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Extreme Rescue Effort Underway for Hypothermic Climbers on Denali's Treacherous Slopes

Thursday 30 May 2024 - 08:10
Extreme Rescue Effort Underway for Hypothermic Climbers on Denali's Treacherous Slopes

In a gripping high-altitude rescue operation unfolding on Denali, North America's tallest peak, two climbers await rescue near the summit after succumbing to hypothermia. The dire situation has seized the mountaineering community, with rescue teams encountering formidable challenges in their mission to bring the climbers to safety.

The climbers, whose identities remain undisclosed, found themselves in a perilous situation after successfully reaching the 20,310-foot summit during the peak of the mountaineering season. On Tuesday, they sent an SOS message to Denali National Park and Preserve officials, indicating their hypothermic state and inability to descend.

Park spokesperson Paul Ollig revealed that the climbers boasted extensive experience on high-elevation international peaks, with two having previously conquered Denali's formidable heights. Despite their expertise, they were overwhelmed by the relentless forces of nature during their descent.

Initial rescue attempts were hindered by severe weather conditions common on the mountain. Cloud cover prevented the park's high-altitude helicopter from reaching the stranded climbers on Tuesday morning, prompting officials to request assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. The Alaska Air National Guard deployed an HC-130J aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to locate the climbers.

By Tuesday evening, conditions had slightly improved, enabling the high-altitude helicopter to make its first attempt. The crew landed at a climbers' camp at 14,200 feet, where National Park Service mountaineering patrol rangers were attending to two other climbers suffering from frostbite. These climbers were evacuated to Talkeetna, a nearby community.

As night descended, a third attempt was made to reach the three climbers who had issued the distress call. By then, one had descended to a camp at 17,200 feet, afflicted with severe frostbite and hypothermia. This climber received aid from a guided party until a park service team arrived and airlifted them off the mountain for further medical attention.

The two remaining climbers, stranded in the "Football Field" area around 19,600 feet, received assistance from an experienced expedition guide on the upper mountain. However, the guide was compelled to descend to the 17,200-foot camp for safety reasons as clouds once again obscured visibility.

Rescue efforts on Wednesday were impeded by persistent cloud cover and windy conditions, preventing aircraft from reaching the climbers or teams from ascending the mountain. Park service personnel remain vigilant, awaiting any opportunity to resume the rescue operation, keenly aware of the climbers' diminishing resources and the harsh environment they face.

Ollig acknowledged the severity of the situation, stating, "It is likely minimal" regarding the survival equipment the two climbers have with them. He added, "Typically, on a summit day, teams will often go up lighter, with more limited survival gear, so they can move faster."

While Ollig described the rescue operation as "certainly dramatic," he noted that such incidents are "not necessarily out of the ordinary" on Denali, where the Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the busiest two weeks of the climbing season. Presently, 506 climbers are attempting to summit the mountain, with only 17 having succeeded thus far.

As the rescue effort persists, the mountaineering community collectively holds its breath, united in hope for the safe return of the stranded climbers from Denali's treacherous heights.

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