One climber stranded for days near Denali summit rescued, the other is dead

One climber stranded near the summit of Denali since Tuesday was rescued by helicopter Friday morning, the National Park Service said, but his climbing partner died awaiting rescue and his remains have now been recovered.

Clouds and high winds prevented park authorities from reaching the men until about 6 a.m. Friday. The park service’s high-altitude helicopter pilot dropped a bag of survival gear near their shelter around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, but winds were too strong to safely evacuate the men, Denali National Park and Preserve officials said in a media statement. The pilot said one man waved at him during the drop.

The pilot and a ranger returned Friday with a short-haul rescue basket at the end of a rope line, and the surviving climber was evacuated to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna base camp, the park service said. From there he was taken to the Talkeetna airport and then flown to an Anchorage hospital, park spokesman Paul Ollig said.

The severity of his injuries wasn’t immediately known, but Ollig said he was “in surprisingly strong condition and walking on his own when they arrived in Talkeetna.”

The climber, who is 47, told authorities his partner died two days earlier in their snow cave, the park service said.

National Park Service officials said Saturday that the deceased climber — identified as Zulkifli Bin Yusof, age 36 — “likely died of exposure and altitude-related illness on May 29 after enduring multiple days with minimal survival gear in a snow cave at 19,600 feet.” Denali’s mountaineering personnel recovered his remains Friday evening using the high-altitude helicopter and a short-haul technique with ground support, the park service said.

The two Malaysian climbers became exhausted and hypothermic after reaching the mountain’s 20,310-foot summit and called for help around 1 a.m. Tuesday. They had sheltered in the crude snow cave since Tuesday night, the statement said.


A 48-year-old man from their group had descended to the 17,200-foot high camp on Tuesday and was evacuated that night in serious condition, park officials said.

Park rangers received five short messages in rapid succession from the stranded climbers on Wednesday night confirming their location, requesting help and notifying authorities that their InReach was nearly out of battery, the park service said.

An experienced guide had provided aid to the stranded men on Tuesday, but had descended to the mountain’s high camp that night for his own safety as winds increased, the park service said.

A ground crew of rangers and mountaineering volunteers was on standby at the high camp Thursday to attempt a rescue if weather permitted, the park service said. The helicopter pilot was also on standby Thursday.

The rescue was particularly challenging because it took place at such high elevation, Ollig said.

All three climbers had “multiple high-elevation international peaks listed in their climbing history,” Ollig said. Two of the men had prior experience climbing Denali, he said.

The surviving climbers, who weren’t identified, as of Saturday “are recuperating from cold injuries in an Anchorage hospital,” the park service said.

This marks the third death in the park so far this climbing season, which generally begins in May and ends in early July. A Japanese solo climber died in a fall on Denali this month and a New York state forest ranger fell and died on Mount Johnson in April.

There are generally about 20 serious search-and-rescue operations each year, Ollig said. There have been seven so far this year, he said.

There were 414 climbers on Denali on Friday, according to Ollig. Ninety-nine of 236 previous climbers had reached the summit, for a 42% summit rate, he said.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.