American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall Climbing Alone—Alaska, Mt. McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1977

FALL, CLIMBING ALONE—Alaska, Mt. McKinley. Gunther Schmidt (35) was a member of a five-person Australian expedition climbing the West Buttress route on Mount McKinley. All members of the party reached the summit on July 21, shortly after a Canadian party. When the party started their descent one of the Australian experienced trouble breathing so party leader Helmut Linzbichler told Schmidt to go ahead alone and try to catch up with the Canadians who had a doctor in their party. Before reaching Denali Pass (about 19,000 feet), Schmidt apparently slipped and fell down a steep slope leading directly down to the 17,200 feet basin on the West Buttress route. He slid and tumbled over 1000 feet and came to rest in a shallow crevasse. He was apparently killed instantly from a broken neck. His fall was witnessed by members of the Canadian party he was trying to catch up with. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

Analysis. No one saw the start of Schmidt’s fall. Whether he fell off the ridge and down the steep slope or whether he was trying to descend the slope to save time is not known. Many climbers have negotiated this area unroped and/or alone. (Source: Bob Gerhard and Jed Williamson.)

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