Friday, April 29, 2011

Avalanche Claims Life near the Ruth Gorge

The American Alpine Institute just received this sad news from Denali National Park:

An avalanche claimed the life of a climber near the Ruth Gorge during the early morning hours of Thursday, April 28. Two climbing parties were camped overnight on the ‘Root Canal’, a glacier landing strip and camping area that lies directly south of the commonly climbed 10,300-foot peak known as the Moose’s Tooth.  A large serac, or column of ice, at the eastern end of the glacier collapsed at approximately 1:00 a.m. Thursday, shedding ice and snow onto the camp below. One male climber was fatally injured by the falling ice. His name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The four surviving climbers attended to the injured climber, who was found unconscious and barely breathing immediately after the ice fall. One of the climbers called 911 via satellite phone, and National Park Service rangers were immediately notified. Weather and darkness prevented a night time rescue using military aircraft, so just after daybreak, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and two NPS mountaineering rangers launched out of Talkeetna en route to the accident site. Upon arrival at the scene, rangers immediately loaded the injured climber into the helicopter for transportation to an Aeromed air ambulance from Anchorage that was staged at Mile 133 on the Parks Highway, near the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. During the flight the ranger/paramedic determined that the climber had died from his injuries. This was confirmed when the helicopter rendezvoused with the air ambulance.

The NPS helicopter flew the climber’s remains back to Talkeetna, and then returned to the accident site to evacuate the surviving climbers, all of whom were uninjured but had lost their climbing gear, tents, and a pair of boots in the avalanche.

Although the mountaineering season on Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker has only recently begun, now is the height of the spring climbing season in the Ruth Amphitheater and Ruth Gorge.  In addition to the five climbers involved in the Root Canal accident, a total of 30 other registered climbers are currently attempting various peaks in this popular backcountry area of the Alaska Range.

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