HACE, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

Publication Year: 2004.


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

At 1115 on June 13, Frank Brettholle (51), a member of the “Beer Run” expedition, was found unconscious by his team mates in his tent at the 17,200-foot high camp on Denali’s West Buttress route. His team mates contacted Ranger Meg Perdue and volunteers who rendered medical aid and ground evacuated him to the 14,200-foot camp. After being monitored overnight there, Brettholle descended with his team to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Base Camp on June 14. Once there, Brettholle again lapsed into unconsciousness. He was treated by Ranger Gordy Kito throughout the night and following day. Due to poor weather, Brettholle could not be evacuated until June 16, when he was taken by Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopter to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.


This was a highly unusual case whose circumstances have not been closely paralleled by any previously known incidents on Denali. There was nothing to indicate, either in “Beer Run” expedition’s acclimatization schedule or Brettholle’s physical state, his susceptibility to, nor the severity of the High Altitude Cerebral Edema he experienced. Even the previous incident of unconsciousness in the Cascades reported by his climbing partners was not necessarily pertinent to this situation, according to medical professionals. Nor did medical advisors feel there was any indication or significant risk of a relapse as was seen at base camp. For these reasons there seems little that could have been done differently to avoid this situation, though this experience will certainly now inform how subsequent cases are handled. In particular, it would be advisable to consider continuing treatment with Dexamethasone once initiated to guard against the possibility of relapse.

It is also worth noting and praising the level of commitment shown by this expedition in assisting their team mate and trying to remain as self-suf- ficient as possible while facing a difficult situation. They acted as a team, the significance of which should not be underestimated. (Source: Ranger Margaret Perdue)