Denali National Park and Preserve/NPS/Tim Rains.

Climbing season has only just begun at Denali National Park and Preserve, but rangers have already rescued an injured climber. On Sunday, May 12th, the park’s helicopter pilot and mountaineering rangers performed a short-haul rescue of an injured climber and their partner from Windy Corner on Denali’s West Buttress route.

One member of a two-person climbing team suffered traumatic injuries in a snowboarding fall while descending Windy Corner the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8th. The teammates were equipped with an InReach device and a satellite phone and were able to immediately convey the incident and location to the park communication center. Extreme pain and concern for internal injuries required the team to set-up a camp at Windy Corner, a feature at 13,500 feet on Denali named for its extreme winds and a site known for rock fall hazards.

A National Park Service ranger camped at 11,000 feet attempted to reach the party that evening, however high winds and poor visibility turned the ranger around. On Thursday, although weather improved lower on the mountain, high winds prevailed at Windy Corner. The park’s high altitude helicopter was able to fly over the incident site, but sustained winds over 30 mph precluded a rescue.   

A storm settled on the mountain on Friday and Saturday, with cloud cover and strong winds. Via satellite phone, the partner reported the patient was stable and they had adequate food and fuel to ride out the storm for several days. On Saturday, a ranger and volunteer nurse from the National Park Service patrol at 11,000 feet reached the party and performed a medical assessment and reinforced the team with supplies in the event the storm continued much longer. 

Weather improved the afternoon of Sunday, May 13th. The National Park Service ranger patrol from the 11,000-foot camp reached Windy Corner and both splinted and prepared the injured climber for an air evacuation. At 7 p.m., Denali’s helicopter pilot and two rangers made a reconnaissance flight to Windy Corner. Conditions were favorable to proceed with consecutive short-haul evacuations of the two climbers using a “screamer suit” and an attending ranger. The rangers and two rescued climbers were then internally loaded in the helicopter and flown back to Talkeetna for further care.        

The 2019 Denali mountaineering season is considered in its early stages, with only 166 climbers currently on the mountain. The first National Park Service ranger patrol of the season reached the 14,200-foot camp late Sunday night, shortly after assisting with the short-haul evacuation at Windy Corner. No mountaineers have reported reaching the summit of either Denali or Mount Foraker.

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