Alaska’s Mount McKinley is the highest mountain in North America, and an extremely popular climbing destination during the months between April and early-July. Of the 1,200 – 1,300 climbers that frequent the region each season, some inevitably succumb to the mountain’s notoriously dangerous terrain. Over the weekend, a foreign climber fell to his death while attempting a summit with a 3-person team. National Park officials have released a statement detailing the incident, which occurred on Friday, May 17th, but have not yet released the name of the victim.
The climbers were attempting to reach Mount McKinley’s summit via the West Buttress route. They had just reached a popular stopping area along a ridge where climbers would begin requiring safety lines to continue the ascent. The victim attempted to retrieve a backpack that had begun sliding downhill, when he lost his balance and fell to his death. The official report details that the climber fell about 1,100 feet to his death, however, witnesses to the fall claim the climber actually plummeted over 16,200 feet.
According to Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the National Park Service in Talkeetna, Alaska, the group was not using a guide to make their trek to the summit, and were not roped together or anchored to the mountain in any way.
There was a park service mountaineering patrol team shortly behind the 3-person team. After the climber fell, they were able to quickly call in a recue helicopter with two-ranger paramedics. They recovered the body roughly 30 minutes later and flew him to Talkeetna after confirming he had died from his injuries.
This is the first death of the season for Mount McKinley, which typically sees several fatalities each year. The deadliest season recorded was in 1992 when 11 climbers from 5 different parties lost their lives. The 2011 season came close to overtaking this number with 9 fatalities. At this time, there are over 336 climbers pursuing various routes throughout the mountain rage. So far, four have successfully reached the summit for the 2012 season.