American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

HAPE, Failure to Turn Back, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2010

HAPE, FAILURE TO TURN BACK

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On May 11, a guided client (52) first started experiencing a productive cough and wet lung sounds at 11,200 feet. After a carry from 11,200 feet to 13,500 feet, he felt a bit better and wanted to move up to the 14,200-foot camp with the rest of the team. He moved very slowly up to 14,200 feet on May 13 and on May 14 barely participated in any camp activities due to fatigue and feeling ill.

On May 15, a guide brought him to the Ranger camp, as he was exhibiting signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. After 24 hours of monitoring his conditions, rangers and NPS Physician-advisor determined that the client was unfit to descend to base camp. He was evacuated via the NPS Contract helicopter without incident.

Analysis

HAPE is a common ailment for McKinley climbers. It can be life-threatening, but it can also be avoided. This group ascended from 11,200-foot to 14,200-foot on their seventh day on the glacier, a very reasonable and moderate pace. However, this schedule was still too fast for the client to properly acclimatize. More time spent at lower camps could certainly have helped. Additionally, sick climbers rarely get better on McKinley due to the combination of environmental factors, altitude, and effort required to climb. A helicopter evacuation could have been avoided if the client had decided to descend from 11,200-foot camp rather than to choose to move up.

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