American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Loose Equipment, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988


Alaska, Mount McKinley

After acclimatizing at the 4300-meter camp on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley, Thomas Bohanon (31) and Richard Strong (28), members of the “Lean, Mean Cas- sin Machine,” climbed to the 5000-meter level to establish a camp on the Messner Couloir. Strong, feeling the altitude, returned to the 4300-meter camp. At 0620 on June 7, Bohanon began a solo ascent for the summit.

The snow conditions in the Messner Couloir were unusually deep. After summit- ing, Bohanon was descending using the plunge step when at 5150 meters in the couloir, at 1700, he caught his cramponed foot on a pack strap. This immediately knocked him forward causing him to fall head over heels down the 35-to-45 degree slope. The fall continued for 450 meters until Bohanon miraculously came to rest about 275 meters below his camp in some soft snow.

Climbers at the medical camp quickly organized a ten-member ground team. The NPS in Talkeetna was notified at 1710 and did an overflight in a C-185 with Mountaineering Ranger Ralph Moore and pilot Jim Okonek of K2 Aviation with air drop materials. By 1905 the ground team reached Bohanon. After a quick survey, he was diagnosed as having possible pelvic and thoracic spinal injuries. Bohanon was unable to walk and was lowered five 85- meter lengths down before being dragged back to the medical camp.

At 2135 Mountaineering Ranger Scott Gill and pilot Ron Smith landed in a Bell 412. Bohanon was evacuated and flown to Humana Hospital where he was diagnosed as having an avulsion fracture of his right hip (trochanter) along with multiple contusions. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


Soloing is always a risky game. In this particular situation it could have either prevented the accident if there were two climbers paying close attention, or caused a double accident. Bohanon was extremely lucky that some people were watching his progress, and for the speed in which an evacuation took place. A 450-meter fall down the Messner Couloir, and a little more than three and a half hours later he was in a helicopter! Catching crampons on back straps and slings dangling from harnesses is not uncommon, but one must remember the consequences when on a steep slope. This particular accident had occurred earlier, but he could not pinpoint where the strap was that was catching his crampon. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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