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Slip on Ice, AMS, Exposure, Inadequate Clothing, Inexperience, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

SLIP ON ICE, AMS, EXPOSURE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING, INEXPERIENCE

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress.

May 13, Rangers Kevin Moore and Scott Metcalfe with volunteers Jay Hammond and John Evans carried loads from 14,200 feet to 16,200 feet on the West Buttress and returned to 14,200 feet. They reported the following.

We saw Erik Seedhouse (35) and Doina Nugent (38) moving slowly at 15,300 feet just below the fixed lines on the headwall. They had moved maybe 400 feet in one and a half hours. We caught up to them and asked Nugent if they were feeling all right. He replied they were all right. Seedhouse had stopped continuously, and we thought he might be demonstrating symptoms of altitude sickness. We told them the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness and Seedhouse agreed he might have AMS. We suggested they go down and acclimatize slowly. But Nugent said sharply to Seedhouse that he didn’t have AMS and that he was “a baby.”

This interaction concerned me for a couple of reasons. First, Seedhouse did not want to climb, but Nugent was pushing him to continue. Nugent’s expedition behavior did not show compassion for Seedhouse—who clearly was having difficulties. Second, Seedhouse was sunburnt, improperly dressed, and equipment was attached haphazardly to his pack, indicating he wasn’t taking care of himself properly.

Nugent and Seedhouse sat down and we continued up the headwall to 16,200 feet where we spent the next three hours working. While descending the fixed lines, we received a radio call that a woman spent three hours stuck in the bergschrund, and might need assistance. We descended to the bergschrund and found Nugent and Seedhouse there. They were being assisted by the GT Expedition (Yvon Methot and Marc Talbot) and members of their own expedition.

Nugent had attached an ascender to the fixed line. The ascender became wedged between the rope and the icy lip of the bergschrund. Seedhouse and Nugent could not help themselves out of this jam. Methot and Talbot carried Nugent’s pack and belayed them. At this point, we witnessed Seedhouse fall. Seedhouse slid about six feet and was caught by the rope. It took him a few moments and some effort to right himself, and when he did, he screamed, “My leg, my leg.” Seedhouse shouted at Nugent, who was ignoring him, “I’ll never forgive you for this! Never.”

But Seedhouse was not injured and the group returned to 14,200 feet. Methot, Talbot, and Habijanac came to the Ranger Camp to explain the dynamics of the V02 Expedition. Habijanac explained that he and his wife agreed to join V02 without having previously met with Seedhouse and Nugent. Habijanac said he was concerned about the safety of the team. Methot and Talbot thought they should abandon the climb.

Habijanac said the group had taken a short mountaineering course, and he became concerned during the course when Nugent and Seedhouse displayed very little knowledge in mountaineering skills. The Ranger Patrol’s collective opinion was that they demonstrated poor expedition behavior and mountaineering skills to climb Denali safely.

On May 14, Moore met with Seedhouse and explained that the V02 Expedition should abort their climb because of safety concerns. Seedhouse was upset. He said the climb was sponsored by Simon Fraser University and the money given to him would have to be paid back.

On May 15, the entire V02 team abandoned their climb. They were assisted by the GT Expedition to Basecamp.