AD Main Menu

Three climbers rescued from Alaska's Mt. McKinley

Katie Medred
NPS photo

Three Danish climbers were rescued from Mount McKinley on Thursday after they were caught in an avalanche Sunday while attempting to summit North America's tallest mountain, the National Park Service reported.

The climbers were caught in an avalanche Sunday afternoon while attempting to summit McKinley along a "non-standard route" up the Autobahn, so named for the speed at which people have fallen to their deaths after slipping high on the route, including in 2011.

Two of the three men were seriously injured and unable to walk, according to the National Park Service.

The Danish mountaineering trio consisted of Michael Pilegaard, 26, Mads Knudsen, 30, and Nicolai Bo Silver, 26.

"The avalanche swept them from the 17,600-foot elevation several hundred feet down the slope to a point approximately 200 meters from their campsite," according to the Park Service's statement.

Pillegaard escaped major injury after the slide and was able to locate and drag his friends back to their campsite, where he used an aviation radio to call for help.

Initially Pillegaard was able to make contact with a Talkeetna Air Taxi, dispatched to give scenic over flights of the area, and the plane's pilot relayed the distress call to the National Parks Service at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Mountaineering rangers responded immediately with a B3 helicopter supply drop. Once the rangers established a two-way connection with the climbers and verified they were in stable condition, a retrieval unit was sent out at 9 a.m. Thursday. 

The climbers were evacuated in three trips, and Knudsen and Bo Silve with the use of a rescue basket. Knudsen and Bo Silve were sent to the Mat-Su Regional Hospital for treatment.

In June, four Japanese climbers were killed on Motorcycle Hill, a normally benign slope that rises straight above the 11,000-foot camp on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley.

A total of 1,223 climbers have attempted to summit McKinley this year, and 498 have made it to the top. With a summit-success percentage of 40.7 percent, the Park Service reported, this is the second lowest summit rate in the last 25 years.

Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com