American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Frostbite — Yukon Territory, Saint Elias Range, Mount Steele

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983

FROSTBITE

Yukon Territory, Saint Elias Range, Mount Steele

On January 3, 1982, the Kluane Park Warden Office received a phone call from an airline company in Whitehorse which had been monitoring a Czechoslovakian climbing party on Mount Steele. They reported that members of the party were suffering from severe frostbite and required medical attention. A helicopter was dispatched and two people were picked up and evacuated to the hospital in Whitehorse. On January 4, the helicopter was again dispatched and the remaining three climbers were picked up and also evacuated to the hospital. All suffered some degree of frostbite on their feet, hands or faces. Three climbers had been successful in reaching the 16644-foot summit. (Source: L. Freese, Kluane National Park)

Analysis

The weather during the climb was probably normal for this time of year. The temperature in the valley bottom at the start of their ascent was minus 40°C.

During their climb, they experienced temperatures of minus 40°C with 40 kph winds and were forced to bivouac in the open for one night. They climbed rapidly and possibly suffered from some degree of altitude sickness that may have hampered their abilities to care for themselves in view of the extreme weather conditions that they experienced. Winter mountaineering in this area is restricted by reduced daylight hours and extremes in weather. Winter temperatures of minus 50°C are not uncommon and wind velocities can be very high. All these factors should be considered before winter ascents in the area are even contemplated. (Source: L. Freese, Kluane National Park)

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