American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

HAPE, Ascended Too Fast, Failure to Follow Instructions, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Cassin Ridge

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  • Publication Year: 2006

HAPE, ASCENDED TOO FAST, FAILURE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

Alaska, Mount McKinley, Cassin Ridge

On the evening of June 14 the “Princes of the Puff of Smoke” expedition arrived at base camp to start their ascent of the Cassin Ridge. When the team arrived at the 14,200-foot camp on the evening of June 17, Bryan Feinstein (22) complained of feeling weak and short of breath. His companion, Barry Hashimoto, told him to rest in their tent while he made a carry to the West Rib Cut-off (15,800 feet). When Hashimoto arrived back at camp, he found Feinstein weaker and vomiting. The following morning, after advice from an Alaska Mountain School guide, Hashimoto contacted the Rangers and brought Feinstein over to the NPS camp.

Feinstein was diagnosed as suffering from advanced high altitude pulmonary edema. Feinstein was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp to Talkeetna on June 20. Talkeetna Ambulance EMT’s examined him. At this point Feinstein refused further treatment and, against NPS recommendations, did not attend a physician or hospital for further assessment.

Analysis

As with all people climbing on Denali and Foraker, this team received a thorough briefing at Talkeetna Ranger Station from a Ranger with 30 years of climbing experience in the Alaska Range; however, they disregarded the advice about acclimatization and the way to approach a serious Alaskan climb. The suggested rate for acclimatizing is based on substantial medical research. It was totally ignored by Feinstein and his partner. It is surprising, in fact, that Hashimoto did not also appear to suffer from the effects of altitude.

The team’s lack of understanding about the seriousness of Feinstein’s condition led to exacerbate the condition. When the first signs and symptoms appeared, they could and should have descended and dealt with the situation themselves, following good mountaineering practice. As it was they delayed until Feinstein’s condition deteriorated to a point where he was incapable of descending under his own power or even with assistance. There is little doubt that he would have died if the NPS Rangers had not been there to provide aggressive medical treatment.

Another troubling aspect of this situation was the apparent desire of Hashimoto to pass on this problem to the NPS so he could get on with his climb, regardless of the fact that he was jointly responsible for the potential death of his teammate. Perhaps this persistent desire to summit was driven by the fact that they were grant recipients, in which case Hashimoto may have felt he had a greater responsibility to their donors than to his teammate.

Climbers need to realize that the NPS is there to assist, but that does not mean one can abrogate tacit responsibilities toward teammates. (Source: Edited from a report by Daryl Miller, South District Ranger)

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