American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Distracting Illness, Unseasonable Warm Weather, Alaskas, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

FALL INTO CREVASSE, DISTRACTING ILLNESS, UNSEASONABLY WARM WEATHER

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

An Alpine Ascents International guided party led by Forrest McCarthy descended from the 14,200-foot camp on May 27, after their climb on the West Buttress. While descending the standard route on the Kahiltna Glacier, client Derek Joynt (33), fell into a crevasse at the 6,800-foot level at approximately 1900—half mile from the base of “Heart Break Hill.” The party of seven was traveling roped wearing snowshoes in one team of four and one team of three, with Joynt roped in the middle of the three-person team. McCarthy led the first team of four while guide Eric Remza led Joynt’s team. As Joynt fell in, he shouted, “Falling!” Remza and the third roped member Kirt Mayland went into self arrest. There was no indication of the crevasse, which ran parallel to the trail. Joynt fell in to where only his head was observed. McCarthy turned his team around and quickly set up a 2:1 pulley system to extract Joynt. Joynt slipped further into the crevasse because this first rescue attempt was parallel to the crevasse, causing the rope to slice further into a soft temperature-gradient snow.

Joynt began to complain of becoming very cold as he was unable to remove his gear. The TG (temperature-gradient) snow slowed down the process of placing anchors and preparing the crevasse edge. After realigning the anchor system to be perpendicular to the crevasse, a 3:1 pulley system was started. Immediately upon raising, Joynt complained loudly that he was experiencing pain after his right snowshoe became wedged in the crevasse. This operation was stopped and Remza descended into the crevasse to give aid to Joynt. Remza removed Joynt’s sled and pack and then assisted Joynt out of the crevasse. Once out, Joynt was found to be scared and very hypothermic experiencing pain in his right hip area. The concern that Joynt had a potential hip injury prompted McCarthy at 2100 to request assistance from the NPS at basecamp. Ranger Roger Robinson received the call where a hasty team was assembled led by Ranger Scott Metcalfe. In the mean time, Remza treated Joynt’s hypothermia while McCarthy probed the area for crevasses and set up a fixed line for rescuers to work from.

Metcalfe’s team arrived on scene at 2120. At 2130, Dr. Chad Page, VIP of Metcalfe’s team, requested that Joynt be evacuated by helicopter. Page felt that Joynt had sustained possible pelvic and hip fractures that needed immediate attention. Joynt was administered morphine and Percoset along with being placed in MAST Pants. At 2257, the NPS Lama helicopter evacuated Joynt to Talkeetna with Ranger John Leonard as the attendant. Joynt was then transported to the Valley Hospital by ambulance where he was released on May 28.

Analysis

Some of the warmest weather recorded occurred the last two weeks of May causing a significant melt cycle to occur in the Alaska Range. This created unseasonably hazardous conditions for lower glacial travel. The AAI party was descending with a climber who had experienced altitude problems higher on the mountain. Once they reached the 7,800-foot level at 1500, they decided to continue on toward basecamp, as this individual continued to show signs of AMS. Their minds were focused on him, even though the traveling conditions on the glacier were poor the further they descended. If they had waited at 7,800 feet until the early morning, they would probably have been able to descend to basecamp without mishap. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger)

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