Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress
At 1000 on May 27, Richard Gustafson (34) and William Ross (45)—clients from two separate expeditions—were experiencing symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Gustafson was with Alaska Denali Guiding and Ross was with American Alpine Institute. Evacuated by helicopter from the 17,200-foot high camp on Mount McKinley’s West Buttress route, the National Park Service Lama helicopter transported Gustafson and Ross to the 7,200-foot Basecamp where they were assessed and transferred to an Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter, which flew them to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.
There is little doubt that Ross and Gustafson needed to descend. Given this, there is only a question of how best to accomplish the task. The National Park Service often must rely on information from rescuers on scene when making evacuation decisions. This is especially true where guides are concerned, since their experience and skills often mean they play an integral role in rescue operations. Given the extenuating circumstances of cold and the possibility of having to leave only one guide with the rest of their clients that confronted Bob Hornbein (head guide for ADG) and Michael Silitch (head guide for AAI), they made a reasonable decision when they requested a helicopter evacuation.