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Climber dies of heart attack on Mount McKinley

Kyle Hopkins

A 59-year-old German man suffered a heart attack while attempting to climb Mount McKinley Sunday night, the first death on the mountain this year, the National Park Service says.

Klaus Bielstein of Muenster, Germany, suddenly collapsed at about 13,500 feet, said Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin. The 20,320-foot mountain is the tallest peak in North America.

Bielstein was a part of an 11-person team climbing the popular West Buttress route, McLaughlin said.

The group had ascended about 2,500 feet that day and had just rounded a feature known as Windy Corner, McLaughlin said. They arrived at a site where climbers often store food when Bielstein collapsed.

"It has some of the first, steeper terrain of the trip and it's kind of the first taste of higher altitude. So it's a pretty exhausting day," the Park Service spokeswoman said.

The team had planned to climb back down to 11,000 feet after dropping food off at the cache site, a strategy used to slowly acclimatize to the higher elevations, McLaughlin said.

At least 121 people have died on Mount McKinley since 1932, according to Park Service records. Bielstein is the sixth person to die from an apparent heart attack, although the cause of some deaths has never been determined.

Guides for the Alpine Ascents International expedition radioed for help and tried to resuscitate the climber, who was making his first attempt on Denali, according to his application, McLaughlin said. A park ranger patrol arrived within an hour. A volunteer nurse, traveling with the patrol, declared Bielstein dead on the mountain.

His body was flown to Talkeetna by helicopter, the Park Service said.

The Denali climbing season peaks in late May, McLaughlin said. As of Tuesday there were 352 climbers on Mount McKinley.

All told, 920 people are registered to climb Denali this year. Fourteen have already completed their trip, including five who reached the summit, McLaughlin said.


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