Two acclaimed climbers who were roped together while climbing on Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve have fallen several thousand feet to their deaths.
While two medics and an emergency room were quick to reach the two, there was nothing they could do.
Killed in the accident Thursday were Dr. John Mislow, 39, of Newton, Massachusetts, and Dr. Andrew Swanson, age 36, of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While part of the fall was observed by other climbers on the mountain, park officials say many factors remain unknown about the accident, such as the location where the initial fall occurred and whether the team was ascending or descending at the time.
Although the onset of the fall was not witnessed, a team did observe them falling between the 16,500-foot elevation on the Messner Couloir and its base at 14,500 feet.
Park rangers at the 14,200-foot camp were notified via FRS radio within minutes of the event, which occurred shortly before 2:00 p.m. on Thursday. Three skiers in the vicinity were first to respond to the climbers, who were located approximately 30 minutes away from the 14,200-foot camp. A team of four volunteer NPS rangers, including an emergency room nurse and two medics, followed close behind and confirmed that the two men had died in the fall.
The bodies were recovered by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter that same evening and flown to Talkeetna.
The two men began an ascent of the West Rib route on May 30, and their climbing registration forms did not specify a particular descent route. Situated in between the West Rib and the West Buttress routes, the Messner Couloir is a steep, hourglass-shaped snow gully that drops from near Archdeacon’s Tower at 19,000 feet down to the 14,200-foot basin. With a 40- to 50-degree snow and ice slope, the Messner Couloir is an occasional advanced ski descent route, but is rarely descended on foot or ascended.
Drs. Mislow and Swanson were both experienced mountaineers. In 2000, Denali National Park and Preserve presented the two men with the Denali Pro Award, an honor recognizing the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, and assisting fellow mountaineers.
During their 2000 attempt of the West Rib route they aided several different teams in distress; assisted a National Park Service patrol with multiple visitor protection projects; and demonstrated sound risk assessment in their climbing objectives.