Skip to main Content

Climber dies after ice fall strikes Alaska Range campsite

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published April 28, 2011

Ice cascading down Ruth Gorge killed a Lower 48 climber early Thursday, according to the National Park Service. The man was alone in his tent when the large piece of ice tumbled down around 1 a.m. and he died hours later while being flown off the mountain in the park's high-altitude helicopter.

The National Park Service declined to release the name of the dead climber, pending notification of next of kin.

After completing a climb up 10,300-foot Moose's Tooth, not far from Mount McKinley, two climbing parties including the climber who perished were camped on what's known as Root Canal, a glacier landing strip and camping area directly south of the challenging peak.

Four climbers survived the ice fall without injuries.

"The other folks were very lucky," park service spokeswoman Kris Fister said.

The survivors attended to the injured climber, who was unconscious and barely breathing. One of them called 911 via satellite phone and National Park Service rangers were immediately notified.

Weather and darkness prevented a night rescue attempt. Shortly after daybreak, the park service's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and two Denali mountaineering rangers headed for the Root Canal.

The rangers loaded the injured climber into the helicopter and flew to an Aeromed air ambulance staged at Mile 133 of the Parks Highway, near the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.

The climber died during the flight, according to a ranger and paramedic on board.

The helicopter flew the climber's body back to Talkeetna before returning to the accident site to evacuate the surviving climbers, who had lost their climbing gear and tents in the avalanche.

Moose's Tooth is a distinctive face across the gorge from Mount Dickey.

"This complex massif has no forgiving route to the summit," wrote Joseph Puryear in his highly regarded book "Alaska Climbing," which details a variety of Alaska Range routes. "Its north face is strew with hanging glaciers, its colossal east face contains some of the most severe alpine routes in Alaska, its southern flank is a massive rock rampart split by thin ice couloirs."

The Ham and Eggs route taken by the man killed Thursday was first climbed in 1975 by a three-climber team that included renown author Jon Krakauer.

"Ham and Eggs is one of the ultra-classic routes of the Alaska Range, providing a direct line to this popular summit," wrote Puryear. "The climbing is fun and moderate, and it gives the feel of a big Alaskan alpine route. The climb is characterized by many short crux ice and rock sections connected by easier snow climbing."

The climber who died and the others were camped near the base of Ham and Eggs, Fister said, who was not sure when they were due to fly out.

Ruth Gorge is popular, but in recent years, it has also proven deadly.

Last May, 39-year-old Canadian Andrew Herzenberg and 42-year-old Israeli Avner Magen, both from Toronto, perished after being swept away by an avalanche descending a steep gully of Ruth Gorge.

The previous year, Colorado climbers Sarah Fritz and Irena Overeem won the prestigious Mislow-Swanson/PMI Denali Pro Award for initiating and leading a technical rescue of an injured climber who broke his leg and ankle after falling 60 feet on Moose's Tooth. Fritz strapped the injured climber to her back and, with a belay provided by Overeem and a few others, rappelled 600 feet to get the injured man to the base of a couloir, where a sled and more help awaited.

Fister said Denali climbing rangers recall about 10 deaths in the gorge over the past decade.

Those attempting Moose's Tooth don't have to register with the park service or buy a $200 permit, as Mount McKinley climbers are required to do.

"It's a popular area for spring climbing," Fister said. "It's probably a different type of climber than you see going up Denali."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.


Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.