Home NEWS Two Hypothermic Denali Climbers Trapped in Snow Cave Await for Rescue

Two Hypothermic Denali Climbers Trapped in Snow Cave Await for Rescue

by thesummiters.com
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On Tuesday May 28 five climbers from two different groups required rescue due to cold-related injuries and immobility. While three have been rescued, two men remain stranded and exposed in a snow cave high on Denali.

The ordeal began around 1:00 am on Tuesday when park rangers started receiving distress messages via Garmin In Reach from three climbers stuck at Denali’s 6,190-meter summit. The climbers, suffering from hypothermia and unable to move, maintained contact with the rangers until about 3:30 am, according to a National Park Service (NPS) press release.

The climbers informed the rangers of their plan to descend to the Football Field, a flat area about 200 meters below the summit, but then their communication went silent. No further updates were received, and the location of their Garmin device remained unchanged. It was later confirmed that the climbers were three Malaysian men aged 36, 47, and 48.

Clouds Delay Rescue Efforts

On Tuesday morning, dense clouds enveloped the summit, preventing the park’s high-altitude helicopter from reaching the stranded climbers. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) intervened, dispatching an Alaska National Guard HC-130J combat rescue plane.

Clouds over Denali. Photo: Giant Ginko via Flickr
Clouds over Denali. Photo: Giant Ginko via Flickr

The crew of the rescue plane eventually spotted the two younger climbers near the Football Field area, but “stagnant cloud layers” still obstructed the helicopter from reaching them.

While the two climbers waited for better weather, a mountaineering guide found their partner at Zebra Rocks, a few hundred meters lower down.

Finally, at 5:00 pm, the clouds began to break. An NPS pilot and a mountaineering ranger took off in a helicopter from Talkeetna, aiming for the summit. However, they still couldn’t reach it and ended up landing at Camp 3, at 4,328 meters.

At Camp 3, they assisted in an unrelated rescue of two other climbers who were in the medical tent suffering from frostbite. The helicopter team evacuated both climbers to Talkeetna, where one was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance for advanced care.

One Down, Two to Go

The NPS helicopter team returned to the mountain. By 9:00 pm, the climber at Zebra Rocks had managed to descend to Denali High Camp at 5,242 meters with help from a separate guided group.

Upon landing at the camp the pilot and ranger found the 48 year old climber suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia. They successfully evacuated him to Talkeetna.

File photo of Denali high camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
File photo of Denali high camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, an expedition guide located the two climbers still stranded at the Football Field. They were unable to walk, and the guide spent significant time assisting and caring for them before worsening conditions forced him to retreat to High Camp.

Today, NPS rescuers continued to wait as strong winds battered the peak. Neither ground nor air teams could reach the two climbers at the Football Field. Their last satellite messages on Wednesday night indicated their device was almost dead, and they were now sheltering in a makeshift snow cave.

The ordeal follows what the NPS described as an “extended” summit push by the Malaysian climbers. The rescue effort alone has exceeded 60 hours.

According to the NPS, Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, marks the start of the busiest two weeks of the Denali climbing season. Currently 506 climbers are on the mountain following another 117 earlier in the season. The NPS estimates the season’s summit success rate at 15%.

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