Climber’s Body May Remain Buried on Mount McKinley Summit in Denali National Park and Preserve

On July 4th when 51-year old Naperville, Illinois, resident James Nasti collapsed and died on the 20,320-foot summit of Mt. McKinley, his companions had no choice but to bury him in the snow right there on the top of the mountain. Bringing the body down the mountain with them was out of the question. Just getting back alive would be all the work they could handle on one of the world’s most dangerous mountains.

James Nasti was the first climber ever to die on the summit, but Denali (the name by which the mountain is known to climbers around the world) had
already claimed 100 lives
before his. There are still 39 bodies on the mountain, including the body of victim number 102, a 20-year old Indonesian man who died on the mountain near the high camp (17,200-foot level) yesterday (July 7), just three days after Mr. Nasti. Mount McKinley is indeed a very dangerous mountain.

At the moment, Mr. Nasti’s body lies in a snowy grave in the highest and most remote place on the North American continent. It is marked only with slender bamboo stakes of the type you’d use to prop up a tomato plant. Even if the stakes were to blow away in the 100+ mph winds, which they likely will, the body won’t be hard to find. The mountain’s summit platform is only about the size of a small garage.

It is getting the body down that poses the real dilemma. Noting challenges such as negotiating a very narrow and treacherous 500-foot ridge near the summit, park officials have said that that removing the remains would be a difficult and dangerous task requiring the carefully orchestrated efforts of a team of expert climbers.

Denali National Park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin, who is based in Talkeetna, said that the National Park Service has no plans to remove the remains from the summit, but would probably evacuate the body by helicopter if it were brought to the high camp (at about the 17,200-foot level).

The dead climber’s family would have to arrange for that, and so far they have not indicated that they would do so. The family may very well prefer that the remains be left buried right there on the summit. Mr. Nasti’s son has said that his father probably would want to be buried there in the place that some call “heaven’s doorstep.”

If anything is to be done this year, it will have to be done quickly. The end of the climbing season is close at hand, and Ms. McLaughlin expects all climbers to be off the mountain by the end of the week.

If you’d like to get a feel for Mt. McKinley terrain and the climbing experience, watch the excellent six-minute video clip that shows Rex Pemberton’s successful climb. At the end of the video you’ll get a pretty good look at the summit where James Nasti’s body now lies buried.