American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Climbing Alone, AMS, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990

FALL ON SNOW, COMBING ALONE, AMS

Alaska, Mount McKinley

On May 6, 1989, Christopher Bing (30) flew to the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to attempt a solo ascent of the West Buttress route of Mount McKinley. Bing allowed four days to reach 4300 meters and a total of seven days to reach 5200 meters from the Talkeetna Airport. Bing did experience acute mountain sickness (AMS) symptoms after arrival at the 4300 meter camp, but continued climbing after a day of rest.

On May 14, he attempted a summit climb departing 5200 meters at 1200. Sixty meters below Denali Pass, he slipped (wearing crampons) and without any opportunity to self-arrest with his ice ax, began to tumble head-over-heels down the 45-degree slope sailing over two open crevasses. He came to rest 200 meters below. Bing stated that he was unable to self-arrest as his heavy pack pulled him backward when he slipped. He began tumbling immediately.

The fall resulted in a sprained right ankle, and contusions of the right ribs and left thigh. He was able to slowly traverse back to the 5200 meter camp and rappel the rescue gully to the 4300 meter camp. Bing continued a self-evacuation to the airstrip—requiring two full days. (Source: James Litch, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

Analysis

Due to the extremely rapid rate of ascent, Bing was fortunate that he did not develop serious altitude sickness. However, it is reasonable that altitude sickness may have played a secondary role in the fall. Previous unarrested falls in this area have resulted in fatalities.

A solo climber traveling over heavily crevassed areas without any means of protecting himself from a crevasse fall, Bing was fortunate not to have experienced a second accident on the lower part of the mountain. (Source: James Litch, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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