American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Crampon Problem, Inexperience, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

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


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On June 8, the “Love Mountain and Beer” party of three Japanese climbers flew in to climb the West Buttress. They reached the summit on June 21 at 1620 in very good weather conditions. They were several hundred meters from reaching their high camp (17,400 feet) when at 1830, Takeshi Nagao caught a crampon on his overboot causing him to twist and fall on his back. Nagao injured his left leg and ankle in the fall. He was last on the rope, sliding five meters on the 30 degree slope. Nagao felt a lot of pain when he put weight on his ankle. The two other team members assisted Nagao to camp, arriving at 1900. Once in camp they consulted Fantasy Ridge guide Vern Tejas. Tejas examined Nagao. He instructed his party to begin applying ice on the injury. At 2030, Tejas reported the incident by radio to Ranger Daryl Miller at the 14,200 foot Ranger Station. Tejas suspected Nagao had a broken leg due to its appearance and location of pain. He reported that Nagao would need assistance in getting down. They would check back in the morning.

Nagao felt he had only sprained his ankle and by resting several days he would be able to descend on his own power. On June 22 at 0800, Tejas examined Nagao and he found him to be in a lot of pain and non-ambulatory. Tejas convinced Nagao that he had a serious injury and that it would not get better by waiting. Nagao agreed with Tejas that he should be evacuated from the 17,200 foot camp.

At 0850, Tejas radioed the 14,200 foot camp, reporting that Nagao’s condition was unchanged and felt that he either needed to be lowered or helicopter evacuated. With the good weather conditions, Ranger Miller felt a helicopter evacuation would be the safest means to evacuate Nagao. Nagao was picked up at 1309 and was transported to Talkeetna, and was then transported by ambulance to Valley Hospital in Palmer. Nagao had broken his left fibula.


This is another example of a climber using equipment that is unfamiliar. The combination of crampons on overboots, altitude, and, most likely, fatigue increase the probability of this kind of mishap, though it is unusual that the resulting injury is as serious as this one was. (Source: Jed Williamson)

(Editor’s Note: It seems that evacuation from this altitude is becoming more common.)

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