Climber dies while descending McKinley
By ANNE AURAND
Anchorage Daily News
Published: June 30, 2006
Last Modified: June 30, 2006 at 02:46 PM
A male climber died of unknown causes late Thursday afternoon as he descended Mount McKinley's West Buttress. Terrain and weather do not appear to be factors in the death, according to Denali National Park officials.
"We just don't know what happened," said park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin. Officials are withholding information about the man's identity until his family is notified. He's a foreign citizen, according to McLaughlin, and officials don't expect to reach the family until tonight. She would not disclose what country he's from.
The climber was coming down what's known as the Headwall, a steep, challenging section of ice and hard-packed snow that drops from 16,200 to 15,200 feet. Ropes are permanently planted along that section to help climbers, McLaughlin said.
At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the climber either collapsed or sat down along the route, according to the National Park Service. When teammates checked him, he was unconscious and unresponsive. Someone gave him CPR but couldn't revive him, and teammates called the Park Service ranger camp at the 14,200-foot level for help.
A crew of Denali mountaineering rangers, volunteers and mountain guides reached the group about 8 p.m. They strapped the man to a carrier and took him down to the 14,200-foot camp. He was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m. Thursday at the camp.
Park officials expect to know more about why the climber died after a medical examination and further conversations with his teammates and family. It doesn't appear that he fell. The weather was warm and windy at the time.
McLaughlin said she doesn't think the climber reached the summit.
On Friday afternoon, weather on the mountain turned stormy; wind was blowing hard, and it was snowing. Once weather permits, a helicopter will remove the victim's body from the mountain. On a mountain that frequently claims climbers' lives, the Headwall is not considered one of the more dangerous spots. One person died there from storm-related exposure in 1994, McLaughlin said. There may have been more, but her records show only one fatality on the fixed ropes. Earlier this year, two women climbing the park's second-tallest mountain, Mount Foraker, disappeared and are presumed dead.
Climbing season is coming to an end, McLaughlin said. She said 142 climbers are currently registered to be on the mountain, but once they all descend, she doesn't expect more. The Park Service pulls its camps off the mountain in early July.