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Injured snowboarder, climbing partner rescued after 4 nights stuck on Denali

Two men camped in a tent (center of frame) for days on Denali's Windy Corner after one of them fell nearby while snowboarding. The men were rescued on Sunday, May, 12, 2019. (Dave Weber / NPS Photo )

An injured snowboarder and his climbing partner were rescued from Denali on Sunday after spending four nights waiting for high winds to calm so a helicopter could reach them, officials said.

The snowboarder had lost control on an icy slope at about 13,500 feet on Wednesday and fractured at least six of his ribs, said officials with the Denali National Park and Preserve. The man’s climbing partner wasn’t injured.

Officials have not identified either of the men.

The men were some of the first climbers on Denali this year, and also the first people rescued from the mountain this year, said Maureen Gualtieri, a Talkeetna-based spokeswoman for Denali National Park and Preserve.

The men had told park officials they planned to start their expedition on Denali around April 22, Gualtieri said.

The pair had climbed to Denali Pass, at about 18,200 feet, before beginning their descent, according to Dave Weber, a Denali mountaineering ranger. Denali, North America’s tallest peak, stands at 20,310 feet.

Trouble for the two men started Wednesday as they descended Denali’s popular West Buttress route. One of the men fell while snowboarding on Windy Corner, an area known for strong winds and rock falls, Gualtieri said.

“He lost control on that descent in icy conditions and fell over a lip in the snow,” Gualtieri said. He fell about 20 feet, she said. “So not a long fall, but a jarring fall.”

It’s unclear if the snowboarder’s climbing partner was skiing or snowboarding down the mountain, Weber said.

With the snowboarder unable to move any farther, the two men set up camp at Windy Corner. They used their inReach device to alert officials that they needed help.

Then rescue efforts started.

Members of a National Park Service ranger patrol that had camped at 11,000 feet tried to reach the men Wednesday evening, but high winds and poor visibility thwarted their attempt, Gualtieri said.

On Thursday, the park’s high-altitude helicopter flew over where the men had pitched their tent, but it couldn’t land in winds that reached over 30 mph.

The next day, a storm settled on the mountain, Gualtieri said. The winds continued. The snowboarder’s climbing partner told park officials by satellite phone that the pair had enough food and fuel for several days, Gualtieri said.

“This team was very well prepared with not only their communication devices but also with their medical training and mountain skills,” Weber said.

On Saturday, a ranger and volunteer nurse with the park service patrol climbed up to the two men. They assessed the snowboarder, gave the men more supplies and then returned to their camp lower on the mountain.

Weather improved Sunday. Members of the park service patrol returned to the men’s camp. At around 7 p.m., the helicopter, with Weber aboard, also returned. It plucked the two men from Windy Corner, flying them back to Talkeetna for care, Gualtieri said.

X-rays revealed the snowboarder had fractured at least six of his ribs, Weber said. His climbing partner wasn’t injured, he said.

It’s still early in the climbing season on Denali, with only 166 climbers on the mountain by Monday, Gualtieri said. No climbers had reported reaching the summit of either Denali or Mount Foraker.

The climbing season peaks around the end of May and early June when as many as 500 or 600 climbers can be on Denali at one time, she said.

Last year, park officials performed 13 rescues on Denali, which Gualtieri said is about normal. There are usually between 10 and 20 rescues each year.

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