American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

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

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Denali National Park and Preserve, summary. Raindrops were falling at Kahiltna Basecamp the first week of May, as unusually and unpleasantly warm temperatures surprised early season climbers. Longtime mountaineers can’t recall a season so balmy, with temperatures throughout Alaska breaking state records. As summer temperatures soared, most of the glaciers inside Denali National Park experienced considerable melt-out. Previous landing areas on many glaciers were riddled with crevasses running every direction, preventing landings after mid-July.

Denali’s unpredictable potency once again became evident, when a massive rockslide at Windy Corner hurled down car-sized boulders. This unusual, colossal event killed climber Clint West, age 47, and severely injured two others on the rope, as they descended from the 14,200' camp. This is one of the few accidents in the history of Denali mountaineering where human error was not the key factor.

The grave of deceased mountaineer Gary Cole eroded and was partially exposed at the 17,200' 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. The Alaska State Medical Examiner, the Alaska State Troopers, and the NPS Regional Director agreed to allow his reburial after his identification, with helpful information from the family. Gary Cole was lowered to the 14,200' 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 addition to our wonderful mountaineering volunteers, we were particularly fortunate to have a patrol of seasoned Grand Teton National Park climbing rangers, who performed several difficult life-saving rescues. Renny Jackson, former Denali mountaineering ranger, co-led the first patrol of the season, 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” 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.

Only a handful of new routes were completed in 2004, with little action on non-trade routes. On Denali only three popular routes were successfully climbed: the West Buttress, the West Rib and the Cassin Ridge (only two climbers). There were 1,275 climbers attempting Denali (1,173 on the West Buttress), with 51% reaching the summit. Only four people reached the summit of Foraker, all part of a NPS ranger patrol, and local knowledge does not recall anyone reaching the summit of Mt. Hunter!

The average trip length for an expedition on Mt. McKinley was 17.3 days, with the average age of a Denali climber being 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. In May, 90 climbers summited; 56 in July. The liveliest days on the summit of Denali were June 4 (71 climbers), June 27 (48 climbers), and June 26 (42 climbers).

Climbers came from 42 nations. The top countries represented were United States (798), Canada (63), United Kingdom (52), Japan (48), Germany (39), and Spain (36).

Climbers can now access our newly updated mountaineering booklet in pdf format at The English revision is complete, and we aim to get the information translated into multiple languages within the next couple of years. Currently, international climbers can access the older version of the booklet in seven languages on our website.

Denali National Park/Talkeetna Ranger Station

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