American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Frostbite, Dehydration, Inadequate Equipment — Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985


Alaska, Mount McKinley

A three member party was on the ascent of the South Buttress of Mount McKinley. On May 31 at 0900 they left for the summit from their high camp at 5500 meters. They experienced little wind and temperatures to –30° C, returning to their high camp at 1930. That evening Michael Beiser (29) began to experience pain in his left large toe and realized he had frozen it over the course of the day. Beiser had gone to the summit wearing felt inner boots that were damp, using only lightweight supergai- tors. His fluid intake was low on the summit day, consuming only half a quart.

His toe became swollen, turning black overnight. AT 0900 Beiser attempted to call by CB radio the 4350 meter Medical Rescue Camp for advice, but made no contact. Instead, he reached Jim Okanek with K2 Aviation in Talkeetna who in turn contacted Ranger Roger Robinson at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. AT 0940 Robinson informed Beiser that he should try to descend and protect his toe from further injury. Beiser stated that he would start descending and would make another radio contact when they reached the 4700 meter saddle. They attempted to call Talkeetna once they arrived at 4700 meters but were unable to make contact. They continued down the “Ramp Route” to 3400 meters, where at 1612 Doug Geeting made contact with Beiser, who said he would continue out to Kahiltna Base without assistance. They arrived at Kahiltna Base the evening of June 1. They were flown out to Talkeetna. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


In addition to everything said in the previous analysis, the following specific facts are added: (1) Beiser chews tobacco, which is a vaso-constrictor, impeding circulation; (2) in terms of fluid intake, three to four liters daily are essential in aiding prevention of frostbite in high Arctic environments; (3) a dry set of inner boots should be available, especially for summit bids; (4) often supergaiters are not adequate early in the season on Mount McKinley. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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