Cerebral Edema, Alaska, Mt. McKinley

Publication Year: 1980.


Alaska, Mt. McKinley

Valentin Demmel, Sr. (47), Valentin Demmel, Jr. (18), Guenter Kroh (32), and Andreas Kahnt (19) were members of the Ingolstadter Alaska Kundfahrt Expedition. They flew to the southeast fork landing strip on June 3 to begin a climb of the West Buttress route. They reached the 16,300-foot camp three days later, on June 6, and began a summit attempt from this camp on the following day. Another party who saw them said that they were ill-equipped for the attempt, were moving slowly, and that one member appeared disoriented. That party tried to talk them out of continuing, but the German team moved on to Denali Pass where two of them decided to camp. Demmel, Sr. and Kahnt continued on and reached the summit. Just after reaching the summit, Kahnt became seriously ill from cerebral edema. Kahnt was in bad shape and had to be carried much of the way. The two took ten hours to descend from the summit to Denali Pass. Just above the pass, Kahnt apparently rolled or slipped and cut himself with his crampons.

Meanwhile, Kroh and Demmel, Jr. had become alarmed at their friends’ prolonged absence. (They had also misjudged the time elapsed by an additional 12 hours.) Before Demmel, Sr. and Kahnt returned to Denali Pass, Kroh (who was suffering from altitude illness himself) descended to 17,000 feet to get help. The Mountain Travel group he met there moved up to Denali Pass to offer assistance. Kroh continued down with another party and met Jim Hale at 14,000 feet. Hale called Cliff Hudson on CB radio and advised him of the situation. Kroh had seen visual distress calls from Denali Pass on his descent.

Hudson contacted Hartzell at 1:30 p.m. on June 9. From the description of Kroh’s condition, it was assumed that an air evacuation was necessary. A helicopter (Hiller 12E with Soloy coversion, Akland Helicopters, Inc.) and a fixed wing (Talkeetna Air Taxi) were dispatched from Talkeetna. Hartzell was on board the fixed wing with pilot Jim Sharp. The helicopter landed at 14,000 feet and picked up Kroh and returned to the 7,000 foot landing strip. The fixed wing flew over Denali Pass and from signals from the party on the ground ascertained that they needed a helicopter.

Ed Gunter, the helicopter pilot, felt he could fly safety to Denali Pass. More oxygen (for Gunter) and more fuel was flown in to the landing strip by Hudson Air Service.

Gunter then flew to Denali Pass and picked up Kahnt and Demmel, Jr. and returned to the landing strip. Kahnt was in serious condition and was semiconscious at the time. The three Germans were transferred to Jim Sharp’s plane and flown to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Demmel, Sr. stayed at Denali Pass and descended the mountain later with another party.

Demmel, Jr. was examined at the hospital and released. Kahnt was treated for frostbite of the feet and Kroh for frostbite of the hands, and both were hospitalized for several days. (Source: Robert Gerhard, Mt. McKinley National Park)


Here is another party that attempted to ascend at a rapid rate, and apparently was not in top physical condition. (Source: J. Williamson)

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