Fall into Crevasse—Alaska, Mt. McKinley

Publication Year: 1977.

FALL INTO CREVASSE—Alaska, Mt. McKinley. The Muldrow-West Buttress Traverse party began their climb by flying into Kantishna. From there, their equipment was hauled to the Muldrow Glacier by dog team while they began their ski ascent. At McGonagall Pass, Ed Denbow (22) left the party and skied back to Park Headquarters alone. At 10,700 feet, one sleeping bag was lost while being dried on a windy day. The remaining three members decided that David Dausel (22) would continue on with another climbing group while Carl Stepniewski (22) and Carl Ellingsen (26) would descend. On their descent, Stepniewski fell 60 feet to the bottom of a crevasse. They were roped at the time but Stepniewski was passing Ellingsen so there was a great deal of slack in the rope. Ellingsen skied back up to inform a group from Colorado of the accident and they returned to help evacuate Stepniewski, who was unconscious for 15 minutes, then delerious. Stepniewski’s condition improved somewhat and he was able to assist in the efforts to get himself out of the crevasse. After he was extricated, and his injuries were treated, Dausel skied back to Wonder Lake to report the accident. There he met a dog musher, Dennis Kogl, who was leaving for Park Headquarters. Kogl reported the accident to Brown the evening of the 5th. Meanwhile, Stepniewski was able to walk to Wonder Lake with Ellingsen’s assistance. On May 6, Park Ranger John Haller flew into Wonder Lake to investigate. They were able to land near Wonder Lake with a wheeled Supercub. Haller remained at Wonder Lake while Stepniewski was flown out. Due to bad weather, Haller was not able to be flown out until May 8, 1976. Dausel and Ellingsen skied back to Park Headquarters. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

Analysis. Splitting up an already small party was not good. If Stepniewski and Ellingsen had skied properly down the glacier (keeping the rope fairly taut between them), the crevasse fall probably would have been a only minor accident. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)