American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Pulmonary Edema, Alaska, Mt. McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

PULMONARY EDEMA

Alaska, Mt. McKinley, West Buttress

While the incident with Andrews was unfolding at 13,500 feet, there was another incident developing at high camp—17,200 feet. The Black Ice Expedition, consisting of Sacha Friedlin (23) and Marie Cyr (24), were spending their third night at the 17,200-foot camp and Cyr had developed pulmonary edema. Ranger Gordy Kito was on scene at high camp with his Volunteer Patrol members Lance Taysom and Kevin Smith. Cyr’s condition had deteriorated rapidly over the course of the evening. Taysom started her on oxygen and initially encouraged the team to rest. Because her condition was not improving, Kito conferred with the 14,200-foot camp and the Talkeetna Ranger Station. Since the weather was favorable and the Black Ice team was unable to have productive rest, it was decided that they should descend immediately. Departing 17,200 feet at 0223, Taysom and Smith accompanied Cyr and Friedlin to the 16,000- foot level, where they were met by Ranger Joe Reichert and Volunteer Jay Mathers and escorted down to the medical camp. While descending, Cyr remained on oxygen with a portable cylinder in her backpack. Cyr remained on oxygen and slept for the remainder of June 3 in the ranger medical tent. The oxygen and lower altitude aided Cyr’s recovery. Her edema disappeared within two days. She remained at the 14,200-foot camp for over two more weeks before the team proceeded to ascend to Denali Pass and continue their traverse out to Wonder Lake.

(On a side note, Friedlin became only the third person to ever summit Mount McKinley, Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter all in the same season, and the first to do so after hiking in from Petersville.)

Analysis

It could be said that Andrews used poor judgment in making the decision to return to high altitude with his medical condition. Other than that, his team used sound strategy during their ascent and Andrews’ evacuation was based on an emergency condition that was not being reduced on the mountain.

The second incident was not related to poor judgment. Cyr only moved to high camp after normal acclimatization at the 14,200-foot level. Her pulmonary edema developed quickly, as happens on occasion to people at high altitude. To their credit, they descended under their own power with minimal assistance with their gear from NPS Rangers.

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