American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Frostbite, Dehydration, AMS, Weather, Alaska, Mount McKinley

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


Alaska, Mount McKinley

On May 3, 1989, the Seoul National University Alpine Association expedition, a party of five Korean climbers, flew to Kahiltna base camp to begin a climb of the Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley. They went directly onto the route rather than acclimatize on the West Buttress first. On the 24th Ku-Taek Shin (22) became sick and was sick for the next five days. The group made it to 5200 meters on the Cassin on the 26th. Shin developed frostbite. He was wearing Koflach Vario Ultra (plastic double) boots with a woolen Loden liner, no vapor barrier liner socks and Berghaus Supergaiters; on his hands he was wearing an insulated shell over a pair of gloves. His susceptibility to cold injury was probably compounded by his illness (possibly AMS) and attendant dehydration. He and his party continued on to the summit on the 28th and descended the West Buttress, spending the night at Denali Pass. On the 29th the entire party descended to the medical camp. Shin was examined by doctors there at 2030 and he was found to have frozen fingers on both hands. This deep frostbite extended to the first PIP joint. Shin had deep frostbite on his left foot to the MTP joint. His right foot showed mild to moderate frostbite on the distal tips of the toes.

Treatment consisted of rapid rewarming of Shin’s hands and feet in an antiseptic bath. He was given 1 1/2 liters of fluids intravenously for dehydration and was put on oxygen overnight. Shin was given Motrin four times a day to improve his circulation. He was re-evaluated in the morning. Conditions were poor for evacuation from the 29th through the 31st. By June 1, weather had still not improved, so Shin’s party began sledding him to base camp. They took him to the Northeast Fork at 2300 meters where they waited for two days for a break in the weather so they could recover a cache in the Northeast Fork. Weather did not improve, so Shin’s party recovered the cache and moved their camp to Kahiltna base camp on June 3. Weather did not clear up until the evening of the 5th when Jay Hudson flew Shin and his party to Talkeetna, continuing on to Providence Hospital at 2330. He was examined there and was scheduled to remain for observation and surgery, but he and his team all returned to Korea the next day. Based on the demarcation of dark coloration and the appearance of necrotic tissue, the prognosis was that Shin would lose eight fingers and five toes. (Source: Ralph Moore, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)


Overboots would have provided more protection against the cold than did supergaiters, as would have vapor barrier socks and Aveolite liners. Once Shin became sick, it became imperative that he drink large quantities of liquids, which was not done. Shin’s probable AMS, compounded by his dehydration, contributed to his cold injury.

Prolonged bad weather hampered Shin’s evacuation for a week. Although his party got him to the medical camp on the West Buttress and sledded him down themselves, they delayed transporting Shin out to the lower base camp while they waited for weather to clear at the Northeast Fork so they could recover their cache. It would have been better to continue out with Shin and then go back and get the cache, or to split the party so that Shin could be sledded out while his friends went to get the cache. (Source: Ralph Moore, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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