Second climbing death

Kahilitna Base Camp/Steve Mock, National Park Service

On the day the National Park Service retrieved the body of one dead climber from near the 20,300-foot summit of Mount Denali, another was entombed in the Kahiltna Glacier.

The as-yet-unidentified Kahiltna mountaineer broke through a crevasse near the base of Mount Hunter’s North Buttress on Tuesday, the agency reported, only to have an avalanche of snow and ice follow him down into the depths.

The Park Service described the man as “a 43-year-old climber from Kanagawa, Japan, (who) was un-roped from his teammates when he fell through a weak ice bridge near their camp at approximately 8,000 feet on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna.”

It is considered standard operating procedure to rope up on the Kahiltna for safety. In the event of the failure of a snow or ice bridge, the fall of a roped climber can often be stopped by a climbing companion before a mass of debris follows him or her into a hidden crevasse.

Standard operating procedure is, however, regularly ignored early in the climbing season when most crevasses are well-bridged by the snows of the previous winter. Alaska glaciers can look deceptively safe in these conditions.

After the climber fell, the Park Service said a teammate made his way back to the Kahiltna Base Camp at 7,200 feet and arrived at 11:30 p.m. to notify mountaineering rangers.

In the long twilight in the land of the midnight sun, two members of a Park Service patrol team then skied back to the scene of the accident with the climber to try to perform a rescue, but that proved impossible.

“One ranger rappelled into the crevasse as deep as possible, confirming that the ice bridge collapse had filled the narrow crevasse with a large volume of snow and ice approximately 80 feet below the glacier surface,” Park Service spokesman Maureen Gualtieri reported.

“The ranger was unable to descend further. The climber is presumed dead based on the volume of ice, the distance of the fall, and the duration of the burial. The feasibility of a body recovery will be investigated in the days ahead.”

The agency was Tuesday successful in recovering the body of Austrian climber Matthias Rimml who died in a fall near Denali Pass. He was the first victim of the 2022 climbing season.

Rimml, who was alone on the mountain, had last been heard from on April 30 when he talked to a friend on a satellite phone. He was reported missing a few days later, and his body was spotted on May 6.

The Park Service said its high-altitude helicopter was able to longline his body off the summit ridge on Tuesday.

Two climbers died in the Alaska Range during the 2021 climbing season. One in a crevasse fall on the Eldridge Glacier and another in an avalanche on the West Face of Reality Ridge. 

The Park Service also reported responding to about two dozen calls for help on the mountain during that two-month climbing season, but some involved the sort of minor injuries that happen to people everywhere.

One climber had to be evacuated from the 17,200-foot High Camp by helicopter after he threw his back out trying to put on crampons, and another was helicoptered out of the 11,200-foot camp after messing his back up shoveling snow.

Still there were a number of people seriously injured in falls or rendered gravely ill by high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).

There are risks that go with climbing in the range.

13 replies »

  1. Climbers are a small percentages of annual rescues on public lands in US. A breakdown of user groups who needs rescue range from hunters, fishers to hikers and sledders to ATV users. It would be nice to present such data rather than isolating one group as a problem.

  2. The ranger patrol on Denali is made up of primarily volunteers who are rewarded with a free flight into the range and food while they are there. There is a chance to earn some money during these rescues by the federal system, but it is more about climbers helping climbers since we all understand it could very well be us who need help in the future. Sure, there are fees associated with bringing in choppers to haul out bodies, but it is a small fraction of other government wastes. Exploration is what made Alaska the great state that it is today and the overall revenues to (airlines, rental cars, guide services, shuttle services, air taxi services, gear stores, restaurants, lodging, etc) make it well worth the government to continue their support of adventure tourism in this state.

  3. Denali rescues and Coast Guard rescues are freaking expensive. I rarely agree with James but am all in on his idea. Why is incumbent on the taxpayer to bankroll this? The $395 paid by Denali climbers might zero out the first 10 minutes of chopper time.

