Various Medical Problems, Alaska, Mount McKinley

Publication Year: 2010.


Alaska, Mount McKinley

During the 2009 season, there were several medical incidents (including the HAPE report above). These included a guided client (41) with significant enough chest pain to be evacuated be helicopter; a guided client (31) with extreme fatigue and very low 02 saturation at the 17,200-foot camp who descended under his own power to basecamp; a guided client (49) who collapsed up arrival at the 9,500-foot camp after experiencing “extreme” pain in his chest (sledded back to basecamp, evacuated, and diagnosed with two “major heart blockages”); and a guided client, William Hearne (61) from New York, who collapsed and died at 13,500 feet.


The expedition on which Mr. Hearne died took three days to move from Base Camp at 7,200 feet to the 11,200-foot camp. They did this making single carries. The expedition took one rest day at the 11,200-foot camp and then the following day made a carry of gear to 13,500 feet. When the team moved from their 9,500-foot camp to the 11,200-foot camp, Mr. Hearne needed the assistance of his guide to carry his gear sled. He had also exhibited fatigue on the day of his collapse and needed assistance with his backpack on the last hill that leads up toward Windy Corner.

Fatigue is common during these early carries. The distances are not great, but the amount food and gear that are required for 21 days on the mountain make the loads heavy. Elevation also begins to be a significant factor contributing to many individuals experiencing fatigue above the 11,200-foot camp.

From the people interviewed after the incident, it appears that Mr. Heame was not subjected to any abnormal ascent regime or excessive physical stress. Friends and family also indicated that he was in excellent physical condition.

From 1995-2008, there have been 282 climbers 60 or over who have completed climbs on Denali safely. There have been 1,508 over the age of 50. Of the five heart-related deaths since 1932 to present, only one has been over the age of 59. With only one exception, an interesting note is that all of these have been since 2006.

(Editor’s Note: It is not unusual to have a variety of medical incidents in this extreme environment. The analysis provided for the last incident mentioned covers many of the important factors.

Another piece information for 2009 is that 1,052 climbers registered to attempt the mountain.)