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Fall into Crevasse, Inadequate Equipment, Frostbite, Inexperience, Alaska, Mount McKinley

FALL INTO CREVASSE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT,

FROSTBITE, INEXPERIENCE

Alaska, Mount McKinley

On May 2, 1988, the five person Chinese Hong Kong expedition lost a cache at 3450 meters on the West Buttress route on Mount McKinley due to deep snow accumulation. There was enough food and fuel to allow two members, Chris Lam Mun (28) and Jack Hui Chi Wah (26), to continue up the West Buttress while the others descended to basecamp to wait.

On May 10, Lam Mun and Chi Wah started climbing up the fixed lines from the 4450 meter camp on the West Buttress in deteriorating weather. Once at the top of the fixed lines, they descended about 60 meters on the Peters Glacier side in order to get out of the weather. While chopping a tent platform, Lam Mun dropped his rucksack down toward the Peters Glacier. With crampons on, he started down after the rucksack and after 60 meters, slipped and slid into the same crevasse as his rucksack. He fell about three meters into the crevasse, which was about 125 meters below the ridge. Chi Wah quickly grabbed a rope and ice ax and without crampons went down to help his partner, but slipped in the same spot and fell into the same crevasse. One and a half hours later the pair were able to extricate themselves from the crevasse. Both received frostbite on their hands, and Lam Mun also frostbit his feet and injured his shoulder and neck.

By the time they reached their tent platform, they were unable to set their tent up due to wind, so they just used it as a bivy sack. On the morning of May 11, Lam Mun was unable to walk due to swollen feet and his neck injuries. Chi Wah quickly descended the fixed lines to the medical research camp to get help, arriving at 1030.

By 1130, Ranger Ralph Moore and party started heading up to assist. Along the way two Canadians who were descending the West Buttress volunteered to help. By 1545 Moore found Lam Mun shivering on top of his sleeping bag, just wearing socks, and wrapped in the tent. He was packaged and assisted up to the buttress and then lowered down the fixed lines and sledded down to the medical camp where he was treated and stabilized.

On May 13 the weather cleared, and Lowell Thomas, Jr. was able to land and evacuate the two injured climbers. They were taken to Providence Hospital and were in the thermal unit for four days. Lam Mun did not have any other injury than frostbite. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

The expedition was a very inexperienced group. Splitting up probably made the situation worse. It would have been much safer had both members been fully geared for glacier travel and gone after the pack together. To descend a steep slope without crampons made it even more difficult for them to get out of the crevasse. (Source: Scott Gill, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)