A Finnish mountaineer descending Mount McKinley on skis became the second climber to die on the mountain this spring when he fell and tumbled 2,000 feet and became lodged in a crevasse, Denali National Park officials said Thursday.
Last week another climber died when he fell 1,100 feet to his death after losing his balance when trying to stop a sliding backpack.
In the latest accident, park officials said 36-year-old Ilkka Uusitalo of Oulu, Finland, was skiing down the mountain Wednesday afternoon when he fell while negotiating the 40-45-degree slope known as the ‘Orient Express’ with two teammates. The man was unable to self-arrest, and he tumbled from an elevation of 17,800 feet down through snow, ice, and rocks before coming to rest in a crevasse at 15,850 feet.
While one of his teammates continued down to the National Park Service ranger camp at 14,200 feet for help, Uusitalo’s other teammate rappelled into the crevasse with the help of a nearby team. They determined that Uusitalo was likely deceased, a park release said.
An NPS response team arrived on scene approximately one hour later, and Ranger Tucker Chenoweth was lowered 60 feet into the crevasse by his team of three volunteer rangers. After confirming that Uusitalo was deceased, the NPS patrol members hauled both Ranger Chenoweth and the victim out to the glacier surface. Soon after, Uusitalo’s body was evacuated via a long line operation by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter to the Kahiltna Basecamp, then on to Talkeetna.
Since 1972, 16 fatalities have occurred during descents of the Orient Express, according to Park Service records.
The season's first fatality occurred when a team of three climbers reached the top of the headwall on the West Buttress, and one of the three lost his balance while trying to stop a backpack from sliding away.
The climber's body came to rest roughly 1,100 feet down the north face, on the Peters Glacier at an elevation of 15,100 feet, the release said.