American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Denali Pass

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

FALL ON SNOW

Alaska, Mount McKinley, Denali Pass

On June 10 at 1945, Lev Sarkisov (61) of the Denali-2000 Khalatian Expedition (D2K) was descending unroped from Denali Pass on Mt. McKinley when he stumbled at the 17,400-foot level and fell 400 feet. Sarkisov sustained numerous broken ribs and was stabilized at the 17,200-foot high camp. On May 12, a large rescue team lowered him to the 14,200-foot camp where he was evacuated by military Chinook helicopter to Talkeetna. From Talkeetna he was flown to the Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage where he was diagnosed with eight fractures on six ribs.

Analysis

This was the second rescue this season where a European climber fell descending the Denali Pass traverse unroped, using only ski poles. Both men were fortunate that they were not killed, though both required extensive rescue operations. The D2K party was adamant that Lev Sarkisov be flown off from the 17,200-foot high camp without delay, regardless of the weather conditions. They learned very quickly that the Park Service does not provide a European-style helicopter rescue service and that Denali’s weather dictates everything. For the past 20 years the Park Service has tried to educate climbers with reference to the exposure of the Denali Pass traverse and our inability to provide instant rescues. There has been some headway made regarding Europeans who frequently acknowledge Park Service concerns, and many more are now descending with an ice ax, as witnessed by this author. Those who refuse to listen and end up being rescued create hazardous conditions for all rescuers involved. The Park Service and many volunteer rescuers are frustrated with this attitude.

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