ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS, FATIGUE, DEHYDRATION
Alaska, Mount McKinley
On the evening of June 1, 1994, Bennett Austin (29) developed a severe case of acute mountain sickness while climbing between 19,000 and 19,400 feet on the West Rib route of Mount McKinley. At 0200 on June 2, a fixed wing aircraft was launched with a ranger aboard to contact the ranger patrol at 17,000 feet on the West Buttress and perform an air drop of emergency gear to the party which was not 150 feet below the “football field” at 19,500 feet. Austin’s team climbed up to the football field, attempted to make hot drinks and eat, and then decided that they needed to keep moving. The group started descending the West Buttress route at 0333. Three NPS volunteers met the group at 17,700 feet and assisted them to the 17,000 foot camp where Austin was evaluated. After six hours of rest and rehydration, the party descended to 14,200 feet, unassisted, where Austin made a full recovery. Following several days of rest, the group descended and flew off the mountain on June 5.
This was a group of experienced mountain climbers on their first trip to Denali. A one-day summit attempt from 14,200 feet is a very difficult and committing climb. It appears that this group underestimated the time and energy that they would need to complete their proposed route in a single day. High altitude, fatigue and dehydration combined caused Bennett Austin to become sick. Prior to this attempt, the group had climbed to 17,000 feet on the West Buttress and had been on the mountain for eleven days with no signs of altitude sickness. (Source: Joe Reichert, SCA)