Weather strands 2 hypothermic, frostbitten climbers near Denali summit

Two distressed international climbers remained trapped by weather high on Denali on Wednesday after sending an SOS call from the mountain’s summit early Tuesday morning, the National Park Service said.

One climber was rescued Tuesday night after making it down to a high camp with severe frostbite and hypothermia, Denali National Park and Preserve officials said in a statement Wednesday. They said the two others, described as “non-ambulatory,” remained at a flat area known as the Football Field about 700 feet below the summit.

The climbers are suffering from hypothermia and frostbite injuries, according to Denali National Park spokesman Paul Ollig. They haven’t been in communication with park rangers since their InReach satellite device stopped transmitting early Tuesday morning, Ollig said.

The two stranded climbers were part of a group of three people who made it to the mountain’s 20,310-foot summit only to call for help via satellite device at 1 a.m. Tuesday, saying the team was hypothermic and unable to descend, the park service said.

Ollig said he couldn’t release the climbers’ home country but said they’re not from the United States. Rangers hoped to attempt another rescue from Talkeetna on Wednesday.

“They are going to keep trying to get out there whenever conditions allow,” he said.

Rangers were able to communicate with the team until about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, when they texted that they planned to descend to the Football Field, officials said. Clouds prevented the park’s high-altitude helicopter from reaching the mountain from Talkeetna, so rangers contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, which launched an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130J Combat King II from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, they said.


The plane’s crew spotted two of the three climbers between 19,000 and 20,000 feet just before noon Tuesday and a climbing guide found the third climber near Zebra Rocks at 18,600 feet, park officials said. But clouds again prevented the helicopter from reaching the climbers, they said.

By 5 p.m., the helicopter was able to reach the 14,200-foot camp on the mountain, officials said. While there, the helicopter evacuated two other climbers with frostbite injuries who had been treated at the camp’s medical tent for “multiple days,” according to the statement. One was medevaced for advanced care, officials said.

At about 9 p.m., one of the three climbers made it to the high camp at 17,200 feet and was assisted by a guided party there until a park service team climbed up from the lower camp, officials said. The helicopter flew to the high camp just over an hour later, picked up the climber, refueled at base camp below, and arrived in Talkeetna, they said.

The rescued climber was described as “critical” and medevaced for additional care, the park service said.

An experienced guide on Tuesday provided care to the two climbers remaining at the Football Field, but the guide was forced to return to the high camp late Tuesday “for his own safety and for the safety of his team” when clouds moved back in, officials said.

“As of Wednesday morning, rescuers are waiting for clouds and windy conditions to dissipate on the upper mountain before either a ground team or aviation resources can safely return to the Football Field to rescue the two remaining climbers,” the statement said.

Additional information was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

As of Wednesday morning, there are 506 climbers on Denali, according to the park service. So far this season, 17 of 117 previous climbers have reached the summit, for a 15% summit rate, they said.

Two people have died during the national park’s current climbing season, which typically begins in early May and ends in early July. The fatalities include a Japanese solo climber who died in a fall on Denali earlier this month, and a veteran forest ranger from New York state who was killed while climbing Mount Johnson in late April.