of 1,305 climbers.
This year began with the tragic loss of mountain guide, former NPS volunteer, and good friend Johnny Soderstrom in early February. On a winter attempt of Mt. Huntington, Johnny was tragically swept away by an avalanche and buried in a crevasse. This was a huge loss for his family and friends, including the local Alaskan communities of Trapper Creek and Talkeetna. Later, in mid-May, twin brothers Jerry and Terry Humphrey of Nagley, Ohio were killed in a fatal fall while descending Denali Pass. This accident sent a chilling, early-season reminder to all climbers that the descent can be a very unforgiving and dangerous part of the climb.
After these heart-rending accidents, the remainder of climbing season seemed to proceed with caution. The mountain remained remarkably safe, with only a few rescues and no other fatalities in the Alaska Range. Because of deployment to Iraq, the U.S. Army High Altitude Rescue Team (HART) was unable to support our camp insertions (and end of season extractions) at 7,200 feet and 14,200 feet for the first time since 1991. This loss required our Helicopter Manager Dave Kreutzer to bring together the local air taxi operators and plan a distribution of various sizes of cargo loads. The air taxis flew a total of 35 hours flight time in DeHavilland Beavers, Turbo Otters, and Cessna 185 and 206 aircraft to transport the camp infrastructure, supplies, and food in and out of the 7,200 foot Kahiltna Basecamp. The contracted NPS Lama helicopter subsequently flew 19 sling loads up to the 14,200 foot ranger camp, including one load to the 17,200 foot high camp on the West Buttress. An additional 14 Lama slingloads were required during the endofseason camp removal process.
In other news, mountaineering rangers conducting a late summer aerial patrol on August 17th documented that the firn-line on the Kahiltna Glacier had reached an unprecedented level of 7,200 feet. ‘Firn’ is snow partially consolidated by the freeze/thaw cycle, but not yet converted to glacial ice. The line that marks the limit on a mountain above which snow stays from one winter to the next is called the annual snowline; on a glacier, this demarcation is called the firn-line.
Historically, the firn-line has been much lower in elevation, but the last two seasons have been noticeably warmer. In both years, the first two weeks of May recorded temperatures above freezing with numerous days of rain instead of snow. Digital photos were taken of the rising firn-line, as well as the disturbing sight of solid human waste from the outhouses which melted on top of the glacier ice. We are currently considering how to deal with the outhouse meltout in the future. One suggestion is to require all solid human waste at basecamp be carried out with Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs).
We are looking forward to the challenges of 2006!
- A record-breaking 1,340 climbers attempted Denali, with 775 (58%) reaching the summit. These numbers eclipse the 2001 record of 1,305 attempts and 772 summits (59%).
- As per usual, June was the busiest summit month with 515 summits recorded. One climber reached the top in April, 162 summitted in May, and 95 in July.
- June 15th was the busiest day on Denali’s summit (101 climbers), followed by June 5th (69 climbers), and June 17th (51 climbers).
- 32 climbers attempted Mt. Foraker; four reached the top, all via the Talkeetna Ridge. All four summits occurred in mid-May.
- Overall, the average trip length for an expedition on Denali was 17.3 days.
- The average age of a Denali climber was 38 years old in 2005, a statistic that has inched upwards from an average age of 34 in 2000.
- The record for the oldest man to summit Denali was broken for the second consecutive season. The current record is in the hands of Sadao Hoshiko of Oitashi, Japan. Mr. Hoshiko summitted on June 15, 2005, roughly one month after celebrating his 74th birthday!
- Women constituted 11% of the total climbers and recorded a summit percentage rate of 45%.
- Guided expeditions as a whole (including clients and guides) accounted for 37% of registered climbers in 2005. This percentage has increased annually since 2000, when guided expeditions accounted for 24% of all Denali and Foraker climbers.
Climbing activity was scattered around the high peaks area in 2005. Several new routes in the Ruth Gorge, one on a sub-peak of Mt Huntington, one in the Kichatnas and a new variation on the southwest face of Denali accounted for the new terrain climbed.
Notable ascents also occurred on Denali, Mt. Foraker and Mt. Bradley. Eamonn Walsh and Mark Westman flew into the Ruth Gorge on March 31st to explore the seldom visited Mt. Grosvenor. First they climbed the huge snow gully between Mt. Church and Mt. Grosvenor (the next two peaks south of Mt. Johnson) leading to a large col. From the col they ascended the upper south face of Mt. Grosvenor. This was probably the second ascent of Mt. Grosvenor. The team completed a traverse of the peak by descending Gary Bocarde's original ascent route from 1979. On April 6 they returned to the foot of Mr. Grosvenor and climbed a new line on the northeast face. Interesting mixed climbing led to a spectacular summit pitch, literally going from front points to standing on flat ground 100 feet away from the top on the plateau. The descent turned into a small epic as a snow storm rolled in, yet they arrived back at their base camp 18 hours after leaving it. They named their new route: "Once Were Warriors" (V, Grade 6 ice/mixed, 17 pitches total from the mid point of the couloir to the summit).
The upper Tokositna Glacier was an active spot for climbers in May. Will Mayo and Chris Thomas explored a sub peak of Mount Huntington on May 9. They dubbed the 10,700 foot summit “Idiot Peak” and approached via an eastward descending traverse from the Harvard route under the Phantom Wall and then climbing 1,800 feet to the summit. Later in the week Mayo made a solo ascent of “The Shining” on the north side of Peak 11,520. Back on Huntington, Eric Pallister and Nate Opp climbed the French Ridge in 26 hours round trip from basecamp during the third week of May.
Also in May, Louis-Philippe Menard and Maxine Turgeon climbed a new route on Mt. Bradley and made the 2nd ascent of “The Escalator” on Mt. Johnson. This new route on the north face of Mt. Bradley, “The Spice Factory”, is a 1600m, WI5, M7, 5.10a route that they climbed over May 20 to 22.
The seldom visited Talkeetna Ridge on Mt. Foraker received two ascents within 2 weeks in May. Coincidently both parties, (Sue Knott & John Varko; and Dave Nettle & Aaron Zanto), had the Infinite Spur as their objective when they left the base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier. Upon reaching the base of the spur, independently, they both decided that the route looked out of condition, lacking the usual ice and opted for the Talkeetna Ridge which provided quality climbing. For Knott and Varko, it was one of three ascents in 2005, including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker. They are the 4th and 5th people to stand on all three summits in the same season.
There was one new route climbed on Denali this season. “Infinity Direct” ascends the South West Face between the West Rib and the West Rim. The high point for this route is where it joins with the Rib at 16,800’. On June 7, 2005, Valery Babanov (Russia – Canada) and Raphael Slawinski (Canada) completed this climb in fourteen hours finding some M4M5 terrain; they gave it an Alaskan grade 5. Other interesting news on the High One is that the Cassin Ridge had 11 successful ascents this summer, more than double any of the past three seasons. The route was reported to be in good condition. In July Joe Puryear and Chad Kellogg made the first ascent of the South Ridge on Kichatna Spire. This was the only summit visited in the Cathedral Spires this year.
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 Since its inception in 1998, the Denali Pro program has recognized members of the climbing community for exhibiting high standards for safety, self-sufficiency, Leave No Trace ethics, and assisting fellow mountaineers. Throughout each climbing season, rangers award worthy individuals with a Denali Pro lapel pin, the design of which changes from year to year.
At the end of each season, rangers collectively select a Denali Pro Award winner from the list of pin recipients. The winner (or winners, in the event a team is selected) receive a specialized trophy, and their name is added to the Denali Pro Award plaque on display at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. 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 NPS 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. Thank you to Clark, and to all 2005 Denali Pro pin recipients.
Talkeetna Ranger Station’s longtime helicopter manager Dave Kreutzer was honored at the onset of the 2005 climbing season with the National Park Service Alaska Region Safety Award, and was a finalist in the NPS servicewide award competition. Dave has worked 13 seasons supervising the highly specialized, multifaceted high altitude Lama helicopter operation at Denali National Park & Preserve.
Since 1993, Dave has put into place innumerable safety improvements that have kept the highest altitude shorthaul operation in the world accidentfree in the course of over 600 hours of helicopter flight time. Among his many safety contributions, Kreutzer was instrumental in designing a Bauman bag that transports both patient and attendant safely on a shorthaul line at 50 knots; devising the three-ring backup system for the shorthaul line; and was the leading force in recommending the ‘God Ring” for the hookup attached to the shorthaul rope. His attention to detail during safety “buddy checks” has kept over 450 staff and volunteers accident-free during rescue training and missions up to the top of Denali. Dave has written and/or updated all of the park’s helicopter policies, operational and training manuals, risk assessment checklists, and mission forms.
He also wrote, designed, and taught winching protocols to the U.S. Army High Altitude Rescue Team for hoisting victims and NPS ranger attendants in the CH47 Chinook helicopters. He has taught helicopter safety classes to rangers, volunteers, mountain guides, EMS personnel, and the military every year. Kreutzer’s extensive experience in SAR-related activities, as well as his professional commitment to safety awareness, makes him an incredibly valuable member of the South District staff and credit to his occupation. Congratulations, Dave!
Detailed below are thirteen search and rescue missions performed by Denali National Park and Preserve rangers in 2005. For more detailed information on the missions listed below and information on the other missions performed in 2005 refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering2006, published by the American Alpine Club..
Fatal Avalanche, Mt. Huntington
On February 15th, two climbers were approaching the base of the West Face Couloir route on Mt. Huntington when the lead climber left his partner’s view. When the second climber reached the location where he last observed his partner, he instead saw avalanche debris, the majority of which had entered into a crevasse. After searching the immediate area and probing the debris inside the crevasse, he was unable to locate his partner and subsequently returned to the party’s basecamp and phoned the Talkeetna Ranger Station for assistance. When weather permitted, a military Pavehawk helicopter picked up the remaining climber and did an initial aerial reconnaissance of the accident site. Interagency aerial search operations and an avalanche hazard site assessment were conducted by the NPS, the Alaska State Trooper SAR Coordinator, and an avalanche expert from the Alaska Mountain Safety Center. The victim’s most likely location was determined to be under heavy debris inside the crevasse, resulting in a negligible possibility of survival. Search operations were suspended at the conclusion of flight operations on February 17th.
Aircraft Mishap, Ruth Amphitheater
On April 15th, during a post-landing taxi in the Ruth Amphitheater, a Talkeetna-based commercial aircraft sustained substantial damage to the landing gear and structure after launching over an open crevasse and landing hard on the downhill side. A minor injury was reported by one of the two passengers, both of whom were NPS rangers.
On May 6th, a climber reported to NPS staff at the 17,200-foot camp that his partner had “lost his mind”. The patient’s chief complaint was ataxia and an altered mental status while on the summit ridge. Most of these symptoms had resolved them-selves by descending to the 17,200-foot camp, however the pa-tient still exhibited signs of altitude illness and some memory loss. The patient was treated for high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and was released after 10 hours of care and rest. The climbers were assisted down to the 14,200 foot camp by another team of four without incident. Fatal Climbing Fall, Denali On May 11th, twin brothers were killed in a fall while descending Denali Pass at 18,200 feet on Denali. The fall was unwitnessed, although fatigue and icy conditions likely contributed to the fall. Their bodies were recovered the same day and flown out to Talkeetna.
On May 16th, a client was brought to the 14,200-foot ranger camp by his mountaineering guide with signs and symptoms of high altitude cerebral edema. The client was treated with oxygen and altitude medications and remained under NPS care until May 18th, when he was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp by the Lama helicopter.
