American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Inadequate Food and Fuel, Failure to Turn Back, Inexperience, Alaska, Mount Foraker

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

INADEQUATE FOOD AND FUEL, FAILURE TO TURN RACK,

INEXPERIENCE

Alaska, Mount Foraker

On April 1, Mitch Ward and Randy Adrian’s “Ice Skids” Expedition departed from Talkeetna to the north side of Denali National Park. They were dropped off by K-2 Aviation on a remote frozen lake located north of the Swift Fork River, approximately two miles outside of the Denali Park Wilderness Boundary. Ward and Adrian departed the airstrip for the Northwest Ridge of Mt. Foraker on April 2. They had a P.L.B. for emergencies and approximately 28 days of food and fuel. Their 30 mile approach to the route was shrouded with two to three feet of unconsolidated snow, so it took 14 days.

They started their climb of the Northwest Ridge on April 16, and spent the next nine days climbing to their high camp at 16,400 feet. They were out of food and had less than two days of fuel left. They had been climbing on less calories than they had planned for and decided their situation was bleak. They decided to activate the P.L.B.

At 2135 on April 27, Major Simons from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage reported that they were receiving a signal coming from the north side of Mt. Foraker. No flights could be launched from Talkeetna that evening due to the inclement weather. The next day, at 1000, Hudson Air, with NPS Ranger Billy Shott aboard, reported that the signal was coming from 16,400 feet on Mt. Foraker. Ranger Shott reported seeing two climbers and one tent. At 1040, the LAMA helicopter was launched from Talkeetna with Ranger Daryl Miller aboard. They reached the base of Mt. Foraker but weather forced them to land at the 7,200 foot base camp. At 1530, the LAMA launched and flew up along the Sultana Ridge, passing over the two climbers. Both ran out of the tent and immediately started breaking it down. After a radio conference with the Talkeetna Ranger Station, the LAMA lowered a CB radio, park radio, one gallon water, food, and fuel. In about five minutes, Ward called on the park radio requesting a rescue. He stated that they had not eaten in three days and were also severely dehydrated. Ranger Miller instructed Ward and Adrian to hydrate, eat and start their descent as soon as possible. Ward asked which route they should descend. Miller advised that the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Foraker was objectively dangerous due to avalanche activity and recommended the Sultana Ridge. Ward agreed and asked how many days the descent would take. Miller estimated approximately three to five days to the 7,200 foot base camp. Ward and Adrian stayed at their high camp at 16,400 feet for the next four days, deciding that they would rest and hydrate.

On May 3, the “Ice Skids” started their descent. They were spotted at 15,200 feet and contacted by Park Radio via a fixed wing aircraft by Ranger Miller. Ward stated they had two days food and fuel left and were concerned about running out before they reached the 7,200 foot base camp.

On May 4, Mountaineering Ranger Joe Reichert, and volunteers Nina Kemppel and Denny Gignoux departed for Mt. Foraker. They reached 12,000 feet and made camp. The next day, Reichert and Kemppel reached the “Ice Skids” at 1130 in the bowl below peak 12,472. After an hour of eating and drinking the four began their descent to Mt. Crosson. They arrived at camp at 1700. On May 7, all five climbers descended Mt. Crosson and arrived at base camp at 1500. Ward and Adrian flew out to Talkeetna shortly after.

Analysis

The “Ice Skids” team had been briefed extensively in Talkeetna by both an experienced local guide who had previously climbed this route up to 12,000 feet and a mountaineering Ranger who had hiked the approach in the similar time of year. Ward and Adrian were advised that their northern approach to Mt. Foraker could be substantially longer than the time they had allotted. Also, they were warned about their planned food and fuel portions, which were sparse for the typically cold conditions in April. Ward had two climbs into the Alaska Range and Adrian had no experience in Alaska on any climbs. This expedition experienced labor intensive snow conditions on the approach and because of some navigation errors, the approach took 14 days instead of the planned seven. Also, this climb was extremely committing because of the planned traverse, remoteness, length, time of year and no communication.

It would have been prudent to back off the route and return to the landing strip at a much lower elevation than to run out of food and fuel at 16,400 feet. All people traveling into the wilderness areas of Alaska have a personal responsibility to conduct all endeavors based on self sufficiency. (Source: Denali National Park—Talkeetna Subdistrict Ranger Station)

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