French Climber Dies in Fall on Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve

A French climber has died in a fall on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve. NPS photo of West Buttress.

A French climber working his way up Mount McKinley fell to his death while trying to stop a sled holding his gear from sliding off a section of the West Buttress, according to Denali National Park and Preserve officials.

Pascal Frison, 51, of Auxerre, France, and his partner, Francois Rosati, of Paris, were approaching a feature at the top of Motorcycle Hill known as "Lunch Rocks" on Sunday when Mr. Frison lost control of his heavily laden sled. In trying to halt its slide, both the climber and the sled tumbled off the ridge towards the Peters Glacier, the park said in a release.

Mr. Frison, who was unroped, was unable to self-arrest and ultimately fell more than 1,000 feet to a steep, crevassed section of the Peters Glacier, according to the report.

The fatality was the first of Denali's 2010 climbing season.

A nearby team witnessed the fall and made a radio distress call shortly after 3:00 p.m. to the Denali National Park rangers. At the time of the notification, the park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter was at the 14,200-foot camp on a re-supply flight. Within five minutes, the helicopter flew to the accident site with two mountaineering rangers on
board as spotters. They saw several pieces of fallen gear, and then followed the fall line down to what appeared to be the climber lying in a crevasse at approximately 10,200 feet.

As the steep terrain at the fall site offered no feasible landing area, the helicopter and crew flew back to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet. After a two-man communications team was inserted at the top of the Peters Glacier, the A-Star B3 helicopter then returned to the crevasse site with NPS mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright on the end of a ‘short-haul’ line, (i.e. hanging beneath the helicopter at the end of a 120-foot rope), the release said.

Helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky lowered the ranger into the crevasse a distance of approximately 20 feet. Ranger Wright could not safely reach the climber, who was lying an additional 20 feet down in the crevasse, but could tell that the climber had not survived the long fall.

The two then returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp. Mr. Rosati was helped down to a camp at 11,000 feet by other climbers on the mountain, and was flown off the mountain by the park helicopter.

Park Service rangers returned to the site Monday for further reconnaissance and to determine if a body recovery is an option.

Mr. Frison’s accident represents the park’s first known fatality in this area of the route. The terrain where the fall started features smooth, compact snow and a slope of roughly 20 degrees, but it quickly drops to a crevasse-ridden, 40- to 50-degree slope.

Comments

Why wasn't he tied to something via harness? Twenty degrees is pretty damned severe in those conditions.

Mr. Frison reminds me of the snow leopard that dies when it was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Ernest Hemingway's story.

20 degrees is not that severe for a mountaineering endeavor such as Denali, but still very dangerous. If he had been tied, in who knows, two climbers may have been dealt the same fate. He must have lost awareness his sled, then over reacted, should have let the sled go! There is no place for inattentiveness in the mountains. Maybe they should stop flying all us idiots into that place, make us hike for it.