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Altitude Sickness, Bad Weather, Avalanche, Alaska, Mount McKinley

ALTITUDE SICKNESS, BAD WEATHER, AVALANCHE

Alaska, Mount McKinley

On July 19, three members of the four-man Spanish Volaska expedition to the West Buttress of Mount McKinley were descending from the 16,000-foot camp because Gomis Zaragoza had developed symptoms of altitude illness. Approximately six feet of Tight snow had been deposited on the steep slope below the camp during a storm on the previous two days. Near the base of the fixed lines at 15,500 feet, the slope in front of the lead man, Zaragoza, avalanched. Zaragoza was unable to stop and pulled the other two members into the avalanche. They stopped approximately 600 feet down the slope and all were half buried in the light snow. The only member with significant injuries was Juan Hoyos (25) who believes he was struck in the face and groin with his ax which was clipped to his body. He sustained lacerations on the left side of his face and a puncture wound in the groin.

The group descended to the 14,000-foot camp where they met an expedition from the US Army. A doctor with that team used 15 stitches to close the wounds on Hoyos’ face. He was unable to descend to base camp under his own power and was flown off the mountain on July 21. (Source: David Buchanan, Park Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

We do not know how experienced this group was, but again we see foreign climbers with altitude adjustment problems. In this case, the problem was compounded by an avalanche catching the weakened member of the team.

In general, this was not a good year for foreign climbers on Mount McKinley. (Source: J. Williamson)