American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Illness—Abdominal Pain, Miscommunication—Failure to Disclose Medical Condition, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

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

ILLNESS-ABDOMINAL PAIN, MISCOMMUNICATION-FAILURE TO DISCLOSE MEDICAL CONDITION

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On June 9 at the 16,700-foot level of the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley, Lai Yuk Man (3 8) collapsed from abdominal distress and was unable to move due to severe pain. The Park Service coordinated a team to lower Man down to the 14,200-foot camp where he arrived at 0730. Dr. Peter Hackett, Dr. Donner and Nurse Practitioner George Rodway immediately examined Man. Upon examination, Man was no longer experiencing pain in his abdomen. Man was administered intravenous fluids and oxygen for the next 24 hours and released on June 11. In farther analysis of patient history, Man disclosed that he had experienced similar pain twice a year for the past six years and indicated the medical profession did not know the cause. None of his party indicated they knew he suffered this medical condition. Man’s condition stabilized and he flew out without assistance on June 13.

Analysis

This type of medical emergency, involving an expedition member who does not disclose previous medical conditions to other expedition members, has become more common in recent years on Denali. This places all involved personnel in harm’s way. This issue raises a series of ethical questions: Should such an individual be allowed to climb in the first place? Should someone like this—who jeopardizes so many people—be fined and escorted off the mountain? Or, should the NPS allow the situation to remain status quo? What most bothered the author of this report is that this Hong Kong climber wanted to go back up after a few days of rest at 14,200 feet. He was told he could not, under the authority that he would be “Creating a Hazardous Condition” (36 CFR 2.34[4]). It seems unfortunate but likely that Mr. Man would rather have died than come back without tagging the summit.

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