On May 20th, an expedition contacted the base camp manager via CB radio reporting that they were at approximately 19,600 feet on the West Buttress route and one of their members was suffering from exhaustion. No immediate aid was requested, however they did request assistance at high camp upon their return. At 5:00 a.m. when the team finally arrived at camp, a volunteer ranger physician examined the exhausted climber while a climbing ranger assisted the group. The party was able to descend the next day without assistance.
On May 28th, a climber reported to NPS staff at the 17,200-foot camp that his partner had frostbitten his hands. A private party of two assisted the injured climber down to the 14,200-foot camp where NPS staff re-warmed and treated his frostbite. The patient was air evacuated from the mountain on May 30th.
On June 18th, a climber was brought to the 14,200 foot ranger camp by his companion (after a too rapid ascent) suffering from signs and symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The sick climber was treated with oxygen and altitude medications and remained under NPS care until on June 20th, when he was evacuated to Talkeetna from the 14,200-foot camp by the Lama helicopter. Respiratory Distress;
Lower Leg Injury, Denali
An expedition’s lead guide brought a client to the 14,200-foot camp who was in some respiratory distress. The day before, this client was turned around short of the summit while on a summit bid (approximately 19,700’). The guides subsequently brought her down to the 14,200’ camp for medical evaluation. While this patient was being treated, a lead guide from a different guided expedition asked the ranger staff to examine a client that had sustained a lower leg injury while descending the fixed lines. Both of these patients were treated for their injuries/illnesses and together were flown off the mountain via the Lama helicopter three days later.
Respiratory Distress, Denali
On July 2, NPS rangers at the 17,200 foot camp were alerted that a climber was found lying in the snow in severe respiratory distress. Subsequent to the administration of emergency medical care, the climber recovered and eventually regained a normal state of consciousness. NPS rangers short-roped the climber from the 17,200 foot camp to the 14,200 foot camp for further medical attention. The climber was later identified as a member of a guided climb. The guides of the climb were both cited for creating a hazardous condition.
Dislocated Shoulder, Denali
On July 5, while descending from the 16,200-foot camp on the West Buttress of Denali, a member of a guided expedition dislocated his shoulder on two different occasions. Due to the unstable nature of the injury, the climber was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp via the Lama Helicopter.
High Water River Crossing, McKinley River
At midnight on July 11th, an NPS mountaineering patrol that was traversing to Wonder Lake on the north side of the Alaska Range, discovered two individuals trapped on a very small gravel bar in the middle of the McKinley River due to high water levels. The patrol attempted to reach the two climbers, who were just beginning a Denali ascent via the Muldrow Glacier route. At midday, the Lama helicopter was launched from Talkeetna, and ultimately both climbers were evacuated via helicopter to the Wonder Lake Ranger Station.
Exposure, Altitude Sickness, and Frostbite on Mt. Logan, Kluane National Park, Parks Canada
May 27, 2005 Denali National Park & Preserve’s high altitude Lama helicopter crew and one climbing ranger were called across the Canadian border to assist in an interagency evacuation of three men stranded high on Mt. Logan in Kluane National Park. The three climbers, all suffering to varying degrees from exposure, altitude sickness, and frostbite, were caught in a sudden and severe storm at 18,000 feet near the mountain’s summit. Lama pilot Jim Hood conducted three back-to-back high altitude shorthauls, ferrying the injured men to a lower elevation for an immediate military evacuation to an Anchorage hospital.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: Roger Robinson
- Mountaineering Rangers: John Evans, Karen Hilton, Gordy Kito, John Leonard, John Loomis, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Mik Shain
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Ray Touzeau
- Admin Assistant: Maureen McLaughlin
- Lead Visitor Use Assistant: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Al Gallo, Pam Robinson
- Park Planner: Miriam Valentine, Charlie Loeb
- Interpretive Ranger: Laura Wright
- Janitor: Jack Fickel
- Medical Directors (non-NPS): Jennifer Dow, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2006
Our season was significantly impacted this year by the death of two friends, Karen McNeil and Sue Nott, who were lost on Mount Foraker. Karen and Sue had both befriended many of the Talkeetna staff and were well known in the climbing world as accomplished alpinists. Both of their families flew to Alaska during the search effort, as did many of their friends. It was a trying time for all. We will probably never know what happened or where they are located on Mount Foraker.
We also lost Mr. Kim, a South Korean climber who sadly died of a sudden medical illness while descending the fixed lines on Denali. The Kim family also came to Talkeetna to thank the guides, mountaineering rangers, volunteers, and the Talkeetna staff for all their help.
We welcomed a new mountaineering ranger this season; Tucker Chenoweth brings great skills and experience to Denali as a former alpine guide, accomplished ski patroller, and Denali mountaineering volunteer. On the flip side, in 2007 we are losing mountaineering ranger Gordy Kito who has been with us for the past six seasons. Gordy was a former guide on Denali before joining the National Park Service. Gordy, his wife Julianne, and his son Rowan are moving to Washington, D.C. for a new job as a Concessions Specialist at the National Mall in Washington, DC. Gordy will be thoroughly missed as he wore many hats at the Talkeetna Ranger Station - computer specialist, concessions expert, and maintenance guy in addition to being a superb mountaineering ranger. And Gordy always kept us on our toes!
Temperatures in the Alaska Range seemed closer to the norm in 2006, as the firnline did not reach the 7,200 foot Kahiltna Basecamp. During the prior season, warm temperatures resulted in considerable snow melt at these lower elevations.
The U.S. Army High Altitude Rescue Team (HART) was able to support our camp insertions this year (and end-of-season extractions) at 7,200 feet and 14,200 feet in 2006. We hope to work with this invaluable team next season, though in the event they are redeployed to Iraq, we wish them a safe journey.
- Average trip length: 17.8 days
- Average trip length for groups that summitted: 18.5 days
- Busiest summit day: May 29, 50 summits
- Summit breakdown by month: June (315); May (199); July (67)
- Average age: 37 years old
- Women constituted only 7.1% of the total, down from 11% in 2005
46 patients required NPS medical assistance this season, broken down as follows:
- 13 patients
- 3 evacuations
- 13 patients
- 5 evacuations
- 10 patients
- 6 evacuations
Of the new route activity accomplished in 2006, three new routes were climbed by Alaska Range veterans and two were the teams’ first new routes in the Range. Overall, it was a quiet season with lower than average numbers on Denali and only five notable new routes climbed. The age old dilemma about what constitutes a new route is always an issue. Is it a new route if the climbers did not go to the summit? Mark Twight defended his position by saying a route is the path taken between two points, therefore a climbing route need not reach a summit to be valid. Michael Kennedy defended the opposing position, stating that without a summit a climbing route is only an attempt. Climbers can decide for themselves.
We have attempted to report “notable” climbs, two of which (one on Broken Tooth and one on Denali) did not involve actual summits. The Ruth Glacier area saw all of the April activity. Yearly visitors Mark Westman and Eamonn Walsh climbed “The Warrior’s Way” on April 14 in a 19.5hour push. Their route on the east face of Mt. Grosvenor marks the 4th ascent of the peak (this team also made the 2nd and 3rd ascents in 2005). A couple of weeks later the duo found good conditions on the East Couloir of Broken Tooth. Starting on the Coffee Glacier on May 10, they climbed 12 mixed pitches and turned around after reaching the ridge, but not the summit. Earlier on Broken Tooth, Fumitaka Ichimura and Katsutaka Yokoyama climbed “Before the Dawn” on April 26 and 27. Their route climbs a weakness on the north face for 23 pitches to the summit.
In May, the team of Jen Olson and Katherine Fraser visited the remote Kichatna Spires. During a 3week period from May 24 to June 15 they made several climbs, the most noteworthy being a 14-pitch route on Sunrise Spire that rises from the CuldeSac Glacier to the summit ridge. They coined their route “Wholesome Razor”.
The coup d’etat for the year was a route climbed on the South Face of Denali. Dubbed the “Canadian Direct” the route joins the American Direct between 16,000 feet and 17,000 feet. Climbing alpine style, Canadians Maxime Turgeon and L.P. Menard completed their climb in three days from the base of the south face to high camp on the West Buttress following several weeks acclimating in the range. Though they came within roughly 200 feet of it, Turgeon and Menard reportedly bypassed the true summit due to stormy conditions. After a rest back at the 7,200 foot Kahiltna Basecamp, the duo returned to the base of the South Face to retrieve gear cached there prior to the climb.
In another noteworthy expedition, a three-member Russian party replicated the circuitous route Dr. Frederick Cook claimed to have taken to the top of Denali back in 1906. Commencing May 19 at the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on the east side of Denali, Oleg Banar, Victor Afanasiev, and Valery Bagov ascended Traleika Col, descended the Traleika Glacier to the West Fork, moved up the West Fork, then ascended a line on the South Face of Mt. Carpe'. The threesome then traversed the ridge crest from Mt. Carpe' to Mt. Koven, and on to Karstens Ridge. Continuing to the summit via the Harper Glacier, the Russian Team reached the top on June 2, 14 days later.
Detailed below are seventeen search and rescue missions performed by Denali National Park and Preserve rangers in 2006. For more detailed information on the missions listed below and information on the other missions performed in 2006 refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2007, published by the American Alpine Club.
On April 26, a climber with a history of cardiac problems experienced a cardiac event approximately two hours after departing basecamp for an attempt on the West Rib and Cassin Routes. The expedition was able to return to the Kahiltna Basecamp without assistance and promptly contacted an NPS ranger patrol. The patient was subsequently evacuated via the NPS-contracted Lama helicopter and transferred to an air ambulance.
A climber contacted the ranger camp at 14,200 feet on May 12 with blebs (blisters) from second degree frostbite on the thumb and first two fingers on the right hand and darkened toes on both feet. The patient evacuated by helicopter the following day. The frostbite on the toes resulted in the amputation of eight tips to the first knuckle. Despite following a gradual ascent to the 14,200 foot camp, a climber became ill and sought NPS assistance on May 17. Following a medical examination he was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and a possible upper respiratory infection. The individual was placed on oxygen, administered medications, and continuously monitored and treated. He was evacuated to the Kahiltna Basecamp via the Lama helicopter on May 19, and transferred to an Anchorage hospital via an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter.
In a similar situation, a lead guide on a guided expedition became ill (again, despite a gradual ascent to the 14,200 foot camp) and sought assistance from the NPS on May 22. He was diagnosed with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and an upper respiratory infection and placed on oxygen and monitored overnight. His symptoms did not improve, and he was evacuated via the Lama helicopter and transferred to an air ambulance for advanced medical care.
On May 25, one of three climbers attempting a ski descent of the Orient Express lost his balance at the 18,300 foot level, somersaulting out of the sight of his two partners before coming to a stop at 15,700 feet. His partners notified rangers at the 14,200 foot camp of the fall. The fallen climber got up and began stumbling down the remaining slope towards the 14,200 foot camp. Halfway down the descent, he fell into a crevasse, but was able to extricate himself. The hasty team made contact with him at approximately 14,700 feet, conducted an initial medical assessment, and transported him the remaining distance to the ranger camp via cascade litter and backboard. The patient was monitored throughout the night, and evacuated the following morning via the Lama helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp, where he was transferred to an Anchorage air ambulance for further evaluation and treatment.
