American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Ice, Inadequate Protection, Unfamiliar with Route, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


Alaska, Mount McKinley

About 1300 on May 18,1986, Steven Locher (20) a member of a four man “Pro Leisure

Tour Expedition,” fell approximately 100 meters from the 4300 meter level while the party was descending the South Buttress. Locher had belayed his climbing partners during their descent from the 4300 meter level. (The party had reached the 4600 meter level before deciding to descend due to icy conditions.) During the end of the belay, the rope became tangled in Locher’s ice tools. He unclipped from his anchor to unravel the rope. At this time, the ice shelf he was standing upon fractured. Locher fell the 50 meters to his partners and then another 50 meters until the belay rope anchored at his partners’ location stopped the fall. During the tumbling fall, Locher’s crampons stuck into the ice and his left ankle was severely twisted. His teammates lowered him to a saddle at 3835 meters on the South Buttress. There they determined that they could not safely descend further, so they radioed for a rescue. A helicopter evacuation was accomplished on the following afternoon. (Source: Bob Seibert, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


This party approached the South Buttress expecting the climb not to be as difficult as it proved to be. Had they researched the American Alpine Journals, they might have had a better feel for the route conditions they encountered. Placing intermediate anchors during the descent could have better protected the last man during his descent, or in this case, the fall. (Source: Bob Seibert, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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