French climber falls to death chasing sled on McKinley

REACTION: Reach for escaping sled causes fatal slip into crevasse.

May 17, 2010 

A 51-year-old French climber has died after falling more than 1,000 feet down Mount McKinley into a crevasse, park officials said Monday.

The National Park Service said Pascal Frison died Sunday afternoon after trying to keep his sled from sliding off a ridge. He and a climbing partner of 28 years were about 12,000 feet up on the West Buttress route.

Frison, of the French town Auxerre, is the 107th person to die since 1932 on the 20,320-foot mountain in Denali National Park. Four people died last year.

The bodies of 39 people have never been recovered and remain on the mountain. Park officials are considering recovery options for Frison's body.

Frison's climbing partner Francois Rosati, 50, of Paris, was not injured.

Park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said the temperature was around zero and the clear, calm weather was not a factor.

She said the men had climbing experience in Europe, South America and the Himalayas, but were not roped together as park officials recommend. They were on McKinley last season but had to turn back at 17,000 feet.

On Sunday before the fall, they were in an area where the trail was not steep, but the adjacent terrain was, McLaughlin said.

"It was just a split second reflex" to go after the sled, McLaughlin said. "It certainly wasn't something he thought and deliberated on, it was just an instantaneous decision that proved to be a fatal one."

McLaughlin said the climbers were on their fifth or sixth day of climbing at a conservative pace.

Natalie Novik, the honorary French consul in Anchorage, on Sunday night phoned Frison's mother in the Savoy region of France. Novik said Frison was unmarried and had no children.

He was the head of a railroad crew for the French national railroad.

Novik said Rosati, an electronics engineer, was staying with park officials in Talkeetna.

As of Monday, 266 people were on the mountain, with most on the same West Buttress route the Frenchmen were attempting, which is considered the easiest ascent.

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