American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

HAPE, HACE, Ascending Too Fast, Cooking in Tent with No Ventilation, Alaska, Mount McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994



Alaska, Mount McKinley

On June 27, 1993, Czech Republic climber Lubomir Tesar (33) required evacuation from the 17,200 foot camp on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley. His expedition, consisting of three other members, rapidly ascended to the high camp in six days, where Tesar contracted Pulmonary and Cerebral Edema. His condition was made worse by cooking inside their tent for two hours without any vents opened. Poor weather prevented an airlift. An eight hour evacuation down the rescue gully commenced at 1920 on June 28, lowering Tesar to the 14,200 foot Ranger Station by Park Personnel, mountain guides and members of the Tesar party. Attempts to stabilize Tesar were undertaken for 16 hours by Medical Personnel at the 14,200 foot station. Significant improvement was not shown, so Tesar was air evacuated by the NPS Lama at 1715 on the 28th. Tesar was admitted to Alaska Regional Hospital. (Source: Roger Robinson, NPS Ranger, Denali National Park)

(Editor’s Note: It is interesting to see how different this year's incidents on Mount McKinley and environs are from 1992. First, there was only one fatality, and second, 12 of the 15 incidents, all of which required evacuation, were the result of illness (10) or frostbite (2). Six parties chose to continue ascending despite symptoms that clearly indicated remaining in camp or descending.

It is important to call attention to two expeditions that DID recognize the potential for serious problems and managed their own rescues.

A German team lowered one of their members who had been briefly unconscious from hypoxia at 18,200feet on Denali Pass. They returned to lower elevations with minimal assistance. And a Japanese team member (47) suffering HAPE was evacuated by his fellow members to 11,000 feet immediately upon recognizing the symptoms.

One incident, not to be included as a mountaineering accident, tells us something about “attractive nuisances ” such as well-equipped high altitude camps. It occurred at the Ruth Glacier Mountain House, where people can fly in for one day or more. On June 23, a 63 year old male experienced severe seizures at this location and had to be air evacuated. The victim had a long medical history of alcohol related problems, and was reported to be drinking large amounts of hard liquor at the Mountain House. His past history, along with the altitude, weather conditions, and his immediate behavior, set him up for a life threatening emergency that put the rescue team and pilots at high risk.

Two concluding observations about the victims in Denali Park this year. The average age was 39 years, and nine of the 16 ill or injured were from outside the United States.)

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