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Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Full Pack and Steep Slope, Alaska, Mount McKinley



Alaska, Mount McKinley

On July 3, 1987, Piotr Jankowiak (35), of the four-man Polish Denali Expedition, fell almost 800 meters to his death while descending the Messner Couloir. Jankowiak and his partner Jezierski (29) had summitted and descended to their 5725-meter camp when, after resting, they opted to descend the Messner to the 5200-meter level instead of ascending 60 meters to the ridge and descending via the West Buttress.

They decided to glissade the 30- to 40-degree gully. Snow conditions were soft and quite stable. Jankowiak was 50 meters in front. He hit a hard patch of snow or ice and lost control at the 5250-meter level and fell to the 4450-level.

His partner cut over to the West Buttress and ran down to the 4300-meter basin, met his partners, and with two Americans climbed up to Jankowiak, who had died from multiple trauma. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


The pair felt confident in descending the steeper route versus climbing up and going down the West Buttress. The big mistake was obviously glissading down a steep slope with variable snow conditions with a full pack, particularly with such a nasty runout. Roped versus unroped is always a big dilemma. In this case with glissading it would most likely have cost them both their lives. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)