HAPE—ASCENDED TOO FAST
Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress
On May 4, an Austrian party called Team Outback departed Talkeetna, for a climb of the West Buttress of Mount McKinley. Three days later the group arrived at the 14,200-foot camp. After one night there, the team attempted a carry to the 17,200-foot camp. After waking up on the morning of May 9 with a headache and ataxia, Karl Wieser (3 5) decided to seek NPS medical attention. Upon examination by NPS medical personnel, the climber presented with crackles in both the right and left lung as well as significant dyspnea on exertion. It was determined that he was suffering from HAPE.
Treatment consisted of Nifedipine, Diamox, and oxygen therapy. Due to weather conditions it was determined that decent was not appropriate. After four day’s of monitoring and treatment, weather conditions improved and the climber was released from NPS medical care and placed on low-flow oxygen for descent to the 7,200-foot camp with his teammates.
Although altitude illness such as HAPE can still occur to climbers who take an appropriate amount of time to acclimatize, it is much more probable and common to happen to climbers who rush their ascent. Team Outback was an experienced climbing party that had been to higher altitudes. However, their three-day ascent to the 14,200-foot camp was faster than the recommended minimum of five days that parties should spend acclimatizing on their ascent to that camp. The quick ascent along with the fact that the team then decided to attempt to go directly to the 17,200-foot camp without taking any rest days no doubt exacerbated any potential altitude illness. (Source: Ranger John Leonard)