On May 26, the NPS rangers at Kahiltna Basecamp were notified that two climbers had become separated and were in distress near the top of Mt. Hunter (14,573 feet). One was unable to move due to frostbite injuries, and he had no means of radio communication. His non-frostbitten teammate was stuck and could not move, but did have FRS radio communication with other teammates at the Kahiltna Basecamp. Owing to their exposed location near the top of Mt. Hunter, as well as the time and risk required to get a ground team to them, the best alternative was to rescue them using the high altitude Lama helicopter. Throughout the day of May 27, winds remained extremely high throughout the Alaska Range. In the evening, winds subsided and the Lama helicopter was able to fly in and land by each of the victims and evacuate them to the Kahiltna Glacier. The climbers were medically assessed and released to the care of their teammates at Basecamp.
On May 28, a solo climber came to the 14,200 foot camp suffering from signs and symptoms of HAPE. He was treated with oxygen and altitude medications and remained under NPS care until he was evacuated to the Kahiltna Basecamp by the Lama helicopter and later transferred to an air ambulance for transport to Anchorage.
A team attempting the West Buttress-to-Muldrow Glacier Traverse contacted NPS staff on May 28 and asked for assistance in handling a panic-stricken member. After several phone conversations, an agreement was reached for the team to retrace their route and descend the West Buttress without assistance from the NPS. On May 29, the team called park staff once more for route-finding assistance, otherwise they descended with no further incident.
A guide brought a client to the 14,200 foot ranger camp for medical evaluation, and it was determined that she suffered from HAPE. After three days of treatment, she was walked down to the Kahiltna Basecamp under the care of her guides.
During the period of May 28 to June 1, NPS rangers and volunteers working out of the 14.200 foot camp responded to multiple incidents, including a broken leg, a mental breakdown, and other injuries. Two of the more seriously injured climbers were evacuated from the 14,200 foot camp by the U.S. Army Chinook helicopters on June 1.
An intensive search for two women missing on Mt. Foraker in early June was unsuccessful. The two climbers departed the Kahiltna Basecamp on May 12 with fourteen days of food and eight to ten fuel canisters for an ascent of the technically difficult Infinite Spur route. Two weeks passed during which time interest in the women’s progress prompted at least four fixed wing overflights of the south face of Foraker by air taxi pilots and climbers on their way to or from Basecamp. Due to mounting concern for their welfare, the NPS began formal search operations using the Lama helicopter when weather cleared on the evening of June 1. On June 2, a pack (later confirmed to be carried by one of the women) and several other items of gear were found in an avalanche debris cone approximately 300 feet to the east of the start of the route. The only other evidence of the climbing team were intermittent tracks at 16,600 feet on the slopes leading to the south summit. Twenty-seven hours of low level aerial searching of the Infinite Spur route, possible fall lines, and likely descent routes was accomplished as weather permitted throughout the first week. However in the following week, prolonged poor weather severely limited search operations with only one high level fixed wing flight possible from June 7 to June 15. Based on survivability assessments, search activities were scaled back; prolonged stretches of poor weather and wind conditions at higher elevations made search opportunities in the remainder of June and beginning of July minimal. On July 9 the Lama helicopter made a final search of the debris cone for any new evidence that might have appeared due to snow melt but found nothing. The search was officially suspended on July 10.
On June 3, two members of a guided expedition were evacuated by the Lama helicopter after receiving treatment for frostbite from NPS personnel at both the 17,200 foot and 14,200 foot camps the previous evening.
On June 5, a climber reported to NPS staff at the 14,200 foot camp that she had frostbite on her fingers. NPS staff treated her injuries and over the next few days she was assisted down to the Kahiltna Basecamp and released.
A climber reported to NPS staff at the 14,200 foot camp that he had injured his hamstring while running in camp on June 7. After seven days of rest, the patient was still unable to bear weight. On June 15, the patient was evacuated from the mountain via helicopter.
Two mountaineering guides awaiting a flight out of Basecamp had just completed cooking dinner for their clients when one of the two stoves they were using experienced an O-ring failure, causing the pressurized fuel bottle to explode. The two received second degree burns to their extremities and faces. Poor flying conditions prevented two attempts that evening (one by the Lama helicopter and the other via fixed wing by a local air taxi) to extract them. They were evacuated the following morning via fixed wing aircraft and taken to the local health clinic for definitive medical treatment.
On June 26 the rangers at the 14,200 foot camp were notified via FRS radio of a problem with the assistant guide from a guided group just above the High Camp (17,200 feet). The assistant guide was exhibiting severe signs of AMS and breathing difficulties indicative of the onset of HAPE. Via the radio, rangers advised the team to descend to High Camp, place the patient on oxygen located in the camp’s rescue cache. Once on oxygen, the patient was able to descend to the 14,200 foot camp with assistance from his team. In camp, he was assessed as showing signs of AMS and HAPE – which had significantly diminished due to treatment and descent and was admitted to the medical tent overnight for monitoring. The following day the patient showed significant signs of improvement. However, during the following night he deteriorated and represented signs of HAPE and AMS. After treatment and consultation with the park’s physician sponsor, it was decided to evacuate him due to a likely underlying problem or illness. The next day the Lama helicopter was able to evacuate him from the 14,200 foot camp. Subsequent hospital evaluation indicated that the patient had pneumonia.
On June 29, the rangers at the 14,200 foot camp were notified via FRS radio of the collapse of a client from a guided group at approximately 15,500 feet on the fixed lines. After assessing the client, the guide initiated Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and following wilderness medicine guidelines continued for 30 minutes before ceasing efforts as he could detect no signs of life. Meanwhile the NPS had dispatched a hasty team to the scene. Once they reached the victim, the hasty team detected faint signs of life and initiated a technical lower of the patient. During the lowering effort, the patient again exhibited no signs of life and CPR was initiated. The patient again exhibited weak signs of life. The patient arrived at the ranger camp where a careful assessment was conducted and telephone contact and consultation was made with the park’s physician sponsor. No signs of life were present and the patient was pronounced dead. Due to bad weather, the body was not recovered from the mountain until July 1 using the Lama helicopter. An autopsy was performed by the State of Alaska Medical Examiner; the cause of death was determined to be natural and consistent with sudden death of cardiac origin.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: Roger Robinson
- Mountaineering Rangers: Tucker Chenoweth, John Evans, Gordy Kito, John Leonard, John Loomis, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Mik Shain
- Admin Assistant: Maureen McLaughlin
- Lead Visitor Use Assistant: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Al Gallo, Pam Robinson
- Park Planners: Miriam Valentine, Charlie Loeb
- Education Specialist: Jenni Burr
- Interpretive Ranger: Frannie Christensen
- Janitor: Jack Fickel
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Mike Barstat
- Medical Directors: Jennifer Dow, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2007
The 2007 climbing season was off to a successful start with the first solo winter ascent of Mt. Foraker by the renowned Japanese climber Masatoshi Kuriaki. This “Wind Warrior” of the Alaska Range posted the only successful ascent of Mt. Foraker out of 21 attempts this season. Masatoshi, a quiet, understated climber with enormous resolve, has spent a whopping 532 days by himself in the Alaska Range since his first winter climb in 1997. The Denali staff will miss seeing Masatoshi in 2008, as this winter’s adventure involves taking care of his newborn baby!
In early April, the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter was successfully climbed by an NPS patrol comprised of mountaineering rangers Mik Shain and Tucker Chenoweth, along with volunteer Tim Connelly. This early season climb was intended to hone technical mountaineering skills, expand our staff-wide base of route knowledge, and to make an early assessment of snow conditions. We welcomed a new mountaineering ranger this season, Kevin Wright, who brings great skills and experience to the team as a former Denali guide, an accomplished ski patroller, and a former NPS mountaineering volunteer. We sadly said goodbye to John Evans, a mountaineering ranger here since 2001. A 25-year veteran on Denali, Evans’ vast experience as a mountain guide and former Air National Guard Pararescueman added great depth to our ranger team.
The U.S. Army High Altitude Rescue Team (B. Company, 4th123rd, Aviation) from Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks was committed overseas once again and thereby unable to support our camp insertion. We were fortunate to work with the U.S. Army Black Hawks (1st, 207th, Aviation) from Ft. Richardson in Anchorage who proved an invaluable resource in removing the camps. We hope to work with both of these remarkable teams again in the future.
We conducted 19 search and rescue missions involving five fatalities, reminding us yet again how fragile human life is in the Alaska Range. These incidents involved climbing falls, crevasse falls, rappel failure, snow blindness, an avalanche, altitude sickness, and other assorted medical problems. Along with numerous medical transports of patients from the 14,200 foot camp on Denali, the NPS-contracted Lama Helicopter, flown by pilot Jim Hood, performed two operational short-haul rescues this season in terrain outside our typical focus area, including a dayhiker on Mt. Healy near park headquarters and a distressed hiker in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Congratulations go out to Denali Pro Award winners Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell for their selfless assistance to other climbers during a particularly grueling rescue mission.
The South District staff continued efforts to investigate and penalize businesses offering unauthorized commercial services within the park, both in the aviation and mountain guiding realms. This year, working in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office, we conducted two different undercover investigations. One of these investigations led to the execution of a search warrant, and charges are currently pending in the case. The other investigation resulted in the cancellation of climbing permits for illegally guided clients. This past season the National Park Service cancelled over one hundred registrations for climbers involved either knowingly or unknowingly with illegal businesses.
As this Summary goes to press, we learned that our medical director for Denali National Park and Preserve, Dr. Jen Dow, is the 2007 recipient of the “Memorial Longenbaugh Award”, a prestigious accolade honoring both her professional and volunteer work in Alaskan emergency medicine. From all the staff at Denali, thank you Dr. Dow for all your hard work!
- Average trip length: 16.8 days
- Average trip length for groups that summitted: 17.6 days
- Busiest summit day: June 12, with 77 summits
- Summit breakdown by month: June (379); May (177); July (15)
- Average age: 37 years old
- Women constituted 12% of all climbers
The Denali Pro Award recognizes climbers for exemplary performance in expedition behavior, risk assessment, and minimum impact while climbing Denali. 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.
While climbing on Denali, Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell were at the 17,200 foot camp on the 17th of May 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, and upon arrival at the accident site discovered a catastrophic scene where two members of the ‘Cascade Climbers’ expedition lay entangled in a climbing rope with their personal effects strewn all about. 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.
The most activity in the range this season occurred off of the Ruth Glacier. Beginning early in the season a Japanese threesome climbed a trio of hard new routes. Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato, and Yamada Tatsuro spent 24 days on the Ruth in April and made five attempts on un-climbed lines, three of them successful: Mt Bradley, Southeast Face; Mt Johnson, North Face; and Mt Church, North Face.
Also in April, Gareth Hughes and Vivian Scott made a first ascent on the East Face of 10,260 foot Mt. Dan Beard. The two climbed the route along the right side of the face in 24 hours. New route activity in the Ruth resumed again in June. Cedar Wright and Renan Ozturk climbed five rock routes in the 5.10 to 5.12 range along the east side of the Gorge. The longest lines were on the west face of the Eyetooth (a direct variation to the last 10 pitches of the Ogler Route) and a route to the left of the major dihedral. They also added two quality routes on the Stump within 100 feet of Gold Finger. These are some of the most accessible rock routes in the Alaska Range, located within a 30-minute ski of a Ruth Gorge base camp where aircraft can land, if conditions allow. Lastly for Ruth activity, Alaskan locals Jay Rowe and Peter Haeussler climbed a moderate route on the Southeast Buttress of the Sugar Tooth. From Espresso Gap, they climbed 21 pitches to the summit.
