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Stranded, Exceeding Abilities, Lost, Damaged and Inadequate Equipment, Yukon Territory, Mount Logan

STRANDED, EXCEEDING ABILITIES, LOST, DAMAGED AND INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

Yukon Territory, Mount Logan

At 1530 on May 21, 1992, the Kluane National Park Warden Service received word from a local pilot that a group of four Italian climbers on the Hummingbird Ridge of Mount Logan (6050 meters) had broadcast a “mayday” and were requesting helicopter assistance.

Pilot Doug Makkonen from Trans North Turbo Air used a Bell 206 Jet Ranger to reach the mountain by 1945. The rescuers met two climbers at their 1800 meter base camp who were in radio contact with two stranded on the ridge. The two on the ridge claimed to have lost most of their snow protection, broken one crampon, and severely dulled their ice climbing tools in getting to where they were now. The climbing was severe enough that they felt they could neither downclimb nor continue ascending safely, but they could be reached by helicopter.

The rescue team decided to fly up to their location and assess the situation. The altimeter in the helicopter read 4740 meters when the climbers were spotted on a small corniced platform on the steep ridge, 1200 meters below the summit. They had their packs on and told the helicopter party over the radio that they would like to be picked up and taken down. However, a Bell 206 can barely maintain a slow fly-by at that altitude, let alone a landing and subsequent take-off. The helicopter descended to the base camp to discuss the rescue options, and it was decided best to allow each climber to attach himself to the end of a long fixed line while the machine hovered above.

The helicopter was stripped of all unnecessary weight, including back seat, headsets, and tools. The pilot then took it up alone to the climbers while the wardens explained to them by radio that they must leave their equipment behind, be sure they were not tied in to the mountain, and clip in to the sling line one at a time. Each climber in turn was then slung down to their camp. Neither one was injured.

Analysis

The two climbers were fortunate in that they had radio communication with their base camp, and to the outside, to request help when they needed it, that the helicopter was available, that the weather was ideal at the time, and that they were at an elevation that was within the limits for any sort of helicopter rescue. Since they had ascended 3000 meters in just two days, it’s quite possible that they were already experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. If they had had to wait any length of time for assistance, they might have been forced to either downclimb with inadequate equipment or succumb to the effects of altitude.

To climb in the St. Elias Mountains, where the closest aircraft assistance is, at best, an hour’s flight away through mountainous terrain, where week-long storms are rather common, and where one can quickly ascend to an altitude where helicopter rescue may not be possible in even the best of conditions, one must be prepared for, and fully capable of, selfrescue. (Source: Andrew Lawrence, Kluane National Park Warden Service)