UPDATED with climber’s identity.
High on Alaska’s Mount Denali, people are so close to human limits that sometimes not even fast and heroic rescue efforts can save them.
Denali National Park and Preserve is today reporting the death of a 66-year-old, Japanese climber Masayuki Ikeda plucked from somewhere above 18,400-feet within about 6 hours of collapsing early Tuesday. Rescues this fast are almost unheard of anywhere in Alaska.
This one came about largely because North America’s tallest mountain has been busy with climbers and blessed with the same blue-sky weather that has been warmly smiling on the central part of the 49th state this week.
The good weather has had people lining up to try to reach the 20,308-foot summit via the popular West Buttress route. Ikeda’s party of four was among one of those making the push for the summit Monday night. They didn’t make it.
Another party descending from the summit early the next morning came upon Ikeda’s team with a “distressed party as 2:30 am. somewhere between 18,400 feet and 19,000 feet,” the Park Service reported. “At that point, the patient had an altered mental state and was non-ambulatory.”
The temperature was near 10 degrees below zero, the winds – by Denali standards – relatively mild. The descending party offered what help it could in the moment, according to the Park Service, and then headed for high camp at 17,200 feet to summon help.
By 5:30 a.m., they were on the satellite phone there telling the Parks’ Alaska Regional Communication Center a rescue was needed. By 7:45 a.m., the Parks’ Talkeetna-based, high-altitude, A-Star B3e helicopter was in the air.
“After an initial reconnaissance flight to the upper mountain, the helicopter pilot flew back to the 18,400-foot elevation with a short-haul rescue basket,” the Park reported. The basket was lowered to the climbers, and Ikeda’s teammates were able to strap him in.
“The climber was short-hauled down to the 14,200-foot camp,” the Park reported. “Upon initial assessment, NPS and military rescue personnel at the 14,200-foot camp did not detect a pulse. They loaded the patient internally in the helicopter and two Air National Guard pararescuemen began resuscitation efforts during the flight down to the Kahiltna Glacier basecamp at 7,200 feet. They continued advanced life support care at basecamp, but the patient was pronounced deceased at 9:40 a.m.”
The body was later flown to Talkeetna for transport to the state medical examiner in Anchorage. The death was the second on Denali this year.
Ikeda was from Toride, a community just northeast of Tokyo. His Facebook pages indicates he was a professor at the University of Tsukuba and shows him to have been an active climber.