Elsewhere in the range the activity was sparse but no less impressive. On March 10, Masatoshi Kuriaki completed his quest to get to the summit of Foraker during a calendar winter. This year he climbed the South East Ridge. While he had previously succeeded on this route and on the Sultana, these earlier summits had occurred several days after the spring equinox. Also on the Foraker massif, Peter Doucette, Ben Gilmore, and Freddie Wilkinson climbed a steep new route up the 4,000 foot South Face of the Fin, a 13,300 foot subpeak on the remote southwest side of Mt. Foraker. This route is included here due to its remote nature, as it was not a completed route to a summit. Over on Mt. Hunter, Britons Jon Bracey and Andy Houseman made the second ascent of the French Route on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter on May 8, 23 years after the first ascent. The pair climbed the route and then descended via the West Ridge to base camp in four days.
On Denali, Michio Kumamoto became the oldest person to reach the summit on June 29, 12 days after celebrating his 76th birthday. On the technical climbing scene Colin Haley and Mark Westman climbed the Denali Diamond in under 2 days from the bergschrund to the summit. This stunning route ascends the steep wall left of the Cassin Ridge and has now posted five ascents. A group of highly motivated skiers were active on the upper mountain in June. Good conditions allowed Adam Clark, Kristen Kramer, Clark Fyans, Nick Devore, and Chris Davenport to ski most of the popular lines. Then they also set out for new ground, making a probable first descent of the couloir on the Black Tower on the North summit (extremely obvious from the 17,200 foot high camp).
The Kichatna Spires had another visit from the British. Simon Hitchens, Phil Jefferey, and Mike “Twid” Turner came in April and made the first ascents of three long ice gullies off the Tatina Glacier. In May, Martin Gutmannn and Lucas Iten, both from Switzerland, along with Jack Sasser from Colorado, made three new rock climbs in Little Switzerland. Two of these lines are on the Throne, to the right of the Lost Marsupial Gully and on the West Face. The third is on the south side of the Royal Tower, all of these routes are reported to offer quality rock and aesthetic climbing in the 5.10 range.
Detailed below are nineteen search and rescue missions performed by Denali National Park and Preserve rangers in 2007. For more detailed information on the missions listed below and information on the other missions performed in 2007 refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2008, published by the American Alpine Club.
On April 23, a two-person team was climbing the Northeast Ridge of Mt. Wake (9,100 feet) in the Ruth Gorge. While on rappel, one of the climbers came off the end of the rope and suffered a fatal fall of over 1,300 feet. The partner descended the rest of the route and sought help from another climbing party in the Ruth Gorge that had a satellite phone. The NPS was notified later that evening. The victim’s body was recovered the following day by fixed wing aircraft.
On May 6, the Basecamp Manager reported to the NPS that a climber had taken a crevasse fall at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill (~7,000 feet) and needed assistance. Three rangers were dispatched down glacier to the reported location and found one injured climber who had already been extracted from the crevasse. Injuries included a possible fractured upper and lower left arm, pain in right ankle, as well as possible broken ribs. Rangers stabilized the injured patient and escorted the climbers back to Basecamp.
Two members of a climbing team departed from the 14,200 foot camp in the morning of May 16 for an ascent of the Upper Rib route, with a planned descent via the West Buttress. The following day, the two were observed by guides and a ranger patrol at the 17,200 foot high camp to be traversing along the top of the Messner Couloir (a route not normally taken) to a point high above the trail leading to Denali Pass. The team was last spotted traversing at an elevation of approximately 18,900 feet, but seconds later the team had fallen down the slope, stopping at the 17,000 foot level. A hasty team was dispatched to the site and discovered one climber deceased, while the other was alive but critically wounded. The wounded climber was treated for immediate life-threatening injuries and transported to the ranger tent at 17,200 feet. The climber was treated throughout the night but ultimately succumbed to injuries and died the morning of May 18.
Fatal Avalanche Fall
Two climbers were killed in a fall caused by an avalanche while attempting the Japanese Couloir route on Mount Barrille. The accident was not witnessed, but likely occurred sometime on the evening of May 16 or the morning of May 17. The remains of the two climbers were spotted on May 19 in wet avalanche debris at the base of Mt. Barrille by rangers aboard the Lama helicopter. Later than evening, the bodies were recovered and flown back to Talkeetna.
On May 22, a client on a guided expedition contacted NPS staff at the 14,200 foot camp exhibiting signs and symptoms of a possible Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), sometimes referred to as a “ministroke”. The climber received medical care until weather permitted an evacuation by the NPS Lama Helicopter.
An unresponsive climber was brought to the 14,200 foot NPS camp for evaluation on May 25. Ranger and volunteer staff determined that the sick climber was suffering from severe High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). The individual was treated and quickly evacuated from the 14,200 foot camp by the Lama helicopter.
On May 25, a member of a two-person climbing team fell into a crevasse at the 7,500 foot level of the Kahiltna Glacier. The fall was held by a combination of his companion, rope drag, and a snow bridge approximately 60 feet down in the crevasse. The climber on top secured the rope and after determining that the fallen partner was relatively uninjured, dragged out the partner’s sled and pack. The climber in the crevasse was unable to extricate himself, nor could the partner haul him out on his own. The team used their satellite phone to request assistance. A team of three (1 ranger and 2 VIP’s) was transported to the scene by the Lama helicopter and extricated the climber from the crevasse. Both team members were then flown to the Kahiltna Basecamp, and the fallen climber was flown onward to Talkeetna for medical attention to cuts received around the head and face.
On May 30, a guided client injured a knee while descending below the fixed lines on the West Buttress. The next day, the client was assessed by a VIP ranger physician at the 14,200 foot camp. The determination was made to evacuate the injured climber via the Lama helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp where the patient was released.
Led by his partner, a climber sought ranger assistance at the medical tent at 14,200 feet as he was completely impaired in both eyes by snow blindness. The snow blindness took longer than normal to heal up due to the severity of the injury, and ranger and medical staff at the camp deemed it safer to evacuate the climber than risk an accident on the descent due to impaired vision. However, due to the prolonged period of non-flyable weather, he eventually healed adequately enough to descend safely on foot with his partner.
On June 6, NPS was notified of a climber at the 7,800 foot camp unable to walk because of severe abdominal pain. Staff on scene diagnosed the climber’s illness as a probable kidney stone. The patient remained non-ambulatory following treatment and was evacuated from the mountain by the Lama helicopter.
Also on June 6, a guided client approached the medics at the 14,200 foot camp complaining of difficulty breathing and was subsequently diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Ranger and medical volunteers treated the climber with oxygen and albuterol. As the patient’s condition did not significantly improve, an air evacuation took place at the earliest opportunity, which due to weather considerations was not until the morning of June 8.
A climber reported to NPS staff at the 14,200 foot camp on June 13 with an injured knee that occurred while alpine skiing above camp. After two days of rest, the patient was still unable to bear weight on the injury. On June 17, the patient was evacuated from the mountain via the Lama helicopter.
A guided client sought help from the 14,200 foot medical camp with unexplained bradycardic episodes and accompanying shortness of breath. The condition continued even at rest and on oxygen. Patrol medics, in consultation with the park’s sponsoring physician, recommended that the patient be flown off the mountain. The evacuation occurred two days later owing to poor flying weather.
On June 27, a guide escorted a client down to the 14,200 foot camp from the 17,200 foot high camp. In the vicinity of Washburn’s Thumb (approx. 16,900 feet), the client experienced a sudden onset of abdominal pain followed by a period of vomiting and bowel movements. The guide contacted the 14,200 foot ranger camp via radio to inform them what was occurring, but stated that they did not require any assistance at the time. Radio contact was maintained throughout the day and the guide and client ultimately arrived into the camp that evening without assistance. After a physical examination and consultation with the park’s sponsoring physician at Alaska Regional Hospital, it was determined that the client had a possible bowel obstruction. The climber was emergency evacuated via the Lama helicopter to Talkeetna, and ground transported to the MatSu Regional Hospital for definitive medical care.
A climber experienced a small fall on June 28 while descending the fixed lines of the West Buttress. The climber’s right knee was injured during the fall and subsequently was unable to support any weight. The team requested NPS assistance to descend to the camp at 14,200 feet. Two rangers and a patrol volunteer evacuated the injured party to the ranger camp by rescue litter. The next morning, the patient was flown out by Lama helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp and transferred to a fixed wing aircraft to Talkeetna.
Probable HACE: On June 29, a client on a guided expedition collapsed below Denali Pass at the 18,000 foot level of Mt. McKinley. The patient was treated on the spot for HACE symptoms and shortroped down to the 17,200 foot camp for further medical evaluation by ranger staff. Upon improvement, it was determined that the patient could descend under their own power with shortrope assistance. The patient was advised to descend immediately and to be reevaluated by ranger and volunteer medical staff at the 14,200 foot camp. Showing no additional signs or symptoms besides the event, the client descended with their guide to 7,200 foot Kahiltna Basecamp and flew out by fixed wing aircraft to Talkeetna.
A climber incapacitated by snow blindness and pulmonary edema was evacuated from the West Buttress high camp to the 14,200 foot ranger camp via a roped lowering operation on June 30. Two days later the weather allowed the Lama helicopter to evacuate the sick climber to Talkeetna, where the patient was transferred to a fixed wing air ambulance for further hospital care in Anchorage.
Also on June 30, a client exhibited seizures on the first day of a guided West Buttress expedition. Later that evening, the climber was airlifted from the 7,100 foot level of the Kahiltna Glacier by an Air National Guard helicopter for transport to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.
On July 4, a lead guide on a commercial expedition descended with a sick client from high camp to the 14,200 foot ranger camp for medical assistance; the client was complaining of shortness of breath, a general lack of energy, and lower left intercostal chest pain. The patient had a previous cardiac history, so after initial medical treatment to stabilize the condition, the Lama helicopter was placed on standby for a medical evacuation. Weather deteriorated and did not improve sufficiently until July 9, at which time the Lama flew the patient to the Kahiltna Basecamp where the climber was released from NPS care following a physical examination by a park medic. The patient flew out to Talkeetna and sought consultation with a cardiologist.
On day 39 of my expedition, I stood on top of Mt. Foraker. It was March 10, 2007 at 5:03 PM Alaska standard time (AST). The temperature was -50 F, with 20 to 30 knot winds, making a wind chill of almost -100 F. I only stayed for ten minutes but this was the culmination of four years of attempts at a goal of a solo winter ascent of the mountain. At last, I was successful.
My journey began in the summer of 1995, when I climbed Denali and dreamed of climbing solo in the winter. My dream grew into a quest to climb each of the three highest summits in the Alaska range in the winter. The three peaks are: Denali (meaning high one or great one), Mt. Foraker (whose native name is Sultana, meaning wife or woman) and finally Mt. Hunter (whose native name Begguya, meaning child). At this time, after ten winters of climbing, I have stood on the top of Denali in the winter and on the top of Mt. Foraker twice in the spring just a few days after the spring equinox. This is my story of this year’s climb.
Day 1, January 31
I flew into Kahiltna Glacier with Paul of Talkeetna Air Taxi in a Cessna 185 on wheel skis. I unloaded 300 pounds of gear, including my fuel, food, clothes, climbing gear and my 14 foot safety poles for crossing glaciers. I spent the rest of the day setting up my base camp and organizing gear, elevation 6,450 feet.
