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North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve Mountaineering Summary, 1991

Denali National Park and Preserve Mountaineering Summary, 1991. The 1991 mountaineering season on Denali began with a rumble as a major earthquake hit the range on April 30. It measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was just south of Mount Foraker. Huge avalanches were triggered throughout the range and there were several close calls among climbers, luckily none with injuries. The 1990-1 winter was another with heavy snow in the Alaska Range. There were no winter attempts on Mount McKinley. The weather in the spring was generally poor. An abundance of cold and stormy weather turned away most summit tries until late May when a stretch of stable weather arrived. Still, the success rate remained low until another stretch of good weather in mid to late June brought the success rate up to normal. This year, in order to maintain safe, reliable and timely air support for high-altitude rescues on McKinley, the National Park Service contracted an Areospatiale Lama helicopter to be stationed in Talkeetna for the mountaineering season. U.S. Army Chinook helicopters were not available as in years past. The Lama was successfully used in five major rescue missions this year. Its worthiness was especially proven after it completed two rescues above 18,000 feet, one of which required four landings on the “Football Field” at 19,500 feet. In addition, for the first time in Alaska, the Park Service implemented “short-haul” rescue using the Lama. This is a technique of inserting rescuers who are clipped into a fixed line suspended beneath the helicopter into rescue sites where it is not possible to land nearby. Once the victims have been stabilized for transport, they are extracted from the rescue site in a similar manner. The Park Service plans to keep the Lama helicopter under contract and stationed in Talkeetna for at least the next two years. Due to the unavailability of air support from the U.S. Army helicopters, the Denali Medical Research Project did not operate this season. However, the Park Service maintained a camp at the 14,000-foot basin on the West Buttress. Mountaineering rangers were able to provide emergency medical care, coordinate rescues and base their patrols from this camp. The Park Service conducted four 24-day patrols on McKinley, plus numerous other patrols in different parts of the Alaska Range. We continue to staff a ranger station in the town of Talkeetna where climbers register for their expeditions. Registration is required for all expeditions on McKinley and Foraker. Climbers headed to other areas in the South District of Denali National Park and Preserve are encouraged to register. A strong emphasis is placed on the importance of environmentally sound expeditionary climbing and sanitation practices. Additionally, mountaineers must remain self-sufficient and conduct their own rescues whenever possible.

Interesting statistics: Number of climbers on Mount McKinley : In 1991, 935 climbers attempted to climb McKinley. This is 63 fewer persons than in 1990. Although this is a drop of 6.3%, it still represents a vast increase over the previous two decades: 1972=181; 1973=203; 1974=282; 1975=362; 1976=508; 1977=360; 1978=459; 1979=533; 1980=659; 1981=612; 1982=696; 1983=709; 1984=695; 1985=645; 1986=755; 1987=817; 1988=916; 1989=1009; 1990=998; 1991=935. Success rate: 557 (59%) of those attempting McKinley reached the summit. Ten expeditions attempted six different routes on Foraker. Four out of 28 climbers (14%) reached the summit. Nine expeditions attempted Hunter via five different routes. Five out of 24 climbers (21%) reached the summit. Acute mountain sickness: 79 (8%) reported symptoms. Of these, 60 (76%) were mild, 16 (20%) were moderate, 3 (4%) were severe. Frostbite: 43 (5%) reported some degree of frostbite. Of these 26 (60%) were mild, 11 (26%) required physician care, 6 (14%) required hospitalization. West Buttress Route: 680 (73%) climbers on McKinley attempted the West Buttress, by far the most popular route. It is interesting to note, however, that the percentage on the West Buttress has dropped during the past two years. Typically, 80% to 85% of the climbers on McKinley attempt the West Buttress. Soloists: 14 (1.5%) persons attempted a solo climb of McKinley. Eight reached the summit, including two on the Cassin Ridge. Mountain Guiding: 265 (28%) persons climbed with one of the seven authorized guide services. The success rate for the guided groups was 67%. They attempted the West Buttress, West Rib, Muldrow Glacier and West Buttress-Muldrow Traverse. Nationalities: 531 (57%) of those on McKinley were Americans and 404 (43%) from foreign countries. This is a large increase in foreign climbers. The average for the past ten years is 30%. A total of 28 nationalities was represented: Argentina=5; Australia=14; Austria=29; Barbados=1; Canada=25; Czechoslovakia=13; England=47; Finland=3; France=21; Germany=51; Hong Kong=1; India=1; Italy=21; Japan=29; Korea=50; Mexico=13; New Zealand=2; Norway=4; Poland=2; Puerto Rico=1; Scotland=9; Spain=13; Switzerland=42; USA=531; USSR=1; Yugoslavia=2. New Routes and Interesting Activities: On Mount McKinley, new routes were made on the start of the Cassin ridge, on the northwest face, on the southeast face above Thayer Basin and on the south face between the Orient Express and the Messner couloir. New routes were climbed on the south face of Foraker, the west face of Huntington, the south face of Dickey, the southeast face of Barrille and on P 6800 above the Ruth Gorge. [These are described in articles or in the “Climbs and Expeditions” section.]

