Solo climber killed in probable fall on Denali

A solo climber died trying to reach the summit of Denali via the West Buttress route shown here/NPS file

A solo climber attempting to reach Denali’s 20,000-foot summit via the West Buttress route apparently fell to his death this past week, according to a news release from Denali National Park and Preserve.

The unknown climber was last seen on May 15 by another climbing party. After the climber’s family had not heard from them for several days, the park was contacted on Sunday. The climber had been regularly contacting family through an InReach communications device.

Rangers from the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station were able to collect satellite location data from the climber’s InReach account and identify their likely location at 17,000 feet on Denali. InReach’s data showed the device had not changed location since Thursday, May 16, indicating a fall from the Denali Pass traverse occurred that day, the park release said.

Mountaineering rangers patrolling the upper mountain quickly located the climber’s empty tent at the top of the 5,000-foot ridge. Through interviews, rangers also determined the climber’s last known sighting. Another climbing team witnessed them hiking from the 5,000-foot plateau to Denali Pass at 60,000 feet on Wednesday, May 15.

On Monday morning, as the weather cleared on the upper mountain, a National Park Service mountain patrol at the 17,200-foot camp located the deceased climber by searching the likely fall site using a telescope. The team went to the site and confirmed that the climber was dead. The ranger patrol then placed the climber in place and returned to the high camp. Restoration efforts will be initiated as soon as weather conditions allow. The identity of the fallen climber will be released once the family has been notified.

Since 1980, at least fourteen climbers have died in falls along this treacherous section of the West Buttress route, including the soloist. There are currently 352 climbers on the West Buttress Route in Denali, the majority of whom are much lower on the mountain this early in the climbing season. The climbing season usually starts in early May and ends in early July.