On a slope where if you fall you die, Czech mountaineer Pavel Michut met his end on Friday.
The 45-year-old from the village of Hutisko Solanec fell to his death, the National Park Service reported, while trying to ski the Messner Couloir, an almost mile-long chute that drops from near 19,000 feet on Mount Denali to the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress route.
As with most ski descents from North America’s tallest peak, the danger varies considerably depending on snow conditions.
“It is an intimidating run,” Tyson Bradley wrote in 2014. “After 800 feet, it rolls over to 48 degrees, and you can see the base camp 4,000-feet below. The angle remains 45-plus for the next 3,000 feet. Upon my first return to Denali this spring after a decade away, I was shocked at how much ice was gone from the line.
“The narrows were barely wide enough to ski, and the bergschrund at the base is now a maze of many crevasses. When I skied it in 1994, which may have been the second free-heel descent, the 200-odd residents of the 14,000-foot camp were cheering as I wearily skidded into home base. Being watched and celebrated in the act is an uplifting, and rare experience in the ignominious world of big peak and extreme skiing.”
The generally 50-degree slope angle would rate a triple black diamond, of which there are few, at a U.S. ski resort, and none of those run for 5,000 feet. The North Face at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood boasts the longest black diamond run in the country, and it has only about 2,000 feet of vertical drop.
The park service estimated Michut tumbled 1,500 feet after falling near 17,000 feet in the Messner.
“The event was witnessed by multiple parties at the 14,200-foot camp on Denali,” the agency reported. “A nearby climbing team was on scene within 10 minutes and determined that the skier had died of multiple traumatic injuries suffered in the fall. NPS mountaineering rangers arrived on scene shortly thereafter and recovered the climber’s remains.”
The agency noted the difficult ski conditions at the time of the fall, describing the snow as “wind-scoured and hard-packed following repeated days of extreme winds.”
Michut’s body was to be flown from high camp to Talkeetna for transfer to the state medical examiner once weather conditions allow. The winds have been howling across the 20,310-foot summit of the mountain since Friday.
The Denali field report had this on that date:
“14,200 feet – Denali Storm Evans is unrelenting. When the sun and milder temperatures came out yesterday afternoon, the winds only got stronger. Ranger Chris Erickson reports streamers off of every point possible, and yesterday evening the 14,000 weather station clocked the strongest gust (80 mph) that Erickson had ever experienced at 14,ooo. This morning’s wind speed was 32 mph from the northeast, with gusts of up to 80 mph from the east. No new snow overnight, just blowing snow.”