Climber dies on descent from Denali Pass

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 23:00

A member of a two-person climbing team perished in an early season climbing fall on Mt. McKinley.

According to the National Park Service, the fatal fall likely occurred on May 5, after the climbing parties became separated during a descent from Denali Pass in stormy weather.

Mike Fuchs, 34, of Berlin, Germany and Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma, Wash., began their ascent of the Muldrow Glacier route on April 15. They reached Denali Pass at 18,200-feet elevation on May 3, where they encountered strong winds that forced them to camp for two nights near the Pass.

Fuchs contacted rangers at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station via satellite phone from the 17,200-foot High Camp on the West Buttress around 11 a.m. on May 5.

Fuchs reported that the two had become separated as they descended from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp.

The two were not roped together, nor did they have radio communications with one another.

Fuchs described that both parties were weakened from the multiple nights spent at Denali Pass, and each possessed only partial survival gear.

In addition to his personal gear, Fuchs possessed the team’s satellite phone and camp stove, while Montag had the tent, limited food and her personal gear.

Due to limited visibility and high winds estimated between 40 to 60 mph, Fuchs took shelter in the NPS rescue cache, a metal storage locker for emergency supplies and equipment at 17,200-feet.

Fuchs phoned back on May 6 and requested a rescue for both himself and for Montag, who he hoped was camped at Denali Pass.

Due to low visibility, an NPS helicopter rescue wasn’t feasible. Ground rescue wasn’t possible, since Fuchs and Montag were two of the earliest Denali climbers of the season, and the only climbers above 14,200 feet at the time.

The morning of Wednesday, May 7, Fuchs called and reported slightly calmer winds and clear skies at 17,200-feet. He also reported that he had not seen Montag descending Denali Pass.

Clouds and poor visibility below 17,200-feet hampered a rescue during the day.

Taking advantage of a clearing trend that evening, Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and an NPS mountaineering ranger flew to Denali Pass, with the 210th Rescue Squadron’s Hercules C-130 flying as a cover aircraft.

After several passes of the area, the crew spotted Montag’s remains 800 to 1,000 feet below the Denali Pass traverse on the Peters Glacier.

Fuchs was evacuated using a rescue basket attached to a shorthaul line under the helicopter.

Sylvia Montag’s remains were to be recovered at a later date.

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