The body of a man who died high on Mount McKinley decades ago was discovered by climbers over the weekend after it began to emerge from the snow, the National Park Service said Tuesday.
The Park Service has not identified the body but has narrowed the possibilities and believes the most likely is a 32-year-old Wyoming man who died of acute mountain sickness in 1969, the agency said.
"We're pretty sure we know who it is, but we don't know for certain," Daryl Miller, the South District ranger for Denali National Park, said from his office in Talkeetna.
The body was being lowered Tuesday from the 17,200-foot high camp on the mountain's West Buttress route, where it was found, to the 14,200-foot basin, Miller said.
As soon as weather allows, it will be flown to Talkeetna and turned over to Alaska State Troopers, he said. That was not likely to happen before today.
The state medical examiner has asked for the body, and the Park Service was eager to have an official confirmation of the man's identity, Miller said.
Once the body is identified, troopers will try to locate members of his family.
Of the 93 people who have died on McKinley since 1932 -- the last one an American killed Sunday by falling rocks -- the bodies of 35 remain on the mountain, according to Park Service records.
The whereabouts of many of the 35 are a mystery. Others were known to have fallen into specific crevasses or on slopes where they could not be recovered.
In several cases, the climbers' bodies were deliberately buried in crevasses or in snow graves dug high on the 20,320-foot peak because it was too dangerous to bring them down.
Climbers discovered the man's body Friday, said Kris Fister, a Denali Park spokeswoman. While poking around for supplies in a well-used cache at the camp, they noticed what looked like climbing gear in the snow 20 feet away, Fister said.
Miller said the climbers thought the material was evidence of another cache and were going to cover it with snow until they saw it was a foot clothed in a sock.
The body was dug out by park rangers. The mountain at 17,000 feet is perpetually frozen, and the man's body is fairly well preserved, Miller said. No identification was found, but the man's clothes had not yet been searched, he said.
The body is not that of Naomi Uemura, the renowned Japanese adventurer who vanished on a solo climb in February 1984, Miller said.
Uemera was believed to have summitted, becoming the first to reach the top alone in winter, but he disappeared on the way down, apparently before reaching the high camp where his diary and other belongings were found. No one has ever seen his body.
According to Denali Park records, of the 35 climbers' bodies on the peak, the only one known to have been buried in the area of Friday's discovery was Gary Cole, of Cody, Wyo., who died June 19, 1969.
Rumors persist that a small plane crashed on the peak in 1960 and the pilot and passenger were buried adjacent to the high camp. The account of the crash could not be confirmed Tuesday.