American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Frostbite—Dehydration and Inadequate Clothing, Poor Physical Condition, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

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

FROSTBITE-DEHYDRATION AND INADEQUATE CLOTHING, POOR

PHYSICAL CONDITION

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

About 2100 on May 18, climbers at the 14,200-foot camp witnessed Ron Morrow (51) take a fall on the fixed lines around 16,000 feet. Morrow made it back to the 14,200-foot basecamp by 2300 cold and tired. His partner Michael Rodriguez reported that Morrow was so exhausted that he fell asleep until around 0700 the next morning. On the morning of May 19 Rodriguez helped Morrow to the NPS medical tent where it was determined by NPS personnel George Rodway and nurse Bob Mayer that Morrow had mild frostbite on his left little finger and fall thickness frostbite on the four largest toes of his right foot. Since the foot of Morrow had thawed partially overnight, Rodway and Mayer helped to thaw his foot completely with a warm water lavage. After his foot was thawed, he was unable to walk. Typically an injury of this nature would not warrant immediate transport, but weather forecasts indicated a significant decline until May 24. At 0942 on May 20, Ranger Metcalfe spoke with acting South District Ranger Daryl Miller and other NPS personnel who decided it would be best to do a resupply of essential needs like propane for the 14,200- foot camp and most important, to get Ron Morrow off the mountain. About 1100 on May 20, the NPS Lama helicopter flew Morrow to the 7,200-foot basecamp where he was then flown to Talkeetna via a fixed wing provided by Doug Geeting Aviation. In Talkeetna Morrow took a taxi to Anchorage where he was treated by a frostbite specialist.

Analysis

Upon further investigation, it was determined that Morrow had not enough water to drink, nor had he eaten enough. He got his gloves wet digging his cache at 16,200 feet. Morrow admitted he showed up out of shape and said he was guilty of trying to keep up with a 28 year old! In addition, the weather was poor, he had no overboots and had a history of frostbite 23 years ago in the same foot.

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