Accidents: The National Park Service conducted five major rescues on McKinley in 1991, resulting in the evacuation of nine climbers by helicopter. An additional nine incidents were reported to the climbing rangers. Of these, two climbers were evacuated by helicopter coincidental to other rescue operations that were in process. The remainder of climbers were able to conduct their own self-rescues without assistance from the Park Service. For the first time since 1982 there were no mountaineering related fatalities in the Park. Following are the more significant accidents and incidents that occurred in 1991. Avalanche, Multiple Injuries, Self-Rescue: On April 25, Klass Wierenga, Frank De Vos, Frank Kleinbekman and Matthijs Wiggers of the Dutch Mount Foraker Expedition were climbing at 8000 feet on the 1974 variation of the southeast ridge of Foraker. Just a few feet below the ridge crest, the group triggered a large slab avalanche with a five-foot crown and running about 1600 feet. All four climbers were swept to the base of the ridge. Kleinbekman and Wiggers received minor injuries and were able to dig out Wierenga, who was unconscious and suffered a pneumothorax. De Vos was semi-conscious, suffering a pneumothorax, dislocated shoulder and fractured humerus. The climbers were unable to raise help with their radio and began a self-evacuation to the landing strip on the west fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. On April 28, they were able to contact their air taxi and were flown out to Talkeetna. Falls with Injuries, Frostbite, Acute Mountain Sickness: On May 14, four members of the Korean Blue Fire Expedition left their high camp at 18,200 feet at Denali Pass on the West Buttress and climbed to the summit. Due to fatigue, acute mountain sickness and poor weather, the climbers became separated on the descent. Go Il-Soon, Ann Jong-Ho and Lee Beom-Kyou bivouacked in the open. On the morning of May 15, frostbitten Ann fell 100 feet while descending to camp, sustaining minor head injury. Go had frostbitten hands. Meanwhile, Lee and Park Jun-Chan, who had been waiting at Denali Pass, fell 500 feet while attempting to descend to the 17,200-foot camp to obtain food and assistance. Park sustained fractured thoracic vertebrae and Lee a cervical strain. On May 16, mountaineering rangers and the NPS Lama helicopter evacuated Ann and Go from Denali Pass and Lee and Park from feet. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema, High-Altitude Cerebral Edema, Frostbite: On May 22, Korean Kin Hong-Bin, who was camped at Denali Pass became seriously ill with severe acute mountain sickness and high-altitude pulmonary edema. Kim was lowered to the 17,200-foot camp by other climbers. On May 23, he was lowered down the Rescue Gully to 14,200 feet by the para-rescue team from the 210th Air National Guard, assisted by rangers and other climbers at the 14,200-foot camp. On May 24, he was airlifted from 14,200 feet by an Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter. He suffered severe frostbite to both hands and pneumonia complicated by high-altitude pulmonary edema. In a related accident on May 23, Kim Geo-Bong of the Korean Mokpo University Expedition fell seriously ill with high-altitude cerebral edema while camped at 17,200 feet on the West Buttress. He was lowered down the Rescue Gully to 14,200 feet by members of his own expedition. On May 25, his condition remained critical and a ground evacuation was determined not feasible. He was airlifted from 14,200 feet by the NPS Lama helicopter. Crevasse Fall, Multiple Injuries: On May 29, New Zealander Tara Wingfield of the Taking the Dog for a Walk Expedition was ascending from Windy Comer to the 14,200-foot camp. While crossing a heavily crevassed area near 13,400 feet, a large snowbridge collapsed. Wingfield fell about seven feet before her rope team arrested her fall. She was immediately hoisted from the crevasse. She sustained a dislocated patella, knee sprain and fractured ribs. With assistance, she continued to the 14,200-foot camp. On May 31, she was airlifted by the NPS Lama helicopter after it was determined that a safe ground evacuation by the remaining members of her expedition was not feasible. Acute Mountain Sickness, Search, Self-Rescue: On June 21, Japanese climbers Hiroshi Sakurai and Hiroshi Urayama arrived at 15,500 feet on the Haston-Scott route on the south face of McKinley. They had ascended 3500 feet from the bottom of the face that day. Urayama was struck by acute mountain sickness and felt he should be rescued. That evening, the pair began calling “May Day” on their radio. The National Park Service responded with a search plane attempting to locate the “May Day” calls. Numerous contacts were made with climbers, including the Japanese, but due to a communication barrier, the two remained unidentified. “May Day” calls were again reported on the 22nd and the NPS Lama helicopter began to search. Again the two Japanese were not identified. Urayama decided that he wasn’t going to be rescued and so the pair began ascending the route very rapidly, summitting the next morning. They then descended and reported to the NPS ranger camp at 14,200 feet that they were the ones calling “May Day.” With this information, the search was called off. Open Bivouacs, Frostbite: Late on July 3, Polish climber Krzysztof Wiecha began climbing alone to the summit of McKinley from the 17,200-foot camp on the West Buttress route. As he approached the summit from the 19,500-foot area, the weather rapidly deteriorated with clouds, snow, high winds and zero visibility. He became disoriented. Early on July 4, he sought shelter in a small snow cave he dug at 20,000 feet. He carried no bivouac or survival gear. At seven A.M., he was reported as overdue to the NPS mountaineering rangers. The weather remained extremely poor on July 4 and 5 with heavy snowfall, strong winds and high avalanche danger prohibiting air and ground search. Meanwhile, Wiecha wandered around near the summit, seeking the descent route, taking shelter in several locations. He suffered severely from the cold, altitude, dehydration and exhaustion. By midday on July 6, it began to clear and an air search began. Miraculously, Wiecha was spotted crawling from a crevasse just below the summit. The NPS Lama helicopter was dispatched from Talkeetna and two rangers were flown to the “Football Field” at 19,500 feet. The rangers climbed to Wiecha, who was coherent but could barely move due to exhaustion and severely frostbitten feet. He was lowered 900 feet to the “Football Field”, where the helicopter landed once again. Wiecha was flown off the mountain early on July 7. Both his frostbitten feet were amputated. There were a number of other incidents of altitude illness and frostbite. Many were treated at the National Park Service first-aid-and-rescue camp at 14,200 feet on the West Buttress.

