Denali National Park and Preserve rangers responded to two concurrent mountaineering incidents starting in the early morning hours of Monday, June 5. In addition to a routine medical evacuation, mountaineering rangers and guides rescued a critically injured climber in a labor intensive, 14-hour crevasse rescue effort.
First, NPS Ranger Dan Corn and five mountaineering Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs) were descending to the Kahiltna Basecamp around 11:00 p.m. on June 4 when they encountered a sick solo climber at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill at 7,000 feet. VIP Medic Elizabeth Keane performed a physical assessment and determined that Michael Metzler, age 23 of Carnation, Washington, was suffering from an acute abdominal illness. The team provided pain medication and then assisted Metzler to the Kahiltna Basecamp.
Meanwhile around 1:30 a.m., NPS rangers were notified via radio that an un-roped climber had fallen 40 feet into a crevasse at 7,800 feet on the West Buttress route. The fall was witnessed and reported by Mountain Trip guide and co-owner Bill Allen, along with assistant guides John Karl Welter and Erin Laine. The three guides established that the fallen climber, 38-year-old Martin Takac of Trmava, Slovakia, was alive and responsive. They then attempted to rescue him from the narrow crevasse, however extraction proved difficult. Due to the force of the fall, Takac and his gear had wedged tightly into the ice in a contorted position with minimal room to excavate in the confined space.
NPS mountaineering rangers Chris Erickson and Frank Preston were flown from Talkeetna directly to the accident site at 4:00 a.m. by helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky. The pilot then flew to the Kahiltna Basecamp to shuttle Ranger Corn, VIP Justin Fraser, and VIP Stefan Beattie back to the accident site. The five NPS rescuers then began taking individual turns down in the crevasse, slowly chipping away at the ice in order to first secure, and then free, the trapped climber.
While the crevasse extraction work continued at 7,800 feet, Hermansky evacuated the medical patient and attendant VIP Keane back to the Talkeetna State Airport where the patient was transferred to a ground ambulance.
Bad weather initially kept the helicopter grounded, however when flight conditions improved in the early afternoon, pilot Hermansky returned to the crevasse at 7,800 feet along with NPS ranger Mik Shain, VIP Thad Stavn, and VIP Medic Jaime Anderson. The relief rescue crew brought a range of power tools to help in the ice extraction, including a pneumatic hammer-chisel on loan from the Talkeetna Volunteer Fire Department.
Around 3:30 p.m., Takac was finally freed from the ice and then raised out of the crevasse. The severely hypothermic and critically injured climber was immediately loaded into the park helicopter and flown to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
This is the second major crevasse rescue of the 2017 mountaineering season involving an un-roped climber. A low winter snow pack on the lower glacier resulted in numerous open crevasses that have often been difficult to detect. Climbers are advised to always travel roped and with adequate flotation such as snowshoes or skis.
As of Monday, June 5, there are 1,084 mountaineers registered to climb Denali in 2017, with 527 currently on the mountain. Out of the 386 climbers who have completed their expeditions, 122 individuals reached the summit, equating to a summit percentage rate of 32%. For more information on the 2017 season, including statistics, weather observations, climbing conditions, and other news from the Alaska Range, read Denali Dispatches at www.nps.gov/dena/blogs/mountainblog.htm.