American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Fatigue, Party Separated, Inadequate Equipment, Weather, Alaska, Mount McKinley

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  • Publication Year: 1993

STRANDED, FATIGUE, PARTY SEPARATED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, WEATHER

Alaska, Mount McKinley

“Expedition McKinley” a group from France, spent the night of May 10, 1992, at 17,000 feet on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley, without a stove. A stove had been cached 20 / ACCIDENTS IN NORTH AMERICAN MOUNTAINEERING 1993

at 16,200 feet on the West Buttress. During the afternoon of May 11, Mr. Sement and Mr. Berthois attempted to descend to 16,200 feet to retrieve the stove, but turned back due to winds and poor visibility. They decided to descend to 14,000 feet via the “Rescue Gully” and return to 17,000 feet that evening with a stove. Because Ms. Sement (26) felt she was too tired to descend, a decision was made to leave her at 17,000 feet. There were no other parties there.

Mr. Sement and Berthois arrived at 14,000 feet at 1430. Berthois notified NPS Mountaineering Ranger Ron Johnson that Ms. Sement was alone at 17,000 feet without a stove, and that Mr. Sement and he were too tired to climb back to 17,000 feet.

A weather forecast received the morning of May 11 predicted that a severe storm would hit Mount McKinley later on. The storm had the potential to be the worst May storm in the past ten years. Winds of over 100 mph were predicted for elevations over

feet. Weather conditions at 14,000 feet at 1300 consisted of snow and blowing snow, winds gusting to 30 mph and up to 200 feet of visibility.

Given the weather forecast and the fact that Ms. Sement was without a stove, Johnson decided a rescue attempt was justified. The rescue team ascended the “Rescue Gully” and arrived at 17,000 feet at 1843. Ms. Sement was found in her tent, waiting for her companions. She was in good condition.

Conditions in the “Rescue Gully” were poor. Visibility was limited to 200 feet and route-finding was difficult. The rescue team decided that descending the West Buttress would be more exposed to the wind, but would provide more straightforward route-find- ing. Ms. Sement was placed on a rope between Culberson and Johnson. The team left

feet at 1915. The descent was hampered by wind gusts of 40 mph and very limited visibility. Sement slipped twice and her falls were arrested by Johnson and Culberson. The rescue team arrived at 14,000 feet at 2100. Ms. Sement was reunited with the rest of her expedition. The storm intensified and no rescue attempts could have been instigated until the evening of May 13, 1992.

Analysis

The members of Expedition McKinley showed poor judgment by caching a stove at 16,000 feet and then moving to 17,000 feet and establishing a camp without a stove. This decision could have resulted in a much more serious situation. Maintaining proper hydration is imperative at high altitude. It is also questionable as to whether other alternatives to splitting the group up leaving one ill-equipped member were adequately explored.

Mr. Sement was issued a citation for 36CFR 2.34A(4): “Disorderly Conduct—Creating a Hazardous Condition.” (Source: Ron Johnson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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