Trends and Items of Special Concern: Heavy Use: Nearly record numbers of climbers attempted to climb Mount McKinley this year. They spent more than 17,000 user days on McKinley alone. Over 12,000 of these were on the West Buttress. The use on the West Buttress is even higher when considering that many other routes are accessed via the West Buttress. Also, many climbers acclimatize there too. Rescues: Ten of the 11 climbers (91%) that were rescued by helicopter this year were foreigners. 1.2% of climbers attempting McKinley this year required rescue. Sanitation: With the heavy use, it is more important than ever for mountaineers to dispose properly feces and urine. Many camps, especially at higher elevations, are littered with feces and frozen urine spots that are not covered by the annual accumulation of snow. Not only is this an environmental degradation of the mountain, but there is risk of contamination of snow that might be melted and used for drinking water by future expeditions. We still suggest the use of plastic bags for latrines, which should be disposed of in deep crevasses. The Park Service maintains pit latrines dug deeply into the snowpack at the Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp, at 14,200 feet on the West Buttress and at the landing area in the Ruth Amphitheater. Trash: Many expeditions haul trash to Base Camp where it is flown off the mountain. Still others continue to dump trash in crevasses. Mountaineers of all nationalities must take the responsibility for, and the initiative in, preserving the quality of the world’s mountain environments. A combination of education, leading by example and peer pressure are probably the most effective tools that can be brought to bear against less considerate mountaineers. Citations were issued for unauthorized guiding, littering and improper disposal of human-body waste. Administrative Notes: A portable radio repeater was again installed in the Ramparts west of the lower Kahiltna Glacier. This helps to improve communications between the Talkeetna Ranger Station and the mountaineering patrols. The newly constructed Park Service building in Talkeetna was occupied this year. It serves as seasonal quarters, year-round office for the South District Ranger and search-and-rescue coordination center. For more information or to request mountaineering information and/or registration forms, please contact the Mountaineering Rangers, Talkeetna Ranger Station, PO Box 588, Talkeetna, Alaska 99676. Telephone: 907-733-2231.

DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE 1991 MOUNTAINEERING SUMMARY



Expeditions

Climbers

Successful Climbers



Mount McKinley









West Buttress

145

475

275



West Buttress (guided)

24

205

137



W. Buttress/Muldrow Traverse

7

26

15



W. Buttress/Muldrow (guided)

3

23

20



Muldrow Glacier

2

4

0



Muldrow Glacier (guided)

2

22

10



Muldrow/W. Buttress Traverse

3

9

7



West Rib

15

58

33



West Rib (guided)

3

15

11



West Rib Cutoff

19

46

16



Cassin Ridge

18

37

24



Cassin Ridge (guided)

0

0

0



Haston-Scott

1

2

1



South Buttress

2

4

2



Reality Ridge

1

2

0



Northwest Face

1

3

2



Northwest Buttress

2

4

0



Wickersham Wall

0

0

0





248

935

553



Mount Foraker









Archangel Ridge

1

4

0



Infinite Spur

1

2

0



Northeast Ridge

3

8

0



Southeast Ridge

3

10

4



Southeast/Viper Ridge

1

2

0



Talkeetna Ridge

1

2

0





10

28

4



Mount Hunter









Kennedy-Lowe

1

2

0



North Buttress

1

3

0



Southeast Spur

1

2

0



Southwest Ridge

1

3

3



West Ridge

5

16

2





9

24

5



Mount Huntington

6

18

2



Moose’s Tooth (west summit)

9

26

9



Mount Silverthrone

1

6

6



Mount Dan Beard

1

7

0



Peak 11,300

2

5

3



Ruth Gorge Peaks

4

9

7



Mount Brooks

2

5

5



Mount Russell

0

0

0



Middle Triple Peak

1

2

2



NOTE: Since registration is required only for mountaineers attempting Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker, statistics for other mountains represent those climbers who voluntarily checked in with the mountaineering rangers. Other climbs, especially in the Ruth Glacier area, are likely to have occurred.

Robert Seibert, South District Ranger, Denali National Park and Preserve