Day 2 – 6, February 1 – 5
I started ferrying my gear to the beginning of the Southeast Ridge at 6,700 feet across a portion of the glacier and then Camp 1 ascending the lower slope of the ridge to approximately 8,100 feet. When crossing the glacier I use a pair of 14 foot-long aluminum safety poles and mountain skis. The poles are used to help protect me in case of hidden crevasse. This was put to the test when I stepped on a hidden crevasse on day 4 and the poles and the skis stopped me from a serious fall. I spent the next four days ferrying loads to the beginning of the ridge and up to Camp 1 and then building a snow cave.
Day 7 – 18, February 6 – 17
At this point, I am staying at Camp 1 and ferry supplies from the beginning of the ridge (6,700 feet) to Camp 1 for 4 days, then ferry supplies to Camp 2 at 9,780 feet. The climbing became more technical and I had to rig 2 separate fixed lines of 200 feet each anchored with webbing around bed rock. The weather was clear and cold, with one day snow fall only. This made the chance of avalanche in this area known for avalanches very small. It took me eight days to make five trips to Camp 2 and build the snow cave there.
Day 19 – 29, February 18 – 28
Camp 2, at 9,780 feet, the view of Denali and Mt. Hunter and the rest of the Alaska range was fantastic. The winds began to pick up. I was stuck in my snow cave for 5 days straight until the winds let up enough for me to start moving to Camp 3 at 11,300 feet. It took me four trips in a 6 day period to ferry my gear to a point just below Camp 3. I had to rig one fixed line using 2 ropes, anchored with webbing around bed rock in two places.
Day 30 – 35, March 1 – 6
I moved the fixed line to a steep section just below Camp 3 and started to move my supplies into Camp 3. I moved my two rope fixed line to just above Camp 3 and started to continue up the mountain; it took me six days to move everything to High Camp, at 13,400 feet.
Day 36 – 38, March 7 – 9
High winds keep me at camp, watching the lenticular clouds form over Denali, Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter, powered by the strong winds. I sat watching and waiting.
Day 39, March 10
The lenticular clouds are still forming on Denali and Mt. Hunter but not on Mt. Foraker. The winds are less than they have been the last few days. I will try! The first thing I encountered is a steep knife ridge with an overhanging cornice. I have to stay back from the cornice but high enough on the slope not to cause an avalanche. Next, I came to an area of tricky crevasses. This took some time to negotiate. The rest of the way to the summit was hard ice and snow and I had to watch my step so I would not slip and fall. At last after 9 hours 15 minutes of climbing, I reached the summit of Mt Foraker, 17,400 feet, at 5:03 PM AST. I only stayed 10 minutes in the 100 degree wind chill. I took many pictures and started my descent. It was getting late and my glasses were fogging up. With the combination of this and the flat light it would be too dangerous to try and cross the crevasse area and the knife edge ridge. After descending for three hours, I decided to make an emergency snow cave at 14,500 feet. This took me 3 1/2 hours to dig the snow cave. I spent a cold night in the snow cave without a sleeping bag at -20 F.
Day 40 - 43, March 11 - 14
After a cold night, I woke up to a calmer day and descended to High Camp but by afternoon the winds had picked back up. I spent another 3 days at High Camp because of high winds.
Day 44 - 52, March 15 - 23
It took me 9 days to descend to my old base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier.
Day 53 - 57, March 24 - 28
The wind had made the landing area on the glacier extremely rough. The plane was not able to land at my base camp. I had to ferry all my gear three miles to a protected area on the south east fork of the Kahiltna Glacier which is the standard base camp for climbers on Mt. McKinley. On the 28th of March, Paul showed up in a Beaver and flew me back to Talkeetna.
After a long, hot shower, I ate two double cheeseburgers, two house salads and 2 orders of french fries, topped off with two desserts!
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Mountaineering Rangers: Tucker Chenoweth, John Evans, John Leonard, John Loomis, Meg Perdue, Joe Reichert, Roger Robinson, Mike Shain, Kevin Wright
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanics: Doug Green
- Administration / Public Information: Maureen McLaughlin
- Supervisor VUA: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Julia Crocetto, Al Gallo, Pam Robinson
- Planners: Miriam Valentine, Charlie Loeb
- Education Specialist: Jenni Burr
- Interpretive Ranger: Helen Cole
- SCA: Nancy Williams
- Janitor: Jack Fickel
- Medical Directors: Jennifer Dow, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2008
Daryl Miller, South District Ranger:
If I had a dollar for each time a climber described their expedition as ‘cold’, I would be retiring a rich man — but this season the temperatures were quite cold; the NPS rangers treated 17 cases of frostbite, and those likely represent only half of the actual number of cases. Frostbite can result in a lifetime of pain, even though it is one of the most preventable injuries in the mountains with proper hydration, gear, and good judgment.
Our staff responded to 18 major incidents this year, including frostbite, altitude illness, trauma, and cardiac illness. In an unusual and tragic turn of events, two clients from separate guided groups experienced sudden fatal collapses within three days of one another in early July. James Nasti, age 51 of Naperville, Illinois, died on the very summit of Denali. His remains were buried off the summit ridge; medical experts consider it probable that his death was cardiac-related. And just before returning high camp after a long summit day, Pungkas Tri Baruno, age 20, of Jakarta, Indonesia died of what later proved to be a preexisting cardiac irregularity.
Another tragic event this season involved the perplexing disappearance of two highly skilled Japanese climbers. Tracks in the snow indicate that Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue had completed an entire traverse of the Kahiltna Peaks, west to east, and continued climbing directly up the prow of the Cassin Ridge. Their tracks vanished at 19,200 feet in an area beyond the route’s hard technical climbing. After an exhaustive aerial search, no decisive evidence materialized, and in my opinion, no persuasive theories have come to light to explain what happened. Ironically, after the disappearance of the two men, the Cassin Ridge was climbed by a record-breaking 9 additional expeditions, but no more clues were found.
This climbing season was a particularly bittersweet one for me, as it represents my last season with the National Park Service. I retire on December 31, 2008 after 18 years of working in the Denali mountaineering program, a career stretch that incorporated some of the very best and the very worst moments of my life. We have lost numerous climbers over the years, including some close friends and fellow staff. On an emotional level, serving as a park liaison with the many grieving families has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever undertaken, though such work does have its rewards. I’ve met some truly exceptional people and developed lifelong friendships under these painful circumstances.
Although the mountain’s objective hazards will always remain the same, I believe that mountaineering in Denali National Park has improved dramatically since my first expedition here in 1981. The park is certainly an environmentally cleaner place. Nowadays, climbers all over the world can access an incredible amount of web-based mountaineering information, and once here in town, the teams receive a far more comprehensive safety briefing than ever before. Together we have helped develop a more refined and professional search and rescue operation complete with annual ‘Rigging for Rescue’ courses, advanced medical training, and specialized aviation and short-haul work. Our mountaineering staff and volunteers are equipped and trained to respond to incidents more safely and efficiently than ever before, highlighted this year by the dramatic raising and lowering of an injured Canadian climber on the Peters Glacier. Denali’s mountain rescue team is recognized as one of the best in the world thanks to the retention of competent staff and the support of park management and the climbing community at large.
I will miss being a part of this unique and specialized operation, but I look forward to starting a new chapter in my life with my wife and best friend, Judy. I owe a lot to my fellow park staff, guides, climbers, and pilots that I was so fortunate to work with over the years. I wish all the staff here the best and believe they have tremendous opportunity to further improve mountain operations in the future. Thanks for all the great years!
Denali National Park and Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) have selected Bengt Bern and Jan Vinterek as the 2008 Denali Pro Award winners. This year marks the tenth occasion that the NPS and PMI have teamed up to honor mountaineers who have demonstrated the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, assisting fellow mountaineers, and clean climbing.
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, Bern and 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. 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 rendezvoused 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.
By this point, the climber was in a semiconscious, hypothermic state and was thus 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.
Denali National Park and Preserve is pleased to offer online registration for mountaineers attempting climbs of Mt. McKinley or Mt. Foraker. The online registration and associated payment system is operated by Pay.Gov, a service of the United States Department of Treasury. In the upcoming year, park staff intends to broaden this capability to include all registrants, including those opting to pay their deposit with money orders or electronic bank transfers.
Missy Smothers, the supervisor of fee collection operations at the Talkeetna Ranger Station, said the park is excited about the new online capability for several reasons. “From the climber perspective, submitting the electronic data and payment information will be much quicker, enable greater security, and provide immediate confirmation that we received the registration form. At our end, the electronic data collection will definitely improve efficiency and accuracy.” All climbers attempting Mt. McKinley or Mt. Foraker are required to preregister with Denali National Park and Preserve at least 60 days in advance of a climb, a regulation implemented in 1995 with the intention of preventing climbing-related accidents and altitude illnesses.
Perhaps Denali is just not large enough! The “linkup” game came to Denali this season in impressive fashion with a Japanese team of three making the third ascent of the Isis Face and continuing on to the Slovak Direct in a single eight-day push. Katsutaka Yokoyama, Yusuke Sato and Fumitaka Ichimura were a part of the 5 member Japanese team called the Giri Giri Boys, which also included Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue. The group began their annual Alaska Range trip on the Buckskin Glacier. After waiting out poor weather, Yokoyama, Sato, and Ichimura climbed a difficult new route on the Northeast Face of the Bear’s Tooth from April 18 to 19. The following week the trio made a rapid ascent of the Moonflower to the top of the North Buttress on Mount Hunter. The entire 5 member group then acclimated by ascending to 18,000 feet on the West Buttress. During the second week of May the team split. The trio of Yokoyama, Sato and Ichimura made their historic ‘linkup’ from May 11 to 18, while Yamada and Inoue began their climb of the Cassin Ridge on Denali by linking the Kahiltna Peaks to the start of the Cassin, thereby climbing the entire feature from its beginning on the Kahiltna Glacier. Tracks support the theory that the two-man team successfully completed this dramatic traverse of the Kahiltna Peaks and reached an elevation of approximately 19,000 feet on the Cassin. Unfortunately Yamada and Inoue never returned from their climb.
Early in the season, on April 3 and 4, Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker added a new technical line on the East Face of the Moose’s Tooth, just right of “Arctic Rage”. The 1400 meter route climbs mixed terrain to a high point along the north ridge. Bracey later paired with Andy Houseman and made the second ascent in 23 years of the “French Couloir” on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter over a four day stretch starting on May 8.
Further south at the head of the Yentna and Lacuna Glaciers, Ben Gilmore, Maxime Turgeon, and Freddie Wilkinson completed the first ascent of the Bat’s Ears, an 11,044 foot unnamed peak. The April climb covered nearly 3,000 feet on the south face and was completed in 23 hours round trip from their base camp.
Moving even further south — almost as far south as one can go and still remain in the mountains of Denali National Park and Preserve — Zack Smith and Josh Wharton added a line to the summit of Kichatna Spire. From a camp on the Culdesac Glacier they ascended a mixed route on the north side of the peak which joined the 1966 North Ridge route and continued to the summit.
Back in the Ruth in early May, a large team of young alpinists from France were active. Of the many climbs completed, the most significant routes were on Mount Dickey. François Delas, Titi Gentet, Seb Ratel, and Damien Tomasi completed the 1974 David Roberts, Galen Rowell, and Ed Ward route on the Southeast Face in four days (similar time to the first ascent party). A few days later Mathieu Détrie, Mathieu Maynadier, Seb Ibanez, and Patrick Pessi took six days to climb a new line on Mt. Dickey’s 5,250 foot Northeast Buttress.
