American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

FALL ON SNOW AND HAPE/HACE-ASCENDING TOO FAST, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

FALL ON SNOW AND HAPE/HACE-ASCENDING TOO FAST

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

At 1430 on May 17, Frainciso Borja (32), a member of the Blue Skies Expedition, was witnessed by NPS Ranger Scott Metcalfe and VIP Kirk Mauthner falling from just below the balcony at 15,200 feet. Borja caught his right crampon on his left pant leg, falling approximately 30 feet where he self-arrested and came to a stop just above Mauthner and Metcalfe. Borja complained of a broken or sprained right ankle. After a patient assessment, it was determined by Bob Mayer, a VIP nurse, that Borja had point tenderness to his left hip also. At 1630, Borja was packaged and lowered to a sled at around 14,300 feet, where Metcalfe with two tail-ropers skied the patient to the 14,200-foot medical camp. By 2000, Borha’s condition deteriorated, and he had lost circulation and sensation in his foot.

Concurrently, around 2130 while walking around the 14,200-foot camp, NPS volunteers Moyer and Sherrington came upon an unresponsive climber. Marc Springer (29) of the Vipers Expedition was carried over to the NPS medical tent because of a severe case of high altitude sickness. He was non-ambulatory and barely conscious when he arrived. VIP medical professionals George Rodway and Bob Mayer administered HACE/HAPE related drugs. After only slight improvement to Springer, NPS personnel determined both climbers required additional medical attention and that air evacuation was necessary.

The NPS Lama helicopter flew Borja and Springer, assisted by Ranger Kevin Moore, an EMT, to the 7,200-foot basecamp by 2200. A Pavehawk medical helicopter was waiting at basecamp for them. By 2323, both patients landed at Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Both Borja and Springer spent the night in the hospital under close supervision and were released the next day. Borja was diagnosed with a bruised left hip and severely sprained right ankle. Springer had signs and symptoms of both HACE and HAPE.

Analysis

Borja did a great job using his ice ax to self-arrest. It was a textbook arrest! His pants were very baggy and loose fitting. Had he and his partner been roped up the fall might have been prevented. He was fortunate that a highly trained NPS team was on the spot with proper personnel and equipment.

Springer, on the other hand, simply ascended too fast. He went from 7,200 feet at basecamp to 14,200 feet in four days! It is common to take many more. He seemed pressured to keep up with his partners who were acclimatizing on the West Buttress in order to climb the Cassin Ridge.

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