American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Exposure (Took Gloves Off) — Frostbite, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

EXPOSURE (TOOK GLOVES OFF) - FROSTBITE

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

KAJ Denali 2008 (from Croatia) expedition members Jadranko Mlinaric (40) and Kristina Marjanovic made a summit attempt on June 27th, turning around at Denali Pass. Mlinaric stated that he removed his gloves for no more than ten minutes. But this resulted in frostbite to all ten fingers. The team then returned to camp at 17,200 feet. On June 29th, an NPS patrol led by Ranger Kevin Wright contacted Mlinaric at 17,200-foot camp and offered assistance and medical help. NPS VIP physician Sven Skaiaa noted full-thickness frostbite on his fingers and advised him of the seriousness and possibility of amputation. All help was declined. Kristina Marjanovic went solo to the summit on the 29th, leaving Mlinaric in camp by himself. On June 30th, Mlinaric again declined assistance in the morning. They said they would descend the ridge using their own resources. After attempting to break camp in excellent weather on the afternoon of June 30th, the team came to the NPS camp and requested help in getting down the mountain. The Park Service team consisting of Ranger Kevin Wright, volunteers Nick Armitage, Weston Morrison, Roanna Wick and Sven Skaiaa, made a plan to leave the next morning if conditions were favorable. On the morning of July 1st, Dr. Skaiaa dressed the patient’s fingers and prepared him for the descent. The Park Service team short-roped Mlinaric down the ridge from 17,200 feet and lowered him down the fixed lines, reaching 14,200-foot camp in the afternoon. He was re-evaluated by Park VIP and paramedic Rocco Pergola. On the morning of July 2nd, the Park Service Lama helicopter transported Mlinaric to basecamp where he was transferred to an air taxi and then taken to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.

Analysis

The initial frostbite was caused from removing gloves during very cold and windy conditions. This is one of the most common causes of severe frostbite on Denali. Most patients report being surprised at the speed of onset and resulting severity of their injuries. Mlinaric’s injury may have worsened due to remaining at high camp rather than descending during the first available opportunity. He denies that any refreezing occurred during that time; however, the delay in seeking medical treatment could affect the degree of permanent damage to his hands. (Source: Kevin Wright, Ranger, Denali National Park)

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