American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, AMS — Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

FALL ON SNOW, AMS

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

The Denali Ski “Challenge 1999” expedition from Italy included skier Mauro Rumez and photographer Franco Toso. Their plan was to climb Denali by the West Rib and have Toso photograph Rumez as he skied the route.

They flew in on May 10 and began ascending the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier on May 12, arriving at the bottom of the West Rib on May 14. Over the course of three days they climbed to 16,200 feet on the West Rib, camping there on May 17. The next day, Rumez left Toso and attempted to go to the summit, but was turned back by high winds at the “Football Field” (19,500 feet). Toso did not attempt to summit because he had AMS and was not feeling well. The climbers spent their second night together at 16,200 feet on the West Rib.

On May 19 they started to descend, with Rumez skiing and Toso on foot. Rumez skied the remainder of the route and stopped at 10,000 feet to watch Toso descend on his own. At 14,900 feet, Toso was making his way down through a serac field when he lost his footing and fell off a serac. Toso continued to slide, and fell over another serac cliff before stopping in some soft snow. Toso was unable to self arrest during the 65-foot fall. Rumez witnessed the fall and skied out the Northeast Fork to the 8,000-foot camp on the West Buttress looking for help. He contacted other climbers there and asked for assistance. Meanwhile, the Team Hung Low expedition from Crested Butte also witnessed Toso’s fall and climbed up to Toso from their camp located at the second ice dome. Team Hung Low dialed 911 on a cell phone and explained the situation to the operator. The message was relayed to the Talkeetna Ranger Station at 1858.

At 2315, the LAMA helicopter piloted by Jim Hood brought a screamer suit to the scene where the injured Toso waited. Team Hung Low, who had been caring for Toso, prepared him for the short haul. Toso was lifted from the scene and flown down to Basecamp at 7,000 feet, where he was farther stabilized by Park Service staff and volunteers. Toso was transferred to a Life Flight transport in Talkeetna and then flown to Anchorage Regional Hospital where he was treated for contusions to his right chest wall and left leg.

Analysis

Toso was unanchored when he lost his footing and fell. He was quite fortunate to stop in soft snow and come away with only contusions. The fact that he was experiencing Acute Mountain Sickness most likely played a role in his accident. (Source: Kevin Moore, Mountaineering Ranger)

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