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Weather, Probably Hypothermia, Combined with Snow Bridge Collapse, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

WEATHER, PROBABLY HYPOTHERMIA, combined with SNOW BRIDGE COLLAPSE

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On May 26, the “Free at Last” expedition discovered three deceased climbers—Thomas Downey (52), Scott Hall (34), and Jimmy Hinkhouse (52)—at Windy Comer (13,300 feet). On May 23, the OSAT expedition, along with 12 other climbers, decided to abandon their climb and descend. At Windy Corner, the combined groups encountered unexpected gale force winds. All the groups, except the OSAT expedition, fully negotiated Windy Comer and bivouacked near the pass. The OSAT expedition chose to bivouac in a crevasse at Windy Comer. Since there were no survivors, the precise cause of death is unknown. There is evidence a snow bridge may have collapsed and stmck the climbers, but there was no major trauma according to the medical examiner. Hypothermia is another possibility.

Analysis

One thing for sure is that the weather on May 23 was not good at 14,200 feet, and even worse at Windy Corner. Ultimately, the OSAT expedition made the decision to descend, unaware of the intense venturi effect at Windy Corner.

One scenario involves the snow bridge collapsing on the climbers. A small amount of blood was evident in the snow. Other evidence included snow blocks, and obvious instability of the bridge. One climber was wedged in the bridge. The medical examiner found no major trauma to any of the victims to support this theory.

Another theory is the climbers succumbed to hypothermia. The post mortem examination showed their testicles had drawn up into the inguinal cavity, a possible sign of hypothermia according the examiner. The weather is a strong factor in this theory. (Source: Kevin Moore, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)