American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Altitude Illness, Exhaustion, Climbing Alone — Separated from Party

Alaska, Mount McKinley, Denali Pass

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

On June 6 at 2000, Park Ranger Tucker Chenoweth was descending from 19,500 feet with four volunteers when they observed solo climber Zeljko Dulic (27), of the Expedition Serbia Denali, who appeared to be suffering from an altitude-related illness. Based on a rapid physical exam, Chenoweth decided to have Dulic evacuated.

At 2021 another solo climber, Sho Tamagawa (22) of the Meiji University Expedition 2011, stumbled and fell due to altitude and exhaustion near the location of Dulic. Tucker and his team performed a rapid physical assessment on Tamagawa and the decision was made that he needed to be evacuated as well. Between 2021 and 2043, the two climbers were individually short-hauled in a Screamer Suit using the NPS contract helicopter down to the 14,200-foot camp, loaded internally and transferred to awaiting LifeMed ships at Base Camp. Zeljko Dulic refused farther care after being transferred to Life Med.

At 2137, it was reported that another solo climber of the Meiji University Expedition 2011, Masaaki Kobayasi (20) was lying down at 18,700 feet, apparently suffering from altitude illness. After descending to the location and performing a rapid physical exam of the third climber, Chenoweth requested a separate short-haul mission to evacuate this patient, which was done. Chenoweth and his volunteers descended to 17,000 feet without farther incident.

Analysis

All of the climbers involved in the rescue were members of larger expeditions. At some point they all separated from their teams and attempted to solo climb the upper mountain. Poor decision-making, altitude sickness, and exhaustion are contributing factors to all three of these incidents. The luck of having the helicopter at Base Camp, ready for short haul as well as having Ranger Chenoweth high on the mountain possibly saved the lives of some of the individuals. (Source: Tucker Chenoweth, Mountaineering Ranger)

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