Thursday, May 21, 2009

Search Underway for Missing Climber on Mt. McKinley

AAI just received the following email from Denali National Park. Rest assured, all of the climbers on our expeditions are still accounted for...

An initial aerial search for an overdue climber on Mt. McKinley was flown on the morning of Thursday, May 21 by an Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft. There were no initial sightings of the solo climber, although considerable cloud cover and high winds at upper elevations greatly limited the search.

Gerald Myers, a 41-year-old resident of Centennial, Colorado, began a long solo bid for the summit during the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 19. According to a note left for his three climbing partners, Myers departed the 14,200-foot camp around 4:30 a.m. Myers was next seen at the 17,200-foot high camp at approximately 11:00 a.m. that same morning, grabbing his skis and digging into a cache that the team had left there on a previous acclimatization day. Other sightings that afternoon were made on the traverse to Denali Pass at 18,600 feet and then again near 18,900 feet. According to NPS rangers on patrol at high camp, Myers did not return to camp Tuesday night.

During their investigations the following day, rangers learned that Myers was seen by another party at approximately 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday May 20 as he climbed the ridge approaching the mountain’s 20,320-foot summit. A subsequent team travelling approximately two hours behind the earlier party did not see any sign of the soloist during their summit bid; Myers did not return to high camp Wednesday night. At the time, weather high on the mountain was deteriorating with winds gusting 40 to 50 mph.

Myers was reportedly carrying skis on his backpack when he was spotted near the summit. Based on equipment left at various caches on the mountain, it is expected that Myers was carrying minimal survival gear at the time of his disappearance. While he departed camp in warm clothing, Myers was travelling light and did not appear to take a sleeping bag, thermal pad, bivy sac, or a stove for melting snow. It is unknown how much food or water he had in his pack.

According to his partners, the climber was likely carrying his FRS ‘family band’ radio as well as a SPOT locator beacon. Myers had programmed his SPOT device with three button settings: “OK, moving up”, “OK, but not moving”, and “911”. According to the GPS data recorded by the SPOT, the last electronically recorded location was the 17,200-foot camp at 10:50 a.m. on May 19, when Myers had recorded his position by pressing the “OK, moving up” button. Throughout his trip, Myers had reportedly been making one position recording each day.

Aerial searching will continue as visibility and winds allow. NPS rangers and volunteers at the 14,200-foot camp and at high camp have been conducting visual searches via spotting scope of possible ski descent routes. Currently, visibility is generally obscured by clouds, with wind gusting to 45 mph near the summit.

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