Stormy weather that forced two climbers to hunker down on Denali Pass on Mount McKinley in Denali National Park played a role in the death of a Washington state woman who died in a fall of about 1,000 feet, park officials reported Friday.
Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma, and Mike Fuchs, 34, of Berlin, Germany, hadn't made it to the summit when bad weather enveloped them on Denali Pass at 18,200 feet. The two spent two nights near the pass, then planned to head down to a camp at 17,200 feet. In the poor weather the two got separated.
"At 11 a.m. on Monday, May 5, Fuchs contacted rangers at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station via satellite phone from the 17,200-foot High Camp on the West Buttress. Fuchs reported that the two had gotten separated as they descended from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp," noted park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri. "The two were not roped together, nor did they have radio communications with one another. Fuchs described that both parties were weakened from the multiple nights spent at Denali Pass, and each possessed only partial survival gear. In addition to his personal gear, Fuchs possessed the team's satellite phone and camp stove, while Montag had the tent, limited food, and her personal gear.
"Due to limited visibility and high winds estimated between 40 to 60 mph, Fuchs took shelter in the NPS 'rescue cache,' a metal storage locker for emergency supplies and equipment at 17,200 feet," Ms. Gualtieri wrote in a release. "Fuchs phoned back the following morning, May 6, and requested a rescue for both himself and for Montag, who he hoped was camped at Denali Pass. The weather on May 6 remained windy with low visibility, and an NPS helicopter rescue was not feasible. Furthermore, a ground rescue was not possible as Fuchs and Montag were two of the earliest Denali climbers of the 2014 season, and at the time were the only climbers above 14,200 feet on the mountain. The only NPS ranger patrol on the mountain was camped at 7,800 feet."
Clearing weather on Wednesday allowed Denali National Park's high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and an NPS mountaineering ranger to fly to Denali Pass, with the 210th Rescue Squadron's Hercules C-130 flying as a cover aircraft. After several passes of the area, the A-Star B3 crew spotted Ms. Montag's remains 800 to 1,000 feet below the Denali Pass traverse on the Peters Glacier, the park release said, adding that Mr. Fuchs was observed by the flight crew standing near his camp at 17,200 feet.
The NPS helicopter returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet to drop off the mountaineering ranger. Pilot Andy Hermansky then flew back to the 17,200-foot camp and rescued Mr. Fuchs using a rescue basket attached to a shorthaul line under the helicopter. The German climber was flown to the Kahiltna Basecamp for a medical assessment, then taken to Talkeetna State Airport and released.
The remains of Sylvia Montag, who was the first climber to die on the mountain this season, will be recovered when an NPS ground team reaches the 17,200 foot camp. As of Friday, there were 110 other climbers in various stages of ascent on the mountain, according to Ms. Gualtieri.
Ms. Montag and Mr. Fuchs were affiliated with a German company that worked to send teams into extreme landscapes to "produce outstanding dynamic photo and movie footage with an interesting storytelling for industry companies and brands their communication, marketing commercials, social networking and broadcast entertainment." On their climb of Mount McKinley they regularly filed reports to the company's website. Their final entry talked about being on Denali Pass in the storm.
We made it! Our aim to traverse Denali is nearly completet.
But, since two days we are sitting in a huge storm on the top of the Pass and try to block against the power of nature. With more than 100 km/h the Wind beats us very strong. We have no Chance to go further at the Moment. Just sitting there in our strong tent and hope that it will stand another night. Here at Denali Pass there is nothing where we can hide, just only snow, ice and small Stones. To Build a wall of snow Blocks to protect us is not possible because we Flyer away by Building the wall. So the Wind has got full power at our tent. Everything is shacking and it is loud inside.