Denali mountaineering rangers led a life-saving technical rope rescue of a fallen solo climber on Mt. McKinley the evening of June 3.
Claude Ratté, age 44, of Montreal, Quebec was descending the West Buttress route from the 17,200-foot high camp to the 14,200-foot camp when he fell almost 2,000 feet down to the Peters Glacier. The climber fell from an elevation of approximately 16,400 feet down a 35 to 40 degree snow and ice slope, suffering facial trauma and a leg and ankle injury in the fall. Ratté was able to use his satellite phone to dial 9-1-1 shortly before noon on Tuesday. Alaska State Troopers connected the distressed climber with Denali National Park rangers who initiated a ground rescue. The high altitude Lama helicopter was unable to fly due to heavy cloud cover.
Denali's West Buttress route. Claude Ratté fell 2,000 feet down the steep snow slopes to the left of the ridge crest, below the 17,200-foot camp. Rescuers hauled him back to the ridge and then lowered him to the 14,200-foot camp to await evacuation. Image courtesy of Costnet.com/denali.
Denali's West Buttress route. Claude Ratté fell 2,000 feet down the steep snow slopes to the left of the ridge crest, below the 17,200-foot camp. Rescuers hauled him back to the ridge and then lowered him to the 14,200-foot camp to await evacuation. Image courtesy of Costnet.com/denali. _______________________________________________________
A hasty team led by NPS mountaineering ranger Brandon Latham mobilized immediately from the 17,200-foot high camp, reaching the injured climber within three to four hours. A second rescue team led by mountaineering ranger Mik Shain climbed up the fixed lines from the 14,200-foot camp to assist in the elaborate technical rope rescue.
After an initial medical assessment was performed by the first responders, Ratté was secured in a rescue litter and the labor-intensive technical rope rescue commenced. Using multiple anchored rope systems, the patient was first raised 2,000 feet back up to the 16,200-foot elevation on West Buttress ridge, before being lowered 2,000 feet down the Headwall to the NPS ranger camp at 14,200 feet. From the time of the initial distress call, the entire ground rescue operation took 10.5 hours and involved 14 ground rescuers including mountaineering rangers, NPS volunteers, mountain guides, and independent climbers.
Denali mountaineering staff estimates there have been at least 10 significant climbing falls onto the Peters Glacier, including three separate fatalities in 1998. The technical rope rescue of Ratté involves the longest raising operation in Denali mountaineering history.
As of the morning of June 4, Ratté remains in serious but stable medical condition at the 14,200-foot camp awaiting helicopter evacuation. With improving weather conditions on the mountain, the patient is expected to be flown off this afternoon and transferred to an Anchorage-based air ambulance for further medical care.
By Maureen McLaughlin, Climbing Magazine