Dehydration—Frostbite, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Rib

Publication Year: 2006.


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Rib

At 1600 on May 27, both members of a Spanish expedition “Dos Perdigones en la Cassin” began their ascent of the Upper West Rib. As the team approached the summit around 0500 the following morning, they recorded winds of 30 mph and a temperature of -40F. Adraino Martin (31) took off his glove-shells and, wearing only mid-weight liners, took photographs for several minutes. Martin was first aware of a cold injury to his fingers as they rested along the football field at 19,000 feet. The two descended the West Buttress and arrived at the 17,200-foot camp at 0930.

Martin’s partner contacted NPS Ranger staff and VIP Sprott reported Martin as having “significant” frostbite on both hands. Climbers John Varco and Sue Nott volunteered to assist Martin down to the 14,200-foot camp. All four climbers descended without incident, Martin being short-roped. NPS ranger Shain and VIP Falley met the descending climbers at 15,200, but no assistance was needed.

Examination by the Ranger staff at the 14,200-foot camp revealed numbness and marked discoloration down to the first and second phalanges on all fingers except the thumbs. Patient history revealed that Martin and his partner had collectively consumed less than three liters of water since the start of their climb and had not slept in 32 hours. Given the extent of Martin’s injuries and the weakened state of the two climbers, a continued descent to the 7,200-foot camp was deemed unsafe. NPS staff decided to re-warm Martin’s injury, realizing that blistering would farther inhibit a safe descent.

NPS staff continued care of Martin’s injury until weather allowed for an air evacuation. At 0930 on May 30, Martin was evacuated by NPS Lama helicopter to the 7,200-foot base camp and transferred to a fixed-wing aircraft off the mountain for farther treatment.


Being dehydrated was most likely the largest contributing factor to the extent of Martin’s injury. The team stated that neither of them had taken any water at the onset their summit attempt and that of the four liters they brought with them, one froze. Taking off his over-mitts for several minutes on the summit undoubtedly compounded the situation. Climbers attempting the summit by any route are encouraged not only to bring extra water and a thermos, but a stove and fuel so they can maintain their water intake in the event of a mishap. (Source: Daryl Miller, South District Ranger)