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Frostbite, Alaska, Mount McKinley

FROSTBITE

Alaska, Mount McKinley

In early May, a six-member party, the Index Alpine Club Expedition, flew to the Kahiltna Glacier to climb the West Buttress of Mount McKinley. On May 16, Alan Jennings (32) was frostbitten on his left foot while ascending to Denali Pass from their 17,200-foot high camp. Jennings was wearing Lowa Triplex boots and supergators on the ascent. The party descended to 17,200 feet that afternoon and to 14,200 feet the next day. On May 18, Jennings was examined by NPS Ranger Roger Robinson at the 14,200-foot camp. His feet hurt and he was taking Codeine for the pain. Jennings was able to walk and was willing to continue to descend. Robinson recommended that he continue down and see how he felt at 10,000 feet where he could be evacuated.

Robinson had John Dahl of the Outward Bound Expedition call the Talkeetna Ranger Station, via Radio Anchorage, and advise them of Jennings’ condition and of a possible evacuation at 10,000 feet the next day. Scott Gill received the call at 1:00 p.m. and informed Doug Geeting of Talkeetna Air Taxi of the situation. Jennings and the rest of the party descended to the 10,000-foot camp, arriving in the evening of May 18. The following two days were very poor and Jennings had to wait at the 10,000-foot camp until the weather improved.

On May 21, Jennings and the rest of the party descended to Kahiltna Base where they were picked up the next morning by Geeting. Jennings had frostbite on four toes and was admitted to Providence Hospital the same day. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

This is one of five frostbite cases on Mount McKinley this year. In this situation, normally accepted, adequate foot protection was not effective. No details in the report indicate any unusual circumstances. In general, the following suggestion may be beneficial: if one is not sure how one’s feet and hands will react to being in a cold environment and at high altitude for extended periods of time, the use of back-up systems is advisable. Neoprene socks or vapor barriers between feet and boots should be considered for the feet and a variety of gloves and mittens should be experimented with for the hands. Most frostbite injuries to the hand seem to come from adjusting crampon or snowshoe straps or from similar fine motor functions. The new generation of “space age” material used in making light gloves is worth trying. (Source: J. Williamson)