A couple of shorter technical routes were also accomplished this season near popular base camps. One on ‘Point 7550’ between Mts. Dickey and Bradley; Norwegian climbers Eiliv Ruud and Nils Nielsen climbed an 800 meter line that they dubbed "Kuriositeten".
The other notable route is situated up glacier from the ‘Kahiltna International Airstrip’ where Mark Westman and Eamonn Walsh climbed "Bacon and Eggs" on the next tower east of the Mini Moonflower. The eight pitches of climbing include some high quality 85 degree ice. This route may have had previous ascents that went unreported.
A climber reported to an NPS ranger at the 7,200 foot camp on May 5 with chest pain that had persisted for over 24 hours. The patient had no cardiac history and after an examination by the ranger on scene, there was concern of a serious heart condition. The weather at camp was quickly deteriorating, so the decision was made to fly the patient immediately to Talkeetna via an air taxi. The patient was then ground transported to the nearest hospital for definitive medical care.
On May 15, NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp observed a climber who appeared to be having difficulty descending solo from the 15,400 foot level. The rangers noted that the soloist required multiple prolonged rest stops while descending, and could not walk the remaining 200 meters of level ground into the lower camp without stopping twice to sit down and rest. Staff contacted the climber and while conducting a medical examination discovered the climber had a below average oxygen saturation. The patient was diagnosed as suffering from high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). After treatment with medication and oxygen, the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna the following day by the NPS Lama helicopter, and subsequently transported to an Anchorage hospital via fixedwing aircraft.
A climber reported to NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp on May 16 with potentially frostbitten hands following a summit attempt that day. After a thorough examination, rangers found that the patient suffered from severe frostbite to both hands and feet. The patient’s extremities were actively rewarmed and the patient was subsequently evacuated via the NPS Lama helicopter to Talkeetna. A fixed-wing air ambulance then transported the patient to Anchorage for advanced care.
A climber who had experienced symptoms of frostbite during a summit climb the previous day contacted NPS rangers at the 17,200 foot camp after the symptoms persisted overnight. Upon examination, it was determined that the climber indeed suffered from both deep and superficial frostbite to the toes of both feet. On May 19, two teams were dispatched to assist in the lowering of the patient from the high camp to the 14,200 foot camp. Following treatment, the patient was evacuated by the NPS Lama helicopter to Talkeetna and then transferred to ground ambulance for further hospital care.
A two-person climbing team disappeared during their ascent of the Cassin Ridge. After failing to return to camp by May 23, their estimated checkout date, an air search was deployed once the weather cleared. Over the next four days, observers flew a total of 33 hours of helicopter and fixed-wing flight time in an aerial search effort. Over 3,000 high resolution photos of the search zone were captured. In light of the team’s limited supplies and the subzero temperatures ranges, search managers concluded that the missing climbers survival was outside the window of possibility. Active field search operations concluded on May 29th. Analysis of the enlarged and enhanced images failed to uncover any pertinent clues to the whereabouts of the missing climbers.
On June 26, NPS rangers heard a radio report that a climber at high camp had suffered frostbite to the fingers after trying to descend to the 14,200 foot camp during a wind storm. The climber denied NPS assistance and was successfully shortroped to the 14,200 foot camp by their partner. Once at the camp, the frostbitten fingers were rewarmed and dressed by an NPS medical volunteer. The patient was evacuated by the Lama helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp, and then transferred to a fixed wing aircraft for direct transport to an Anchorage hospital.
NPS staff in Talkeetna received a distress call on the evening of May 27 made from the landing strip on the Pika Glacier. The caller observed a large avalanche in an area where a two person team was known to be climbing. Only the runout zone of the slide could be observed, but not the couloir from where the avalanche had released. NPS rangers immediately boarded the Lama helicopter to investigate. Shortly after taking flight, a report came in that the two climbers had been observed descending the route. As the rangers were only minutes away, they continued to the site and obtained visual confirmation that the two climbers were safely descending.
On May 31, a guide reported to NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp that a client had suffered a back injury and they requested assistance in evaluating the patient. Following a detailed assessment which found significant damage to the lower back, the client received pharmacotherapy and rest. After four days, there was no improvement and it was concluded that the patient was unable to walk down safely. The patient was evacuated to Talkeetna via the NPS Lama helicopter on June 4.
Talkeetna Ranger Station staff received a satellite phone call on June 3 from an injured and distressed solo climber. The West Buttress climber had been descending the ridge at 16,400 feet when a misstep resulted in an approximately 2,400 foot fall down onto the Peter’s Glacier. The caller suffered multiple lacerations and injuries to his left eye, ankle, and knee. The weather was unflyable, so a large scale raising and lowering operation was conducted to rescue and transport the patient back to 14,200 foot camp. When weather cleared, the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna via the NPS Lama helicopter where he was transferred to a fixed wing air ambulance.
A couple hours after returning to high camp after a successful summit day on June 7, a climber became weak and ataxic. NPS ranger staff staged at high camp treated the patient overnight for altitude illness and cerebral edema. Despite some improvement, the climber remained weak and dizzy and was thus shortroped down to the 14,200 foot camp by two members of the ranger patrol. The patient’s condition improved at the lower altitude camp.
On June 9, NPS rangers responded to a request for help relayed through a SPOT Messenger beacon, a personal locator device with the ability to notify friends and family of potential accidents while in remote areas. After searching and investigating, NPS rangers were able to locate the climber descending into the 14,200 foot camp. The climber was not in distress and was unaware of the triggered alarm. The SPOT device, which was hanging freely from a pack, may simply have been triggered by being accidentally bumped or hit while climbing.
On June 16, three separate rope teams were caught off guard by rapid weather changes at the upper elevations of Denali. In whiteout conditions, the NPS ranger patrol and two guides staged at high camp spent a long night providing rescue and shortrope assistance to multiple storm victims suffering from disorientation, fatigue, altitude illness, minor frostbite, and a bergschrund fall. In the end, all made it back to high camp with only minor injuries and none of the teams required any further assistance to descend the following day.
An independent climbing team found a climber lying in the snow near the top of the fixed lines on June 16. After alerting the NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp via radio, the team commenced lowering the sick and non-ambulatory climber down the fixed lines. After lowering the patient several hundred feet, the assisting team recontacted the rangers and informed them of the patient’s worsening condition and requested additional help. NPS rangers and volunteers responded and met the party midway between the base of the fixed lines and the 14,200 foot camp. Once back at camp, a volunteer physician assumed patient care and treated for hypothermia, dehydration, and extreme fatigue.
A guided client suffered severe frostbite on both hands and superficial frostbite to the face, in part due to the brief taking summit photos on June 26. The following morning, the team’s guide informed the NPS ranger patrol at high camp of the client’s condition, and that they had begun rewarming the frozen hands. The patrol’s volunteer physician examined the hands, and it was determined that the patient be short-roped by NPS personnel down to the 14,200 foot camp for further treatment and helicopter evacuation.
NPS rangers on patrol at high camp made contact on June 29 with a climber suffering from serious frostbite to all ten fingers after gloves had been removed for less than 10 minutes during a summit attempt. On June 30, after a failed attempt to descend unaided to the lower camp at 14,200 feet, the impaired team requested the help of NPS staff. On the morning of July 1, the patient was prepared for transport by the patrol’s volunteer physician and then short roped to the lower camp. The next morning, the NPS Lama helicopter flew the patient to Kahiltna Basecamp and subsequent transport to an Anchorage hospital.
A client on a guided expedition suddenly collapsed and died shortly after attaining the summit of Mt. McKinley on July 4. Aggressive resuscitation efforts by two guides and an independent climber were unsuccessful. NPS rangers instructed the guides to cover and mark the deceased and to descend safely with their remaining clients. Due to the location of the deceased and the resources required for a retrieval expedition, it was determined that a body recovery was not feasible at that time. On July 6, upon request, two other guides heading to summit securely buried the deceased climber just off the summit plateau.
On July 7, a client in a guided expedition on descent from the summit of Denali suddenly collapsed and died at 17,400 feet, just above high camp. The guides leading the expedition immediately tried to resuscitate their client, but were unsuccessful. After efforts to resuscitate the climber ceased, an attempt to transport the deceased back to the 17,200 foot camp was made. Due to deep snow, lack of a sled, and fatigue, the team was forced to temporarily bury the deceased in place. On July 10, a team made up of NPS staff and guides returned to the site of the incident and retrieved the remains of the deceased using the NPS Lama helicopter.
Dr. Jennifer Dow, the hardworking medical director for Denali’s mountaineering program since 2000, received three prestigious honors this past year for her extensive volunteer efforts in the field of emergency medicine.
In November 2007, the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska presented Dr. Dow, an emergency room physician at Alaska Regional Hospital, with the “Memorial Longenbaugh Award”, a statewide accolade created in honor of Dr. George Longenbaugh, a pioneer in Alaska emergency medicine. Two months later, the Alaska Region of the National Park Service named Dr. Dow as the regional Outstanding Volunteer Service Award winner. Award recipients from the seven NPS regions throughout the United States were then nominated for the coveted national prize, the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. Dr. Dow received the highest honor in the Individual Volunteer category, flying out to Washington, D.C. on May 8, 2008 for a whirlwind ceremony.
Dr. Dow has long been an indispensible asset to the National Park Service (NPS), simultaneously serving as volunteer medical director for three of Alaska’s national parks. She began her NPS volunteer services in 2000 with Denali National Park and Preserve’s mountaineering operations, and then expanded her medical oversight to include the emergency medical services (EMS) at WrangellSt. Elias and Katmai National Parks in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Dr. Dow’s personal devotion to the field of outdoor emergency medicine and to the mission of the National Park Service has helped save lives, optimize the medical care received by park visitors, and has significantly enhanced the medical skills and professional quality of NPS emergency response.
In Denali National Park and Preserve alone, Dr. Dow has logged over 1,600 hours of volunteer work since 2000, including:
- Field time on Denali mountaineering patrols including multi week stints at the 7,200 foot Kahiltna Basecamp, the 14,200 foot ranger camp, and the 17,200 foot high camp.
- Providing medical guidance via telephone and radio during rescue emergencies
- Conducting preseason medical training;
- Revising the park’s medical protocols and callout procedures;
- Conducting debriefings of all medical incidents and providing constructive input for future employee development;
- Oversight of prescription pharmaceuticals dispensed by trained ranger staff to park visitors; and
- Participation in training exercises such as helicopter shorthaul, ice climbing, crevasse rescue, glacier travel and highangle rope rescue.
According to South District Ranger Daryl Miller, “As an avid skier and high altitude mountaineer, few physicians in the world have the breadth of experience that Dr. Dow has in providing outdoor emergency medical care in extreme Alaskan conditions.”
This 2008 season, Dr. Dow volunteered yet again on a 30-day mountaineering patrol, and we all hope she keeps coming back for more!
In May 2008, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne presented a Group Valor Award to five former and current climbing rangers from Grand Teton National Park for their heroic actions during a May 2004 rescue on Mt. McKinley. David Bywater, Christopher Harder, Reynold (Renny) Jackson, John McConnell, and Steven Rickert, were working on a temporary detail assignment at Denali National Park, cross-training in mountain search and rescue and assisting a short-staffed Denali rescue crew.
