American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Alaska, Mt. McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1970

Alaska, Mt. McKinley. A party of six was attempting the West Buttress route and were at the 17,200 foot level on the night of 16 June. Gary Cole (32), vomited several times that night. He with one companion was left in a snow cave, while the other four members went for the summit. Cole was weak all day. He was given compazine suppositories and seconal tablets. The summit party returned 18 June at 7:00 a.m. after a short bivouac. They were all exhausted. At noon on the 18th Cole’s breathing was irregular, gushing noises were heard in his chest, and he became unconscious. Their bottle of oxygen was used up over a 4-5 hour period. Two members left for a nearby Camp of the Institute of Arctic Biology at 14,200 feet to summon help. The oxygen helped but deterioration occurred after it was used up. In the evening two persons from the lower camp arrived. An oxygen cache was known to be at the 17,200 foot level, but only one bottle could be located. This lasted 1-2 hours. Digoxin and adrenalin were given and finally death occurred shortly after midnight.

Source: Grace Hoeman from expedition log of Bob Watkins.

Analysis: Cole should have been accompanied to the 14,200 foot level on 17 june. Also on 18 June efforts should have been made to bring him down to a lower level, particularly since he was found unconscious shortly after noontime. The summit party after 5 hours of rest, and the man who stayed with Cole, should have been able to accomplish this as they were all trained in mountain rescue techniques. Their failure to do this also underscores the insidious nature of hypoxia and how it can cloud and obscure good judgment since at this altitude, 17,200 feet, they were breathing about one-half as much oxygen as at sea level.

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