Climbers survive Denali slide in ‘compelling' rescue
A pair of Polish climbers is being praised for their self-reliance after a harrowing fall on Denali this week, in which one of them waited overnight for the other to reach a camp on the mountain and summon help.
National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said the two climbers, a man and a woman from Warsaw, were roped together but didn’t have any snow anchors deployed as they ascended the mountain’s West Buttress route. Word that they had been involved in an accident reached Denali National Park rangers between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday.
“The initial fall was witnessed and reported to the NPS by a guided party, who described seeing one of the two climbers attempting to self-arrest during the fall,” Gualtieri wrote. “The climbing team fell a distance of approximately 1,000 feet, stopping in a large crevasse on the Peters Glacier, out of sight from the ridge above.”
The woman suffered significant spinal injuries in the fall, according to Gualtieri. The crevasse into which the couple descended wasn’t very deep, she said.
“It caught their fall and actually probably provided some protection for the one patient overnight,” Gualtieri said.
The climbers immediately activated an emergency beacon which alerted the 11th Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage. A reconnaissance flight and a park ranger patrol both tried but failed to reach the site amid deteriorating weather Sunday night, as the other climber went to get help.
“It sounds like the more able-bodied but still-injured man with the knee injury, he probably left her with as much equipment as he had,” Gualtieri said. “He had to ascend back up that rocky ridge before going back down into the [14,200-foot] camp – he probably showed up between 5 and 6 the following morning.”
The ranger patrol had gathered at the camp, where the male climber reported that his companion couldn’t travel but was “alert and stable at approximately 15,800 feet on the Peters Glacier.”
Rangers were subsequently able to ascend fixed lines and reach the site of the fall Monday afternoon, where a Park Service helicopter was able to fly the injured woman to safety in Talkeetna. She was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance and flown to further medical care.
The man who summoned help and a third climber who accompanied them were flown from the 14,200-foot camp on Tuesday.
Gualtieri said the fall and the climbers’ trip to safety were “a compelling rescue,” which park rangers were still talking about Wednesday.
“It was a big deal around these parts – we’re just so happy that they survived their fall and they’re alive and well to tell about it,” Gualtieri said. “It was some amazing, amazing work done on behalf of the climber, who made his way up to the ridge and then back to camp.”
In another Sunday incident, Gualtieri said a pair of American climbers were rappelling along a sub-peak of nearby Mount Hunter when they were struck by falling rocks and ice. One of the climbers suffered a broken arm, but they were able to descend the rest of the route and meet a helicopter which flew them to Talkeetna.
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