Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress
On May 26, Mark Hall (42), a client of Mountain Trip, was brought to the Ranger Camp at 14,200 feet complaining of a severe headache and persistent cough. He was treated for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and a possible respiratory infection. After being reevaluated on the morning of May 27th he was evacuated from the mountain via Lama helicopter to basecamp where he was transferred to Life Guard and taken to Providence Hospital.
The rate of ascent over the course of the expedition remained within reasonable limits for proper acclimatization at 1000 feet per day. However, on Denali’s West Buttress the large jumps in elevation that are generally undertaken within a single day to reach the established camps result in some individuals reacting adversely The fact that Hall was already experiencing symptoms at 11,200 feet and yet he continued to ascend, and further, that his symptoms continued to worsen on that ascent to the point where he was no longer self-sufficient and still continued up to the 14,200-foot camp rather than descend, are cause for concern. The well-established prescription to descend at the onset of AMS symptoms or at least cease ascent until such symptoms resolve was not followed. And while the needs of the individual must be weighed against those of the group and it is often difficult to make a decision that adequately accommodates both, the decision to continue to 14,200 feet may have hampered this expedition’s ability to remain self-sufficient and execute a self-evacuation.