American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow—Ski Mountaineering, AMS, Weather—Extreme Winds, Alaska, Mount Foraker, Sultana Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996


Alaska, Mount Foraker, Sultana Ridge

On June 10, at 2230 Julie Faure (33), Jim Hopkins (31), John Montecucco (29), and Tyson Bradley (29) started up the Sultana Ridge on Mount Foraker (17,400 feet) from a high camp at 12,000 feet. Winds blew 25 to 30 miles per hour and the party cramponed swiftly on firm snow, reaching 14,000 feet in two hours. At 16,000 feet, the view of Denali and Hunter became obscured by a tenticular cloud forming on the summit of Foraker, and winds tripled in speed. Julie was blown off her feet several times but selfarrested immediately, and everyone continued climbing to 16,800 feet, where the route meets the broad summit plateau. John and Jim, climbing on one rope, turned around and began skiing down, citing high winds and John's possible altitude-related “off’ feeling. Faure and Bradley continued toward the summit, but retreated at 17,100 feet due to unrelenting gusts up to 100 miles per hour.

Montecucco was blasted off his feet and landed on his back at 16,000 feet on the ski descent. He slid and tumbled over seracs and steep, bulletproof snow for 2,000 feet. He self-arrested with the ice hammer attached to his ski pole just one foot from a giant glacial terminus calving onto the north face of Foraker.

Hopkins skied down carefully and reached shouting distance in 15 minutes. Montecucco said he was “OK,” but also said, “Who are you?” Hopkins approached the potentially overhung edge and coached his partner back from it. After accepting a down parka and what fluids he could through badly cracked lips, Montecucco became lucid and assisted greatly in his own evacuation.

Faure and Bradley skied down without incident as winds lightened, and administered pain killers within an hour of the fall. Montecucco was short roped and lowered on his slippery down pants. A ground evacuation was deemed unreasonable in light of the five miles of undulating, exposed ridge leading back to the summit of Mount Crosson. The direct descent to the Kahiltna Glacier would have been highly avalanche and ice fall prone. It had been the site of previous accidents.

A military rescue helicopter met the party at their high camp (12,000 feet) and whisked Montecucco to Talkeetna. He was diagnosed with a broken and a sprained ankle, and bruised ribs. He allowed the ankle a week to reduce in swelling, and was successfully cast in Palmer, Alaska, near his home on Lazy Mountain. He has recovered completely as of this writing, but he is taking time off from big peak ski-mountaineering. (Source: Letter from Tyson Bradley)

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