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Fatigue, Dehydration, Frostbite, Climbing Alone — Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

Tomoyasu Ishikawa (30) began his solo ascent of Mount McKinley from the Kahiltna Glacier on May 19. He arrived at the 14,200-foot camp on the 21st where he planned to climb the Messner Couloir. On May 24 at 1100, he started his ascent of the couloir. He reached the top of the couloir at 1500 where he encountered strong winds and whiteout conditions. From the top of the couloir at 19,200 feet, Ishikawa decided to bivouac. With no stove or sleeping bag, he wrapped himself in a tarp, using hand warmers for supplemental heat. He remained at this site until 13 30 on the 25th, and then he continued toward the summit.

At 1600 Ishikawa was attempting to photograph on the summit ridge when he noticed that he had frostbitten fingers. The frostbite caused him alarm, so he decided to descend the West Buttress. At 1900 he reached the 17,200-foot camp. At 1915 Toby Grohne of the “Alley Cats” party radioed to the 14,200- foot Ranger Station that they were providing aid to Ishikawa. Ranger Roger Robinson of the 14,200-foot camp had Grohne search out a mountain guide in the 17,200-foot camp. At 1935, guide Weslie Bunch of Mountain Trip Guide Service reported that Ishikawa was exhausted with frostbitten fingers and nose but would not need a rescue. Robinson advised Bunch of the emergency gear in the cache including tent, sleeping bag, and pads. At 2004 Bunch informed Robinson that they had placed Ishikawa with Mike and Norm Johnson of “AK UT Mountain Sickness” expedition. The Johnsons began hydrating Ishikawa, as his only fluid consumption had been one liter that he drank on the 24th. By the morning on the 26th, Ishikawa felt stronger. At 1300 the Johnsons reported that Ishikawa would be descending with the five-member “Korean 99” party to 16,200 feet. Robinson arranged for his patrol to assist Ishikawa down the fixed lines. At 1434 patrol members DJ Nechrony and Rod Willard met Ishikawa on the fixed lines and began lowering him. Robinson, VIP Joel Geisendorfer, and PJ John Loomis, along with Nechrony and Willard, assisted Ishikawa back to the 14,200-foot camp, arriving at 1645 .

VIP Dr. Bob Desiderio and Willard treated Ishikawa. He had frostbite on the middle three fingers of his right hand and the last three fingers of his left hand. He also suffered frostbite on his nose with minor cold injuries to his toes. Robinson felt that Ishikawa should be evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp due to the limited use of his hands and the fact that he was solo climbing.

Poor weather prevented his evacuation until the 31st. At 1005 the LAMA helicopter was able to land at 14,200 feet. Ishikawa was flown to the Kahiltna basecamp where he was transferred to a Talkeetna Air Taxi fixed wing aircraft and flown out to Talkeetna and transported by a shuttle service to Providence Hospital where he was admitted in the evening of the 31st.


Here is a good example of a solo climber relying on the assistance of others. Without this help, Tomoyasu Ishikawa may well have suffered further injury. A solo climber in trouble will add to the burden of private climbers and rescuers where the situation may only be an inconvenience when climbers are climbing in a group. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger)