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Frostbite, Dehydration, Alaska, Mount McKinley

FROSTBITE, DEHYDRATION

Alaska, Mount McKinley

On June 16,1987, Franziska Bracher (27) and Ivan Seeholzer, (24) from Switzerland, began their attempt for the summit from the 5200 meter camp on the West Buttress. Two other members of their party turned back because of the cold temperature that night. (It was -35°C on the summit.) Bracher and Seeholzer returned from the summit at 1000 the next morning, and Bracher stated she had not felt her toes for hours. Her feet were not intentionally thawed, but gauze was placed between her toes and she was given pain medication.

She walked and was lowered to the medical camp where she was treated. At this time I asked if Seeholzer had any frostbite and he said no. But when he took off his boots, several toes were deep purple. He was also treated. After some rest days, they descended to base camp and were flown to the hospital in Anchorage. Bracher lost only the tip of one toe. (Source: Ralph Moore, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

Bracher and Seeholzer neither ate enough nor drank enough on their summit day. Full overboots are much warmer than supergaiters with ensolite between the crampons and boots, and are recommended even during the warmer part of the climbing season to provide adequate protection against the cold, as low temperatures and high winds can occur at any time. The decision to continue for the top despite loss of feeling in their feet was not a good one. (Source: Ralph Moore, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Editor’s Note: A similar case occurred to an individual from the Harvard Outing Club in August. The climber was carrying the overboots which would have prevented frostbite, but he didn't take the time to put them on.