Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two Deaths On Denali

About a month after we finished our climb, there were two tragedies on the mountain:

Naperville man dies atop Alaska's Mt. McKinley
Climber apparently suffered a heart attack

By James Kimberly, Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2008

James Nasti was an avid runner, cyclist and mountaineer who had been on an 11-year quest to climb the highest points in all 50 states. But upon reaching his 49th high point on the 4th of July, the Naperville father of three collapsed and died on the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska, apparently of a heart attack.

Because of treacherous conditions atop the 20,320-foot peak, Nasti's body could not be recovered. Instead, an expedition from the tour company he climbed with buried him there Sunday.

It was a fitting finish to a full life, family and friends said. "It's actually kind of comforting," Chris Nasti, 24, his eldest son, said Monday. "If he was going to die of a heart attack, there's probably no better place to have done it than that. If he was to be laid to rest anywhere, the top of North America is probably the best place for him."

Nasti, 51, was the first person to die on Mt. McKinley's summit, according to the National Park Service, although 101 have died on the mountain since 1932. One of those was a climber who died in 1988 while descending from the summit, said Maureen McLaughlin, a public information officer at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Altogether, 38 bodies, including Nasti's, have not been recovered from the mountain, she said.

Nasti's quest to reach the peak began June 20, when he and a friend joined three other climbers and two guides. After Nasti collapsed after reaching the peak Friday, the guides tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. Denali National Park rangers at a 14,200-foot camp were notified and told the team with Nasti to descend to a 17,200-foot camp.

The apex of the summit is an exposed flat area about the size of a single-car garage, McLaughlin said. Just below the summit is a 500-foot-long "knife-edge ridge." Park service officials determined that neither a technical rescue involving a rope-rigging system nor a helicopter rescue attempt was safe enough to try.

Because members of Alpine Ascents International were going back to the summit Sunday, they asked—and were granted—permission to bury him.


Another climber dies on McKinley
Mystery: As with a Friday death, there's no obvious cause.

By Lisa Demer, Anchorage Daily News, July 9, 2008

The second climber in a week died suddenly on a guided trip to Mount McKinley on Monday night, and mountaineers are looking for answers: Why did two seemingly healthy men collapse at or near the top of the big mountain.

Pungkas Tri Baruno, from Jakarta, Indonesia, was 20 years old and apparently fit, one of three young climbers on an expedition connected with the country's national scouting organization. Baruno made it to the 20,320 foot summit Monday and almost back to high camp at 17,200 feet.

He descended the West Buttress route slowly but steadily. The wind picked up, clouds moved in and it began to snow. His guide kept asking him whether he felt nauseous or dizzy. Baruno said he didn't feel sick, according to Todd Rutledge, co-owner of the guiding company, Mountain Trip.

Then, roped to his guide, maybe 15 minutes from camp, Baruno gave out. "I can't go on," he told his guide, then collapsed. The others had gone ahead. His guide radioed for help, then he and other guides spent more than an hour trying to revive Baruno, said the National Park Service. But they couldn't bring him back.

He was the fourth mountaineer to die on Denali this climbing season.

Three days earlier on July 4, 51-year-old James Nasti of the Chicago area collapsed and died just as he reached the summit of North America's tallest peak. He was in good shape, too, a man who had climbed Mount Rainier twice -- middle-aged but with no history of heart trouble, his family said.

"It really seems like a horrible coincidence. We don't know what happened to either of these two climbers, really, but they were both very sudden onsets," Rutledge said.


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