  4. Maybe this will help Jame’s. On average you get about 1,000 climbers on Denali annually. So, the park service gets around $40,000+/yr in climbing fees alone.
    Sad to say, but these 2 deaths Craig wrote about will provide umerpus extremely valuable training scenarios along with addressing possible short comings. Personally, I think this symbiotic relationship works well. I am sorry Jame’s, I have no desire to deal with the Democrats hate and censorship with whom they disagree with. Fascists plain and simple.

    Q: Do I have to pay anything at the time of registration?

    A: Yes, climbers are required to pay the registration fee using Pay.Gov before they submit the Application for Special Use Permit form. The cost of a mountaineering permit for the 2022 season (January 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022) is $395 US currency. Climbers who are 24 years old or younger at the time their expedition begins are eligible for a $295 youth fee. Note that each year the mountaineering special use fee is subject to increase based on Consumer Price Index changes.

    Teams must also pay a park entrance fee of $15 per person prior to arrival in Talkeetna via the form Denali NPP Weekly Entrance Pass.

  5. Slippery slope: Next thing we’ll be saying smokers, inactive folks, drinkers, non-drinkers, skinny folks, over-weight folks, unvaccinated, vaccinated etc need to pay an extra fee for their added burden to society

    • Jeff: We’re already on that slippery slope. Smokers are already paying big time. Have you looked at the taxes on tobacco these days?

      Anchorage just boosted the taxes on alcohol to make drinkers pay, as well. And I’m confident that if someone these days proposed a Covid tax on the unvaccinated, it would likely become the law of the land.

      The overweight and inactive? They’re now the majority in this country so no politician is going to propose taxing them. And there aren’t enough skinny folk left to make a difference. If you taxed them $500 per head, you might make $500,000.

  6. James, Where is the “ hate “ you claim that Bryan is “spewing “ out? And unless I am wrong I believe that anonymous comments are encouraged so that those who disagree don’t have to worry about reprisals. Bryan may be hiding his name to protect himself and family from
    personal harm. You have a problem with that James? It’s done that way all the time.
    You know James that others may have opinions that differ from yours. That certainly does not mean they are making hateful comments.

  7. Time for park service to have all climbers,
    purchase a partial refundable $10K bond, which would be used to pay any associated costs, in the event, climber calls for help. if no help is needed, they get 1/2 back.

    “because it is there”, is all bs. bunch of ego maniacs, that need to prove to themselves they are tough enough for the mountain.

    Oh it is only Fed money, fine, you pay for it then. Park service has lots of staff waiting at the base, for all the losers who have issues.
    We keep raising the deficit, every year. let someone else pay for it. like Trump’s tax
    break for the wealthy, not paid for.

    Oh, $100 barrel NS crude, spend it all now. See how long that lasts.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

    • James, no mention of Dementia Joe’s destruction of the economy, while raising gas prices from $1.79 to around $5 (with more pain on its way), or raising inflation from less then 2% to close to 20%? I am not wealthy and I received a Trump tax cut. Thank you President Trump. Democrats have been an utter disaster in everything they touch and you complain about a tax cut to keep more of your money? That logic explains your Biden vote.
      I agree, climbers should have some skin in the game..but, the park service budget is paid by us. Part of that budget is rescues. Come on now James, you know those rangers don’t mind hanging up the dog sled and strapping on crampons every now or then.

      • at least I divulge my true name. why not you? what are you hiding?

        i do not have much to say to supposedly so called political pundits, who hide behind their keyboards, spewing out hate, at all who do not agree with them.

    • Denali climbers already pay a fee to cover potential rescues. They are the only people in this state paying a rescue fee. Hikers don’t pay it. Tourists don’t pay it. And commercial fishermen certainly don’t pay it, and some of them are also egomaniacs whose mania ends up getting them in trouble.

      To be fair, maybe it’s time for everyone who leaves the city to post that bond or pay a rescue fee or carry rescue insurance is in Europe.

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