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Slip on Snow/Ice, Inadequate Footwear, Poor Position, Alaska, Mount McKinley


Alaska, Mount McKinley

On May 3, 1985, the four member party called “The 43rd TFS” flew into the Kahiltna Glacier for an attempt on the West Rib of Mt. McKinley. By May 8, they were camped near the base of the West Rib Couloir on the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna. On May 10 they ascended the couloir to the ice dome at 3900 meters. On May 11, they continued 4400 meters on the ridge, where everyone felt good and acclimatized. On May 12 they ascended to 4900 meters. Difficulty was encountered on both the ice and rocks, with poor ice slowing down anchor placements. They arrived at a suitable camp site at 2000 where they immediately leveled out a site among the rocks and ice for two tents. All the members were tired but apparently were not affected by the altitude.

At 2030 Marc Williams (26), having taken off his crampons but still wearing his “Minus Forty” overboots, was at the task of placing a picket for a tent anchor among the rocks

below the tent. While kneeling down and driving the picket with an ice hammer, he lost his footing and slipped. Monte Fryt (34) heard Williams call out as he began to slide. Williams slid down the 35 degree ice slope on his left side and it appeared that he attempted to selfarrest with a hammer. About 50 meters down, Williams dropped his hammer and attempted to grab onto a band of rocks. He was observed severely hitting his head on the rocks. He continued to fall another 300 meters to the 4500 meter level on the West Rib. Mitchell Fryt (28) was lowered to the rocks where he thought he could observe the still shape of Williams on the slope below. At that time Fryt felt Williams had fallen over 600 meters. The fourth member, Dan Sullivan (24), made a call out on their CB radio where he reached Kahiltna Base Camp who relayed the accident to the Talkeetna Ranger Station at 2035. At 2040, Doug Geeting of Geeting Aviation was contacted, having just returned from Mt. McKinley with Rangers Roger Robinson and Bob Seibert. At 2105 Rangers Robinson and Seibert flew to the accident site with Geeting in his Cessna 185. At 2230, Robinson and Seibert observed the apparently lifeless form of Williams. The three remaining members of the party were contacted by Ranger Robinson at 2235. They had decided to stay at their camp that night since they were tired, cold and very much in shock from the accident. When asked whether they could descend to the victim, they felt it would endanger their lives to attempt to lower or retrieve the victim.

Ten overflights of the victim caused the rangers to conclude that Williams had not survived the fall.

On May 13 the remaining three members traversed down to the 4350 meter camp on the West Buttress where they reported in with the Medical Research Group. At 1520 they contacted Ranger Robinson in Talkeetna via radio telephone and reported details of the accident.

On May 14 two acclimatized climbers, Mugs Stump and Terry Schmidt, were flown in to the 4100 meter level of the West Rib. They required two and a half hours to climb up to the victim and lower the body back down to a waiting helicopter. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)