Only three days after failure in a heroic effort to save the life of Denali climber Masayuki Ikeda at 18,400 feet on Denali, National Park Service helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky is being credited with keeping alive a 50-year-old Texan suffering high altitude pulmonary edema.
The man, who was not identified, was early this morning lifted out of Denali high camp at 17,200 feet, according to park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri.
A summitteer on North America’s tallest mountain on Thursday, the man had become ill on the descent from the 20,308-foot top of the continent. A guided climber, he was one of a nine-member group led by Mountain Trip.
“Ranger Mik Shain and four NPS volunteer patrol members were contacted at 10 p.m. via FRS radio by a Mountain Trip guide requesting assistance in getting his client back to their camp at 17,200 feet,” Gualtieri reported.
Time in high camp, which doesn’t really get dark this time of year, is dictated more by the weather than by the clock. The NPS patrol team promptly left their tent to assist and helped walk the patient back to camp.
There,a physician and a nurse, who happened to be among the team’s volunteers, conducted a medical assessment, put the patient on medications and oxygen, and slipped him into a Gamo Bag. The latter is an inflatable pressure chamber designed to create an environment that mimics that thousands of feet lower on the mountain. Think of it as the opposite of the altitude-tents used by some high-level endurance athletes.
“The patient initially responded well to treatment, but several hours later his vital signs deteriorated,” according to Gualtieri. That led to a call to the Talkeetna mountaineering station. Hermanky launched the Park’s high altitude helicopter from near there shortly before 4:30 a.m. and flew to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Glacier base camp.
At base came, he stopped to pick up mountaineering ranger and paramedic Dave Weber before beating his way up to the 17,200 camp where Weber helped load the patient. The man started recovering as soon as the helicopter began losing altitude, the park service reported.
As a precaution, however, he was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance in Talkeetna and taken to the Palmer hospital.