Strained Back, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

Publication Year: 2004.


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On the afternoon of June 2, an RMI guided group was ascending below the fixed lines around 15,000 feet when assistant guide Ryan Sorsdahl (24) twisted awkwardly and felt something “pop” in his lower back. Keil Hillman, lead guide, assessed him and concluded that he could not continue up. He contacted the 14,200-foot Ranger Camp and informed Ranger Evans of this via CB radio. As Sorsdahl could move under his own power without a load on his back, it was decided to send up VIP Dave Hanning to assist Sorsdahl down. As the location was considered to be in a safe area, Hanning ascended by himself, then carried Sorsdahl's backpack down while escorting him.

At the Ranger Camp Sorsdahl was examined by Medic Michael Dong, who diagnosed the damage to the soft tissue of the sacroiliac area involving the sciatic nerve. As a result, it was decided that Sorsdahl should ideally not walk down as further damage might occur. However, there was no urgency for evacuation. On June 4th the NPS contracted Lama helicopter was performing another rescue and took Sorsdahl from the Ranger Camp down to Base Camp where he flew out by fixed wing prior to medical examination.


This was an unfortunate accident that, luckily for the group, occurred at a location where assistance was readily available. There is no doubt that if this had been in a more remote location the group would have had to give up on their climb and bring Sorsdahl down themselves. As it was we were able to easily give assistance and to include the med-evac in conjunction with another flight into the mountain. Medically this was also the best for Sorsdahl. (Source: Ranger John Evans)