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Avalanche, Warm Weather, Alaska, Mount Hunter, Moonflower Buttress

AVALANCHE, WARM WEATHER

Alaska, Mount Hunter, Moonflower Buttress

On June 6, at 1700, Allan Kearney and Steve Mascioli (38) were climbing during a warm weather spell on the North Buttress Moonflower route of Mount Hunter. Allan was leading the 17th pitch of this technically demanding climb with Steve Mascioli belaying when a massive snow block broke loose above Mascioli, striking him. Kearney was able to instantly see that Mascioli's body had sustained major trauma and blood loss, and that he was dead. Kearney was pulled backward to his last piece of protection by the force of the falling snow block. He then worked his way down and retrieved the haul bag along with other climbing gear. Kearney was unable to cut Mascioli loose because he was too far below him after descending to retrieve the haul bag. Kearney then rappelled to his bivy site on the 15th pitch. He assembled additional gear necessary to descend, and then began rappelling the route.

He rappelled to the fifth pitch, reaching it on June 8. He then stayed at the fifth pitch, while avoiding further snow avalanches caused by the warm conditions. Kearney stayed there for approximately half a day, then noticed that below him there was a tent site with other climbers and that the other climbers were preparing to leave. Kearney began yelling down to the other party to wait for him so he could rope up with them for the descent of the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. One of the climbers Kearney yelled down to was Eli Helmuth. Helmuth radioed Eric Martin at the 7,200 foot base camp using a CB radio. Helmuth told Martin that it appeared a single climber rappelling above him was in need of some type of assistance. Martin contacted the Talkeetna ranger station and advised them of the situation, and that poor weather prevented any type of aerial rescue.

Ranger Daryl Miller advised Ranger Martin to make preparations for a possible ground rescue. Preparations for a possible ground rescue were made at base camp while Helmuth attempted to get further information from the party above him. Helmuth again contacted base camp and notified Martin that no further assistance was needed, as Kearney’s partner was dead and Kearney was uninjured. Kearney, Helmuth and Helmuth's climbing partner returned to base camp, arriving at 2120.

On June 11, NPS staff JD Swed, Joe Reichert and Dave Kreuzer did a series of reconnaissance flights over the site using the NPS LAMA helicopter. They determined that a recovery attempt would be feasible. NPS ranger Joe Reichert, using short-haul technique, successfully recovered Mascioli's body. Mascioli's body was transported from the 7,200 foot base camp to Talkeetna by Hudson Air Service, and then transported along with three gear bags belonging to Mascioli to Kehl's Palmer Mortuary.

Analysis

The North Buttress Moonflower route on Mount Hunter is one of the most technically difficult and demanding climbing routes in the Alaska Range. Climbing technically difficult routes during warm weather has been problematic in the past. The warm front made climbing this route hazardous. In this specific instance, the danger from breaking or falling show and ice avalanches was extremely high due to warm weather, suggesting that climbing activity on demanding routes could result in a probable accident. (Source: Eric Martin, Mountaineering Ranger)