Friday, July 9, 2010

Military Assists in Mentally Unstable Climber Evacuation

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Denali National Park:

A 25-year-old solo climber from Pennsylvania was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp on Mt. McKinley on July 7 after his erratic behavior and alarming statements revealed signs of mental illness with a likelihood of causing serious harm to himself or others.

Prior to flying to the Kahiltna Basecamp, the solo climber told a Talkeetna resident that he intended to paraglide from the summit, an activity prohibited by federal regulation in Denali National Park. When NPS staff members in Talkeetna were informed of this, rangers confronted the individual who signed an affidavit saying that he would not bring his paragliding equipment on the mountain. After he began his ascent of the West Buttress on June 28, other climbing parties on the route made numerous reports to rangers that the soloist demonstrated unsafe glacier travel, a lack of appropriate gear, improper disposal of human waste, littering, and unusual inter-personal interactions.

When he reached the 14,200-foot camp, Denali mountaineering volunteers and rangers evaluated the climber, who was cold, wet, and in distress. While treating the man for hypothermia, rangers discovered paragliding equipment in his sled. The paraglider was seized, at which time the individual’s behavior and language grew increasingly unusual and erratic. Two NPS volunteer medical professionals at the camp consulted over a 24 hour period by telephone with the park’s medical director in Anchorage about their patient observations. A determination was made that the patient’s behavior and condition presented a potential risk to his life and others.

Under provisions of Alaska State law, a 72 hour protective custody order was prepared by the medical director in Anchorage. It was deemed unsafe to transport a mentally unstable person within the small confined cabin of the park’s high altitude helicopter. Denali staff requested military assistance through Alaska’s Rescue Coordination Center. Two Army Chinook CH 47 helicopters from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Ft. Wainwright responded to Talkeetna on the morning of July 7 and transported two Denali law enforcement rangers to the 14,200-foot camp.

NPS personnel at the camp had the individual strapped and secured on a backboard when the single Chinook landed early in the afternoon. The individual was placed in the aircraft and flown directly back to Ft. Wainwright. Alaska State Troopers assisted the park by taking custody of the individual on the ground and transporting him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.


Ben Woods said...

Glad they got a hold of the guy there. Expensive as it was at that level, it could have been much worse had the guy actually launched and got stranded someplace. Its painful to think about how much money must have been dumped into getting him off the mountain, any way you cut it.

Anonymous said...

"Land of the Free". Ha

Anonymous said...

Please note a couple of things about this story:
1. The freaking military scrambled TWO OF THE BIGGEST HELICOPTERS IN THEIR ARSENAL to fly there.
2. This all started because some local tipped off the rangers that an adventure dude was about to break a park ordinance.
3. Nobody has described what kind of "behaviour" the guy exhibited AFTER THEY CONFISCATED HIS TWO THOUSAND DOLLAR GLIDER. He may have just been pissed off and said so.

The facts (stated by the authorities as broad generalizations, without any detail to support them) don't justify what happened to this guy.
I can read this just as easily as "Dude tries to paraglide off McKinley, and overzealous rangers and military confiscate his property, and muzzle him by skipping all due process/legal steps and instead stick him in a mental hospital"

Note that they have not provided his name, so his relatives cannot assist him.

This guy has effectively been disappeared by the park service and the military without judicial process.

Of the two dangers in this story: The mountain, or the Authorities...the most dangerous seems to me to be the Authorities.

Not liking this response by the people whose salaries we pay.

Andrew Yasso said...

I personally ran across this man while on the mountain, and got a very strange impression of him. I was heading down from 11 camp in somewhat whiteout conditions and it was very warm. I think I was in a base layer and a light soft shell jacket and was plenty warm. This guy was headed up from 7,800 and was wearing down pants and a down jacket, and was working at least twice as hard as I was on his way up. Strapped to the top of his duffel bag were two books related to climbing Denali. It was clear to me that he was unprepared and out of his league. I certainly took note of the odd character.

My impression of him was confirmed when I talked to the rangers at base camp. Their comments of the individual were of both bewilderment and concern. They were not trying to stifle his attempts, nor were they ridiculing him - they simply reported his extremely strange and unsafe behavior and that they were concerned and trying to gather as much information about him. They were actually relived to hear that he had passed the heavily crevassed section between 7200 and 7800 feet.

Without repeating all of the comments this guy made that clearly showed he should not have been on the mountain, I really felt like he should have been removed from the park. When I mentioned this to the rangers, to their credit, they specifically said that Denali is not a merit based mountain, and that anyone who has the desire is allowed on the mountain. They were more concerned for his safety and wanting him to do well than to yank him off because they didn't like his paragliding equipment or because he was weird. And honestly, he was really, really weird - scary weird.

I fully support the decision of the rangers. They allowed him an honest shot at climbing the mountain. From the beginning he took only 32 oz. of fuel. The recommended amount of fuel on Denali is generally 8 oz. per day per person. This means he brought 4 days of fuel with him. That leads me to believe that after 4 days, he was relying heavily on people coming down being willing to offload their fuel to him. I doubt he did this strategically, but more out of ignorance and defiance to the rangers' suggestions of bringing more fuel. Furthermore, he was relying on the Rangers at 14 camp for medical services, which only proves to me further that he was unable to take care of himself.

I commend the park service for their decision, seeing as it seems as though they felt that a rescue would have been inevitable if they had allowed this person to continue. Furthermore, the man had signed a legal document stating he would not bring his paragliding equipment on the mountain. He violated the document, which gives the park service even more support for their decision.

Finally, as far as his "behavior" is concerned, I will give you two insights. On the climbing resume he submitted to the park service, he said that he had climbed Aconcagua. Under the section for stating the route he climbed, he wrote "The Hardest One." He also asked the rangers at base camp where he could fill up his water bottle. After being told that they didn't have water for him, and that he should just melt some snow, he responded by saying "well I haven't taken out my stove yet, I don't know if it works."

Anonymous said...

Just because, a blog post or story in a news paper doesn't say that an individuals family was contacted or due process was not followed doesn't mean it did occur. The family of the individual, whose name is not mentioned for privacy reasons, was contacted by authorities and consulted in the decision to remove the man from the mountain.

While the decision to remove him may or may not have been unfounded and/or a waste of money, the chance that he could have injured or killed someone else during his ascent, is justification enough in my mind to take him off the mountain.

Please save your conspiracy theories and erroneous assumptions for another forum.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like this guy was in over his head. Unfortunately, skepticism about NPS plays a significant roll here based merely on their history of treating Para enthusiasts like enemies of the state despite my tax dollars feeding their wallets. I can understand people jumping on NPS right off the bat; they earned that title and should wear the stench they SO deserve. However, in this circumstance it appears this individual was about to stain another page in history for the advancement of Para access in our National Parks. My opinion; help get our mentally challenged reckless guy off the mountain with some suggestive remediation and send the whole of NPS there with him! In the end I feel better with a bunch of mentally teetering individuals on the mountain than a gun toting Ricky Ranger any day of the week. It sounds like this would be climber was in definite need of some guidance to prevent his untimely demise. Unfortunately, that more serious issue is blinded by NPS previous accounts of strong arming Para enthusiasts out of our parks. P.S. Has NPS paved another road to a Tourist Trap ice cream shop with pastel sweat shirts to summit of Denali yet? Wouldn't be surprised!