American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Exceeding Abilities — Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

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


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On the morning of July 5 at approximately 0100 the “Death March 2000” expedition left basecamp to begin a climb of Mount McKinley. At 0330 Kelly Thomas (35) fell into a crevasse on the main Kahiltna Glacier at 6,800 feet. Thomas initially fell only to his waist, at which point he removed his pack and pushed it away from him. He then fell into the crevasse a distance of approximately 30 feet. Thomas’ partner, Tim Lapham (33), arrested the fall, set up an anchor and attempted to haul Thomas out. Thomas was unable to ascend due to improperly tying his ascension system into his harness prior to falling. Lapham could make very little progress due to the amount of rope drag in the system. At 0430 Lapham contacted Annie Duquette at basecamp via the CB radio and requested assistance. Ranger Meg Perdue was awakened by the radio traffic and requested more information from the team as to location and injuries. Lapham was unsure of his exact location, but stated the Kahiltna Glacier two hours out from basecamp. Thomas was apparently uninjured.

At 0445 Perdue contacted Daryl Miller and advised him of the situation. It was determined that Perdue and Jamail would prepare to leave on a ground rescue, Miller would assess the possibility for air ops support and call back within 30 minutes. At 0515, Miller called back that air ops were not possible due to weather conditions. Perdue was advised to go ahead with ground operations. At 0545 Perdue and Jamail left basecamp, where it was raining heavily with moderate winds. By 0700 they had reached the party and were assessing the situation. Perdue lowered a jacket to Thomas who was complaining of becoming cold and no longer shivering. Jamail and Perdue set up an anchor and 3:1 haul system on a separate rope, prepared a new lip and lowered a bight of rope to Thomas. Thomas clipped into this second rope and Jamail and Perdue were able to haul him out by 0730. By 0815 “Death March 2000” was heading back towards basecamp, arriving there at 1145.


The major contributing factor to this incident was inexperience. The size of the party, the time they chose to climb, the way they had set up their rope system and subsequent rescue systems all point to an unfortunate lack of experience. The party had decided to attach two ropes together to increase the distance between them in the event of a crevasse fall, as a result they had approximately 150 feet between them. This became an impractical distance due to the amount of rope-drag if a haul system was needed and which left each of them carrying a coil of rope much too short to be useful. Though Lapham appeared to have set a reasonable anchor, the rope had cut so far into the lip of the crevasse that it should have been obvious that it would be impossible to haul his partner out. To this team’s credit, they did show the good judgment to turn around once they realized the seriousness of the conditions they were encountering and decided to try their climb again another time. (Source: Meg Perdue, Mountaineering Ranger)

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