Two additional rescuers, independent British climbers Neil McNab and Andrew Perkins, were instrumental in the lifesaving rescue and were honored with the Department of Interior Citizen’s Award for Bravery. The awards were presented to McNab and Perkins in November 2008 in front of a packed house at the Kendal Mountain Festival in Kendal, England. On May 20, 2004, these 7 individuals risked their lives to save a Korean climber who sustained severe head injuries in a fall at 18,200 feet on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress. Alerted by radio at the 14,200 foot camp, the rescue team immediately mobilized. They reached the 17,200 foot high camp in just over 3 hours, a remarkable demonstration of strength and stamina given the elevation, technical terrain, and whiteout conditions. The patient was found 800 feet below Denali Pass on the Harper Glacier.
Semiconscious and severely frostbitten, he was packaged in a sled and dragged back up to the Pass. The team then faced a series of time-consuming technical rope lowerings to the 17,200 foot camp in gale-force winds, arctic temperatures, and driving snow. The rescue team reached the temporary safety of the high camp shelter after 18 hours of grueling and dangerous work. Following a night of constant medical care at high camp, more bad weather the next day forced the team to complete an additional 3,000 foot technical rope lowering to the 14,200 foot camp, from where the patient was evacuated a day later. Without this team’s selfless efforts, there is no doubt the climber would have perished.
Volunteer and friend Tom Clausing died tragically in a midair helicopter collision on June 29, 2008 near Flagstaff, Arizona. Tom, a flight paramedic, was one of six victims who died in the crash. Tom's crew was treating and transporting a Grand Canyon National Park firefighter suffering from anaphylactic shock when the accident occurred.
Just two weeks prior to the fatal crash, Tom had completed his second tour of duty as a Denali patrol volunteer. Tom had extensive climbing and search and rescue experience, having served as ranger and a park medic at Grand Canyon National Park for over 10 years. This season on Denali, Tom was a member of the technical ground rescue team that saved the life of a Canadian climber who fell 2,000 feet on the West Buttress.
Tom will be remembered for his amazing emergency medical skills, his quiet humor, and his adventurous spirit.
- South District Ranger: Daryl Miller
- Lead Mountaineering Ranger: John Leonard
- Mountaineering Rangers: Tucker Chenoweth, Chris Erickson, Brandon Latham, John Loomis, Evan Olson, Joe Reichert, Roger Robinson, Mike Shain, Kevin Wright
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilots: Jim Hood, Francisco Orlaineta
- Helicopter Mechanic: Doug Green
- Admin / Public Information: Maureen McLaughlin
- Supervisory VUA: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Al Gallo, Pam Robinson, Laura Wright
- Planner: Miriam Valentine
- Education Specialist: Jenni Burr
- Interpretive Ranger: Melissa Ostermick
- SCA: Jay Koeppel, Ruth Ramsey
- Janitor: Jack Fickel
- Medical Directors: Jennifer Dow, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.
Annual Report: 2009
John Leonard, South District Ranger:
Although the Talkeetna Ranger Station staff is already deep in preparation for the 2010 climbing season, before we look too far ahead, I want to take a minute and reflect on the season just now behind us. We experienced some significant changes in 2009, most notable of which was the retirement of our long time friend and South District Ranger Daryl Miller. Even into retirement, Daryl continues to receive recognition for the groundbreaking work that he did here at Denali National Park. One such accolade was presented in June at Mt. Hood when he was inducted as one of only three lifetime members of the Mountain Rescue Association.
Over time, the mountaineering staff here in Talkeetna has often been witness to great triumphs and moving tragedies. In 2009, we again experienced both. Four deaths occurred on Mount McKinley, as well as other injuries and illnesses. Because of the close contact we have with many of the climbers that visit the park, the loss of life is something that hits very close to home to all of us here. Two of the fatalities this year hit especially close to home; two former recipients of the Denali Pro Award lost their lives while attempting to climb the West Rib. In honor of these two men, and to recognize who they were as people and as climbers, we have renamed the Denali Pro Award as the Mislow-Swanson / PMI Denali Pro Award.
In my time here I can think of various stories of great personal triumph, but one of this year’s achievements seemed even larger than most. On June 15, Lt. Colonel Marc Hoffmeister and Specialist David Shebib reached the summit of Denali despite the fact that each of them had suffered significant injuries while serving our country overseas. These two Wounded Warriors were part of a team led by Lt. Hoffmeister who spent almost three weeks mounting a successful expedition to the highest point of North America. In celebration their teamwork and success, Spec. Shebib reenlisted for another tour while standing on top of the pinnacle of North America. For the team’s accomplishments, Lt. Col Hoffmeister was named the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. We are looking forward to another year in which people from around the world come and visit us here in Talkeetna and experience the wonders of Denali National Park and Preserve. Our hopes are that 2010 will bring more stories of triumph, and none of tragedy.
Hope to see you on the mountain.
World class alpinism continues in Denali National Park with little fanfare. Seasoned veterans and relative newcomers continued to find high quality routes off of the popular venues. While it was a quiet year comparatively for new route activity, there were some notable accomplishments.
Longtime Alaska Range climbers Jack Tackle and Jay Smith made the most of their abilities during a two week visit in May. Showing Paul Roderick a new place to land on the Tokositna Glacier at 8,200 feet, just south of Mt. Huntington, the team made four new climbs from their camp. Rooster Comb provided them with a 16 hour round-trip warm up. They then ascended three new lines on the southern escarpment of Huntington before taking a shower break back in Talkeetna. Having a photographic memory aids in maintaining the motivation — following the rest and relaxation in town, the duo decided to go back into the north side of Thunder Mountain and attempt a line that Tackle had eyed 13 years ago while he and Doug Chabot climbed "The Sound of Freedom" on the south peak of Hunter.
During the same stretch of favorable weather Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker were adding their own new routes in the range off of the Ruth Glacier. The pair from Great Britain was active on the north faces of Mt. Grosvenor and Mt. Church. They added a new technical line on each face using single push style.
Newcomers to the Alaska range, Swiss brothers Samuel and Simon Anthamatten, made a probable first ascent of the buttress to the right of Rattle and Hum on the west ridge of Mt. Hunter. This formation had been previously attempted by two Americans in 1996. That climb ended tragically when a hanging glacier calved and killed both men. Details are sparse about this year’s successful climb. The brothers report on their website: “Our climb leads through steep ice gullies up to a steep and knife snow ridge. (WI 4+, M4+, AI 5) The difficulties of the route are in the upper part following the snow ridge covered in huge mushrooms of snow and ice.” It is assumed that they descended the West Ridge without going to the summit since the team had already made a speedy ascent of the Moonflower.
Among the 1,161 climbers attempting Denali this season were five United States war veterans who have suffered injuries while deployed in the ongoing conflicts overseas. It is always inspiring to witness climbers with disabilities pursuing their mountaineering dreams. While recounting the expedition, one of their mountaineering guides commented, “These guys are a huge motivator for all war veterans… they have proven that life after war can be a good thing, a challenge, but not life threatening.” On a lighter note he went on to say “Most people are sleeping with their toothpaste and sun screen so it won’t freeze; we were sleeping with a one million dollar prosthetic leg. The prosthetics get cold, which was a struggle up high. Keeping the stumps warm and protecting them from the conduction of the air temp.”
Over on Mt. Foraker, Canadians Marcus Waring and Ryan Bougie completed a ski descent of the seldom visited Archangel Ridge. The duo reportedly acclimated on Denali, and then climbed the entire Sultana Ridge in 3 days. From the summit they began their ski descent without delay. In six hours they descended 11,000 feet, then found themselves isolated on the remote north side of Foraker contemplating how to get home. Their pretrip planning had defined two exit options; either down the Foraker Glacier and out to the Park Road or ascend the Archangel Ridge and back track to Kahiltna Base. While making their ski descent they observed a third escape option that seemed far more logical. After a solid rest on the glacier they crossed over the Foraker Glacier and were able to climb back up to Mount Crosson via its Northwest Ridge.
(April 16) An airplane crashed on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, with no injuries reported. The stranded individuals used a satellite phone to contact a local air taxi for pickup. NPS rangers documented the scene and took necessary hazardous spill precautions. On April 20, the pilot was able to recover the wreckage from the glacier using a contracted helicopter.
(May 7) A 61-year old client on a guided expedition collapsed and died at 13,500 feet on Denali’s West Buttress. Resuscitation efforts on scene by guides and NPS rangers were unsuccessful. Rangers buried the deceased at the incident location for later helicopter recovery once weather permitted. On May 13, his remains were recovered by helicopter and flown to Talkeetna.
(May 11) A climber fell approximately 60 feet while climbing the Ham and Eggs route on the Moose’s Tooth, sustaining tibia/fibula fractures and other leg and foot injuries. Other independent climbers on the route organized his rescue and evacuation by air taxi.
(May 15) A guided client arrived at the 14,200 foot ranger camp experiencing signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). After 24 hours under medical observation, he was determined unfit to descend to base camp and was evacuated via the NPS helicopter.
(May 21) A member of four-person expedition was reported overdue after splitting off from his teammates for a solo summit attempt of the West Buttress. Without prior notification of his partners, he had departed the 14,200 foot camp early on the morning on May 19 with no stove, shovel, or bivouac gear and with an unknown amount of food. Search operations were initiated on the morning of May 21 when it was determined that the soloist had failed to descend to the high camp at 17,200 feet. An aerial search ensued, totaling over 30 hours of fixed wing and helicopter flight time. Over 6,000 high resolution photographs were taken and analyzed for clues. In light of the climber’s minimal supplies, subzero temperatures, and the high winds prevalent on the mountain during the search period, search managers concluded active search operations on May 26 with no pertinent clues found.
(May 26) A climber fell and dislocated his shoulder while descending from the 17,200 foot camp on the West Buttress of Denali. NPS rangers lowered the injured patient from the base of the fixed lines to the 14,200 foot camp. After repeated attempts, camp medics were unable to reduce his shoulder. After a span of seven days of bad weather and extreme pain, the patient was finally evacuated on the eighth day by NPS helicopter and ultimately hospitalized.
(June 1) A climber was air evacuated from the 14,200 foot camp on Denali’s West Buttress climbing route with a minor foot injury. NPS rangers made numerous attempts to help her descend under her own power but she aggressively refused all options except for air evacuation, placing rangers and others in a potentially hazardous situation. The climber received a citation for ‘Interfering with Agency Function’ which carries a maximum sentence of $5,000 and 6 months of jail time.
(May 27): A guided client suddenly collapsed upon arrival at the 9,500 foot camp after experiencing extreme chest pain. He was initially roped down to 7,800 feet, at which point an NPS ranger patrol placed him into a litter and sledded him to the 7,200 foot base-camp for treatment and evacuation.
(June 7) A guided client experienced chest pain after returning from the summit at the 17,200 foot camp on the West Buttress. The climber was lowered by NPS rangers and volunteers using several technical rope rescue techniques to the 14,200 foot camp where he was evacuated by helicopter.
(June 9) A three-member expedition fell approximately 300 feet while traversing a steep slope at 16,500 feet on the West Buttress. The three climbers were roped together, though they had not placed protection between them. A knee injury sustained by one of the climbers during the fall required a combination of shortrope technique and technical lowering to evacuate him to the 14,200 foot camp where he was evacuated by helicopter.
(June 11) Both members of a climbing team died of extensive injuries sustained in a fall near the Messner Couloir route of Mt. McKinley. The onset of the fall was not witnessed, though the two roped climbers were observed falling a distance of at least 1,500 feet to the point where the fall stopped. It is unknown what triggered the fall or whether the two were ascending or descending at the time of the accident.
(June 11) Two climbers attempting the Cassin Ridge of Denali requested a rescue via FRS radio when they ran out of food and water and had no working stoves. The NPS helicopter successfully dropped the climbers a resupply of food, water, and a stove. The climbers were able to complete the route and safely descend the West Buttress.
(June 13) Upon examination by his guide, a client was determined to be extremely fatigued with very low oxygen saturations at the 17,200 foot camp on the West Buttress. The rangers at that camp initiated care and administered oxygen overnight. The following day the patient was short-roped down the ridge to the top of the fixed lines and lowered in a litter to 14,200 foot camp. After several days at that camp, he descended under his own power to the Kahiltna Basecamp with the rest of his group.
(June 17) A climber went off-route while descending the West Buttress and fell into a crevasse near the 8,500 foot elevation, suffering multiple fractured ribs. His three companions were able to extract him from the crevasse, and the expedition then continued to the 7,800 foot camp that evening. The following day, an NPS patrol met the team, provided medical aid to the injured climber, escorted them to basecamp, and then released the climber to his air taxi for transport off the mountain.
(June 25) A mountaineer triggered an avalanche while skiing below the mouth of the Rescue Gulley at approximately 15,000 feet, in close proximity to the West Buttress route on Mt. McKinley. A rescue team from the 14,200 foot camp responded and conducted a 600 meter lowering operation down to the medical tent at 14,200 feet. The patient, who suffered a knee injury and minor lacerations, remained at the camp overnight for observation and was flown via park helicopter to basecamp the next morning to wait for the rest of her team to descend the West Buttress route.
(June 28) Both members of a climbing team fell while descending from Denali Pass, one of whom suffered bilateral lower leg injuries and was rendered non-ambulatory. A technical lowering was orchestrated by NPS rangers and volunteers to get the patient down to the 17,200 foot camp. The patient was further lowered down the Rescue Gully to the 14,200 foot camp and evacuated to Talkeetna via NPS helicopter the following morning.
(July 9) A client on a three-person rope team fell while descending the West Buttress. The guide, one of the three on the rope team, was able to arrest the fall and stop the team from sliding further, however he dislocated his left shoulder in the process. He was able to resume the descent to the 14,200 foot camp, where ranger medics were unsuccessful in reducing the dislocated shoulder. The injured guide was then evacuated to Talkeetna via the NPS helicopter for further medical care.
(July 12) Talkeetna Ranger Station staff assisted the Alaska State Troopers with a search for a missing swimmer in the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers, located approximately one block away from the Talkeetna Ranger Station. The park’s helicopter crew and several spotters conducted four search flights in the effort. The swimmer was not found.
On May 24, in the process of analyzing new high resolution images collected during the May search for a missing solo climber, rangers observed what appeared to be two partially buried figures connected by a rope in a steep rocky area west of the Cassin Ridge at 19,800 feet. On the afternoon following the photo discovery, the park helicopter was able to hover close enough to the site for a mountaineering ranger to confirm the presence of two frozen figures.
Based on their location, clothing, and rope color, rangers identified the bodies as those of 27yearold Tatsuro Yamada and 24yearold Yuto Inoue. Yamada and Inoue, both from the Tokyo, Japan area, were expected to return from a climb of the Cassin Ridge on May 22, 2008. During the 2008 Cassin search, NPS observers aerially searched the mountain for a total of 33 hours of flight time, collecting thousands of photos of the vast search zone. That effort was the first time Denali rangers used the photographic approach to search a land area. The cameras used were effective in locating tracks and general disturbances in open snow fields, however, finding definitive clues in rocky and shadowy terrain proved difficult. A more advanced camera and higher powered lens were used during the May 2009 search for Dr. Myers.
NPS managers determined that the bodies found on May 24 will not be recovered from their current location due to the extreme risk posed to a recovery team.
In 2009, 47 climbers were stricken with injuries or illnesses that required medical intervention by the National Park ranger staff and volunteers. Trauma resulting from falls or other accidents was by far the greatest concern followed by medical and altitude issues.
- HAPE/HACE: 9
- Altitude AMS: 4
- Medical cardiac: 6
- Medical other: 9
- Cold injury: 4
- Trauma: 15
Two Colorado women were selected by Denali National Park and Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) as the 2009 Denali Pro Award winners. Sarah Fritz of Eldorado Springs and Irena Overeem of Boulder initiated and led 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. Real izing 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 asessment 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. Since 1998, NPS and PMI have teamed up to honor mountaineers who have demonstrated the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, assisting fellow mountaineers, and clean climbing. As mentioned in the introduction to the summary, starting in 2010 the Denali Pro Award will be renamed to honor two former recipients of the Award who lost their lives during a 2009 climb of the West Rib. To recognize the strong climbing ethics and personal achievements of John Mislow and Andrew Swanson, the Denali Pro Award will be known as the MislowSwanson / PMI Denali Pro Award. Denali National Park management thanks PMI for their continued support, as well as the friends and family of John Mislow and Andrew Swanson whose contributions will help sustain this valuable recognition program for many more years to come.
After 17 seasons serving as the helicopter manager for Denali National Park’s mountaineering program, Dave Kreutzer is moving on! Dave is now putting his extensive skills to use for the southeast regional office of the Aviation Management Division (AMD) in Atlanta, Georgia. During his career at Denali, Dave put into place innumerable improvements that have kept the highest altitude shorthaul operation in the world accidentfree during over 1,000 hours of helicopter flight time. He was instrumental in designing a specialized bag that could transport a patient and attendant safely on a shorthaul line at 50 knots; helped devise a ‘threering release’ backup mechanism for the shorthaul line that hooks beneath the helicopter; and he was the leading force in recommending the ‘God Ring” for rescuer hookup to the shorthaul rope.
While we are sad to say goodbye to such a good friend and a pivotal member of the Denali search and rescue team, we wish Dave great success in his new endeavors and hope to see him back up in Alaska someday soon.
Denali National Park’s mountaineering staff were excited to host volunteer mountaineering ranger PhuNuru Sherpa, a member of the Mt. Everest mountain climbing community, a guide with International Mountain Guides, and an instructor with the Khumbu Climbing School in Phortse Village, Nepal. With sponsorship from the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, 29yearold PhuNuru participated in an educational exchange program at both Denali and Mt. Rainier National Parks during the 2009 mountaineering season.
At Denali, PhuNuru served on a 30day high mountain ranger patrol, working and training with NPS ranger Brandon Latham and fellow patrol members to further develop his technical rope rescue skills and emergency medical response. In addition to enhancing his search and rescue leadership skills, PhuNuru learned resource management and ‘clean climbing’ techniques to put to use in a professional capacity back home in the Himalaya. PhuNuru’s educational exchange continued when he headed south in July, joining the mountaineering ranger team at Mt. Rainier National Park and Preserve. The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF) based in Bozeman, Montana founded the Khumbu Climbing School in 2004 with a mission to improve mountain safety for Nepali climbers and other high altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices.
During his off season with NPS, Latham had the opportunity to work with the ALCF in February 2009 teaching technical rope rescue skills to the Nepali instructors at the Khumbu Climbing School in Phortse. Both PhuNuru and the Denali staff hope he can return for another Denali patrol in 2010, as well as participate in the Exit Strategies conference on human waste management. (see below)
Longtime mountaineering ranger Roger Robinson, developer of the Clean Mountain Can program on Denali, is serving as Conference Chairperson for “Exit Strategies: Managing Human Waste in the Wild”. This international conference will be hosted by the American Alpine Club at their facility in Golden, Colorado on July 30 31, 2010. Speakers and attendees from all over the globe will share ideas and develop solutions to human waste management in all realms of backcountry terrain.
Topics include composting, alpine waste systems, packout systems, solar drying, and catholing. Attendees will analyze case studies and strategize on how to anticipate and influence human behavior in the backcountry. Event sponsors include the U.S. Public Health Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Alpine Club of Canada, Leave No Trace, U.S. Forest Service, the Access Fund, and the American Alpine Club.
The National Park Service and the international climbing community lost a great friend and a highly respected mountaineer this year. Former Denali National Park mountaineering ranger John Evans, age 54, died on April 28, 2009 from injuries sustained in a fall in Snowdonia National Park near his winter home in North Wales. Evans was on a recreational climb with the Ogwen Valley mountain rescue team, a local organization he has been a member of since 1973, when he reportedly slipped and fell over 100 feet while descending in rocky terrain. He was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Bangor, Wales where he succumbed to internal and head injuries. John Evans enjoyed a longtime connection with the Alaskan military and mountaineering communities, beginning in 1986 to 1989 when he was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base as a rescue technician and paramedic with the U.S. Pararescue Squadron. Through the 1990’s, Evans worked internationally as an instructor in survival skills, wilderness studies, and emergency medicine, including over a decade as a professional guide on Mt. McKinley with Genet Expeditions and Mountain Trip.
From 2000 to 2007, Evans was employed as a mountaineering ranger with Denali National Park and Preserve, based in Talkeetna, Alaska. During his combined guiding and ranger careers, Evans participated in a total of 25 mountaineering expeditions on Mt. McKinley. John’s extensive rescue skills, emergency medical expertise, and cooperative nature were highly valued at Denali National Park, and he occasionally extended his season by working as a park ranger stationed at the Toklat Road Camp. After his final season with the NPS in 2007, Evans returned to the Alaska Range as a mountaineering instructor with Talkeetnabased Alaska Mountaineering School (AMS) in 2008. He was scheduled to return to Talkeetna on May 1, 2009 to work another season as an AMS instructor. Evans is survived by his partner Lynn, his son David, daughter Rhiannon, as well as his parents and two sisters. His loss will be deeply felt not only in the Alaska Range, but throughout many mountaineering and rescue communities across the world.
Longtime member of the extended climbing community and Denali National Park partner Jay Hudson, owner and operator of Hudson Air Service in Talkeetna, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on December 2, 2009. Eldest son of legendary bush pilot Cliff Hudson, Jay was born in Talkeetna and had been flying the Alaska Range since he was a very young boy. Jay was deeply respected for his innate flying skills and impeccable safety record by climbers, park staff, and fellow pilots. Jay flew countless hours in support of park resource management missions and he served for decades as a key fixed wing pilot in Denali National Park's mountaineering search and rescue operations. Jay was the only individual ever awarded with a Denali Pro pin in every single climbing season since the recognition program began in 1998.
The skies of the Alaska Range will not be the same without him, and park staff will miss him greatly.
- South District Ranger: John Leonard
- Mountaineering Rangers: Tucker Chenoweth, Chris Erickson, Coley Gentzel, Matt Hendrickson, Jennifer Johnston, Brandon Latham, John Loomis, Joe Reichert, Roger Robinson, Mike Shain, Kevin Wright
- Helicopter Manager: Dave Kreutzer
- Helicopter Pilot: Bruce Andrews
- Admin / Public Information: Maureen McLaughlin
- Supervisory VUA: Missy Smothers
- Visitor Use Assistants: Ruth Ramsey, Pam Robinson, Laura Wright
- Chief of Planning: Miriam Valentine
- Education Specialist: Bob Henry
- Interpretive Ranger: Julie Williams
- Janitor: Jack Fickel
- Medical Directors: Jennifer Dow, M.D., Peter Hackett, M.D.