Denali Rescue Ends: One Climber Dies, One Saved

A prolonged rescue campaign near the summit of Denali has only partly succeeded.

Overwhelmed by strafing winds and clouds on the 6,190m peak, three Malaysian climbers called for rescue via satellite message at 1 am on Tuesday, May 28. Seventy-eight hours later, the ordeal for all three is over: one via prompt rescue from a lower camp, one via survival in a snow cave, and one via death.

The National Park Service (NPS) today reported that at 7 am, a helicopter pilot and climbing ranger extracted one surviving expedition member from his snow shelter on the Football Field at 5,974m. The operation used a short-haul rescue basket dangling from a rope line.

Death in a snow cave

Previously, one expedition member had managed to descend to Denali High Camp (5,242m) and was rescued there. But the final team member succumbed to severe frostbite and hypothermia in the snow cave on the Football Field.

Officials did not release details on the deceased climber pending family notification. But it did disclose that he had died “approximately two days prior” to the end of rescue operations.

Adverse conditions on the peak hampered the rescue, which involved National Guard assets and independent guides. Untenable flying conditions persisted throughout the three-day window as the NPS struggled to reach the stranded climbers. The helicopter team did not manage to survey the location until overnight Thursday when they dropped a duffel bag of supplies in the stranded climbers’ area.

“This was an exceptionally difficult and challenging rescue,” said Denali NPS spokesperson Paul Ollig. “We have so much gratitude for the individuals involved at all levels of the operation.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.