American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Pulmonary Edema, Yukon Territory, St. Elias Mountains, Mt. Logan, East Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

PULMONARY EDEMA

Yukon Territory, St. Elias Mountains, Mt. Logan, East Ridge

David Isles, David Wood, Rob Banfield, and Barry Hagen started climbing the east ridge of Mt. Logan on 6 June 1978 and had reached 5,050 meters on 11 June. Isles was moving slowly and said he was lethargic. The following morning he was too tired to carry on, but urged the others to do so. He had no overt symptoms of pulmonary edema such as a cough or a bubbly sounding chest, so the others decided to try for the summit. They left Isles in a snow cave and set off at 1100 hours. At 0300 hours on 12 June, they reached the summit, and returned, eating and sleeping for three hours on the plateau, and reached camp at 1100 hours. Isles said he was well rested and ready to go down, but as soon as he started it was clear that his sense of balance was gone and slight exertion made him cyanotic and incoherent with long bouts of coughing. The party struggled down with him, and at 4450 meters put up a tent and radioed for help. During the night Isles’ condition continued to deteriorate—his breathing rate increased, and he had to be helped to drink. The high-altitude Alouette helicopter arrived on the Hubbard Glacier, but could not reach them because of wind and clouds. As Isles would probably not survive another night on the mountain, he was lowered down another 300 meters on tension belays until the ridge became too narrow. A tent was put up and the rescue team contacted by radio. Suddenly, the cloud lifted and the helicopter dropped Warden Ron Chambers with a bag, which Isles was strapped into. Seconds later, the helicopter was away, and dropped Isles on the Hubbard Glacier where he was given oxygen. He was flown to Whitehorse where he was treated for cerebral and pulmonary edema, and severe frostbite of hands, nose, and feet. (Source: B. Hagen, CAJ., 62:79 [1979])

Analysis

Isles survived only through promptness, skill, and bravery of the Kluane Park pilots and wardens. Perhaps, if the party had climbed more slowly, he would have avoided pulmonary edema. (Source: B. Hagen, CAJ., 62:79 [1979])

(Ed. Note: Isles had had a case of pulmonary edema prior to this climb as well.)

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