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Overdue Climbers, Underestimate Difficulty of Climb — Alaska, Mount Huntington and Mount McKinley


Alaska, Mount Huntington and Mount McKinley

On May 16, 1984, Jim Haberl (26) and Rob Rohn (26) flew into the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier to climb the West Face of Mount Huntington and Reality Ridge on Mount McKinley. The pair registered with Denali National Park in Talkeetna, listing a due date of June 12, having enough food to last until June 16. On June 17, Doug Geeting from Talkeetna Air Taxi flew over the West Face of Mount Huntington looking for the two climbers. Geeting informed the Park Service that he saw old tracks on the Tokositna Glacier and their cache on the west fork of the Ruth Glacier, but no climbers.

On June 18, at 1255, mountaineering rangers Dave Buchanan and Scott Gill flew with Lowell Thomas, Jr., in a Helio Courier from Talkeetna Air Taxi in search of the now two day overdue climbers. The search was concentrated on Mount Huntington with no success.

At 1400 Thomas landed on the west fork of the Ruth Glacier, next to the cache left by the two climbers. The cache contained technical climbing hardware, a little food, and no fuel. This led us to believe that the climbers were on Reality Ridge, since they were leaving the cache with so little food.

At 1445 Thomas left the west fork of the Ruth Glacier and headed toward Reality Ridge. We spotted footprints on the ridge headed up toward the South Buttress and over to the east fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. As we approached basecamp (2100 meters on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier), we saw the two climbers heading toward the basecamp airstrip. They had run out of food but were in ghood shape. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


Haberl and Rohn had started their climb of Reality Ridge on June 10, but had underestimated the time it would take to climb it.

While not a climbing accident, this case is presented to provide but one example (there were two others in Alaska and several elsewhere) of the problems which can arise from underestimating the time a climb might take. Time, expense, and exposure to additional mishaps are the primary considerations. In this case, the climbers and Talkeetna Air Taxi settled on the cost of the search flights.

In general, adding another 25-30 percent to the estimated time is recommended. While such cushions are usually excessive in government contract work, they eventually pay for themselves in mountaineering ventures. (Source: J. Williamson)