1 climber rescued, 1 dead after days stranded near Denali’s summit

A photograph of Denali, with elevations marked for its summit and the “Football Field,” where the two climbers built their snow cave. (From Denali National Park)

One of the two climbers trapped since Tuesday near Denali’s summit was rescued alive by a helicopter crew early Friday. The other died in a snow cave while waiting for help, according to park officials.

The rescue at 19,600 feet took place at about 7 a.m., according to a statement from Denali National Park and Preserve staff. Clouds and high winds that had grounded flights near the mountain’s peak relented Thursday night, allowing the park’s high-altitude helicopter to drop a duffel bag of supplies near the snow cave in which the hypothermic climbers had taken shelter.

“The pilot observed one climber waving at him at the time of the air drop, however winds were still too strong to safely conduct a short-haul basket extraction,” park officials said in the statement.

By Friday morning, the helicopter had returned to the area with a pilot and park ranger.

“The surviving mountaineer climbed into the basket and was flown down to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp, then evacuated to the Talkeetna State Airport for transfer to a LifeMed air ambulance,” park officials said.

Park spokesman Paul Ollig said no communications had been received from the climbers since Wednesday night. Rescuers first learned of the other climber’s fate from the surviving man after he was flown from the mountain, with a medevac flight later taking him to Anchorage.

“He had expressed that his partner had died approximately two days prior to being rescued,” Ollig said.

Friday’s rescue was the culmination of a days-long effort by air and ground searchers to reach the two climbers. They were part of a trio from Malaysia that summited Denali early Tuesday. But they then used an inReach satellite communications device to request help from the summit, saying they were exhausted, hypothermic and couldn’t get down.

One of the climbers was able to make it to the mountain’s high camp later Tuesday and was flown off the mountain in serious condition, but the other two sheltered in a cave to await help. By Wednesday night, they reported that their inReach was dying.

“We received kind of a flurry of five really brief messages from the climbers at that time indicating that their inReach device was at 1% battery life,” Ollig said.

The deceased climber wasn’t immediately identified Friday morning, Ollig said, as park staff worked with the Malaysian consulate to notify his family. Park rangers plan to recover his body, according to Ollig, but no immediate time frame has been set for doing so.

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