American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992

AVALANCHE

Alaska, Mount McKinley

On April 25, 1991, Klass Wierenga (27), Frank De Vos (26), Frank Kleinbekman, and Matthijs Wiggers of the Dutch Mount Foraker Expedition were climbing near the 8000 foot level on the 1974 Variation of the Southeast Ridge of Mount Foraker. At a point just a few feet above the crest of the ridge, the group triggered a large slab avalanche with a five foot crown and running approximately 1600 feet. All four climbers were swept to the base of the ridge. Kleinbekman and Wiggers received minor injuries, and were able to dig out Wierenga, who was unconscious and suffered a pneumothorax. DeVos was semi-conscious, suffering a pneumothorax, dislocated shoulder, and fractured humerus. The climbers were unable to raise help with their radio, and began a self-evacuation to the landing strip on the West Fork of the Kahilt- na Glacier. On April 28, they were able to contact their air taxi pilot, and were flown out to Talkeetna.

Analysis

The Southeast Ridge of Mount Foraker continues to plague climbers with avalanches. Nearly the same avalanche occurred to a climbing team in 1984 and luckily no one was killed in that accident. It may prove safer to ascend the ridge proper all the way from the glacier rather than attempting this shorter approach. The Dutch found conditions to be quite stable as they made their ascent. It was the unpredictability of the wind slab conditions at the ridge crest which caused the release. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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