HAPE and HACE, Ascending Too Fast, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

Publication Year: 2011.


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

After a rapid ascent to 14,200 foot camp on the West Buttress, a member of the “Polish Female Denali 2010” expedition, Zygmunt Berdychowski (49), began experiencing signs and symptoms of both High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

On the morning of May 24 at 0700, Dariusz Stolarczyk, the expedition team leader, woke up hearing irregular respiratory sounds and recognized signs of an altered mental status from Berdychowski. At 0900 Stolarczyk approached the NPS Rangers requesting assistance for his team member. Due to Berdychowski’s inability to walk unassisted, Ranger Brandon Latham, VIP Scott Ring and VIP Sam Piper moved Berdychowski in a litter to the medical tent at 14,200-foot Ranger Camp. Berdychowski was treated at the medical tent and evacuated on the NPS helicopter to basecamp and then accompanied by a VIP paramedic to Talkeetna on a commercial fixed wing aircraft. He was released at that point.


The primary issue with this incident is the time the expedition took to ascend to 14,200 feet. By using the old mountaineering philosophy of “Climb High, Sleep Low,” it would take a recommended five to seven days to ascend to 14,200 feet. Climbers who follow this philosophy may still experience symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), HAPE or HACE, but it is more likely to happen to those who choose a more rapid ascent. Berdychowski may have been able to increase his chances for proper acclimatization and avoid the need to be evacuated if his team had planned a slower ascent up to 14,200 feet. (Source: Brandon Latham, Mountaineering Ranger)