Record Number Of Tries, Deaths On Mt. Mckinley

ANCHORAGE - A record number of climbers tried for the summit of Mount McKinley last year and a record number died, according to a year-end mountaineering summary by the National Park Service.

The 11 dead amounted to about one of every 100 climbers to challenge the mountain. The death rate was about twice the 90-year average, but it still was better than 1967.

Ten percent of the 83 climbers who ventured onto North America's highest peak died that year. A killer storm was blamed for most of those deaths. Climbing rangers also blamed storms for the rash of fatalities last spring.

Seven of the 11 dead climbers tried to climb McKinley during a weeklong storm in early May, said J.D. Swed, South District ranger for the Denali National Park and Preserve.

Among them was Terrance "Mugs" Stump, one of the country's foremost mountaineers. The guide was descending the South Buttress with two clients when he fell into a crevasse that collapsed on top of him.

Rangers and volunteers rescued at least eight climbers, including Stump's clients, as winds hit more than 110 mph.


At one point, mountaineering ranger Ron Johnson, Park Service volunteer Matt Culberson and two other climbers - Mike Wood and Willy Peabody - risked their lives to dash from the 14,000-foot camp to 17,200 feet on the West Buttress to rescue a Frenchwoman abandoned by her climbing companions in a storm.

The French climbers later were cited for creating a hazardous condition and were required to reimburse the Park Service for rescue costs.

Foreign climbers again got into the most trouble on the mountain last year. Two prominent Italian climbers died in a fall. Pulmonary and cerebral edema killed a Swiss climber waiting out bad weather. Four Canadians fell 4,000 feet to their deaths.

Eleven of the 40 Koreans on the mountain in 1992 were involved in accidents. Three died in a fall. Eight others had to be rescued.

As a result, the federation and the Park Service have begun a program to teach Korean climbers the dangers of McKinley's unpredictable weather, and possibly bring Korean volunteers here to work with rangers in improving communications with Korean climbers.


Ranger Swed is pushing education and communication with climbers of all nationalities as a low-cost alternative to increasingly expensive rescue operations.

Rescues cost almost $500,000 in 1992. The Park Service spent $206,000 - twice the 1991 expenditure - on rescue or recovery missions involving 28 climbers, and the military spent another $225,345.

Most of the money went to operate the special high-altitude Llama helicopter by the Park Service and the big, twin-rotor Chinooks flown by the Alaska Army National Guard.

In its second year on McKinley, the Llama was credited by Swed with saving up to 12 people.

There are no plans to require permits, but rangers want to get a better idea of how many climers will be on the mountain at any given time.

Last year's 1,070 climbers marked only the second time McKinley's climbing population has gone over 1,000; the five-year average of 986 continues a trend since the early 1970s. About half made it to the top last year.

Before 1970, McKinley had never attracted 100 climbers in a season.

Swed expects the number to go steadily higher.

"The mountain continues to grow in popularity throughout the world and mountaineering has become a little bit more popular," he says.