American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fatigue, Frostbite, Inexperience – Alaska, Mt. McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

FATIGUE, FROSTBITE, INEXPERIENCE—Alaska, Mt. McKinley. Robert Larsen (44), Merilyn Swanson (47), and Kevin Duffy (25) were clients of a guided expedition to Mount McKinley. On May 10 the group was at 17,000 on the West Buttress. They got an early start for the summit with the temperature at - 30° F. The summit attempt was eventually called off due to the altitude sickness of Duffy and Swanson. Duffy had previously been ill at the 12,000 and 14,000 foot camps, and Swanson at the 14,000 and 16,000 foot camps. Larsen’s feet were cold at Denali Pass that day. He was wearing double ski boots (single toe) with neoprene socks and supergators. Frostbite was discovered on all toes of one foot. On May 12, the party descended to 14,000 during which time the frostbite thawed and blistered. The boots tore away the blistered skin from two toes causing much pain. He was assisted to the 10,000 foot level where he skied out to the landing strip and was flown off. Merilyn Swanson also sustained minor frostbite on her fingers during the summit attempt. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

Analysis: The group was weakened by the prior illness of two of its members at lower elevations. Possibly, in light of this illness and of the relative inexperience of those involved, more time should have been spent acclimatizing before the summit attempt. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

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