Ankle Injury and HAPE, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

Publication Year: 2004.


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

This summary is comprised of two separate incidents that ended up as one continuous effort using many shared resources and with multiple overlapping responsibilities.

On May 26 Lee Jung Park (age unknown) of the “Duksung Women’s University Alpine Team Expedition” injured her ankle when her leg “gave out” while descending the West Buttress route on Mt. McKinley around 16,500 feet, just below “Washburn’s Thumb.” Park was lowered by her teammates with assistance from another Korean team that was descending from the 17,200-foot camp at the same time. On May 28, Park was evacuated from 14,200-foot camp to the 7,200-foot base camp by the National Park Service (NPS) contract Lama helicopter.

On May 27, Todd Passey (age unknown), a guide for Alpine Ascents International, was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Passey was put on oxygen, given Nifedpine and remained under observation overnight. On May 28, Passey, (along with Park) was evacuated by the NPS contract Lama helicopter to the 7,200-foot camp where he was transferred to a fixed-wing aircraft and transported to Talkeetna.


The “Duksung Women’s University Alpine Team Expedition,” with help from another party, were able to execute a self-rescue and lowering of the patient in an efficient manner to within 100-200 meters of the 14,200-foot camp without the help of NPS personnel. Though the NPS took over care of the patient very close to camp, this self-initiated rescue effort, in poor weather conditions, is the type of behavior that is necessary in this environment to achieve a favorable outcome for the injured party. Had this team waited for the Park Service to respond, it would have taken a much longer time to get resources into place and may have resulted in cold related injuries much worse than those that were sustained during the lowering.

As for the HAPE case, everyone has the potential to be afflicted—even guides. Early recognition and descent are the keys to survival. Oxygen therapy will buy the patient time, but the best and most effective treatment is always to descend to a lower elevation. The patient’s team was initially planning on descending on the morning of the 28th, but with the Lama coming in to evacuate Park, it was determined that fewer people would be put at risk if Passey were evacuated. The decision to evacuate an injured climber via helicopter always requires a thorough risk assessment and is a decision that the Park Service Rangers never take lightly. (Source: Ranger Gordy Kito)