Busy Alaska rangers rescue hypothermic, frostbitten climbers at start of Denali mountaineering season

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Denali mountaineering season kicked off as 506 climbers attempted climbs on Denali, according to the National Park Service.

JUNEAU, Alaska – Rangers from the Denali National Park and Preserve have been actively responding to numerous high-altitude rescues on the highest mountain peak in North America as mountaineering season commences.

Two climbers were still stranded Wednesday near the summit of Denali in Alaska due to frostbite and hypothermia. They were waiting for the weather to improve before a rescue crew could arrive. Another team member faced difficulties while descending from the 20,310-foot summit but was successfully rescued the day before.

Early Tuesday morning, the rangers at Denali National Park and Preserve received an SOS message from the climbers from the summit, indicating that they were unable to descend the mountain.


Crews kept in touch with the climbers through a two-way satellite as they prepared to descend to the "Football Field," a flat area at an elevation of 19,600 feet. However, communication was lost when the climbers' satellite device stopped transmitting their location. 

Cloudy weather made it impossible for the park's high-altitude helicopter to reach the mountain. As a result, park rangers sought assistance from the Alaska Air National Guard.

"The Alaska Air National Guard Pararescuemen on board the HC-130 spotted two of the three climbers between 19,000 and 20,000 feet shortly before noon on Tuesday," rangers said in a statement. "The third climber was located by a climbing guide near Zebra Rocks at 18,600 feet."

Although Denali’s summit was in clouds, a rescue helicopter was launched to reach the 14,200-foot camp. While there, in an unrelated incident, another pair of climbers with frostbite were evacuated after suffering injuries at the camp’s medical tent for multiple days. 

"When the NPS helicopter was able to reach that camp Tuesday evening, they evacuated the two frostbite victims to Talkeetna. The more severely injured patient was transferred to a LifeMed air ambulance for advanced care," rangers said.


By nightfall, rangers made their third attempt to reach the initially distressed climbers on the upper mountain. Eventually, one of the three climbers managed to make their way down to the 17,200-foot-high camp, suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia, and was successfully rescued.

"As of Wednesday morning, rescuers are waiting for clouds and windy conditions to dissipate on the upper mountain before either a ground team or aviation resources can safely return to the Football Field to rescue the two remaining climbers," rangers said.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Denali mountaineering season kicked off as 506 climbers attempted climbs on Denali, according to the National Park Service. 

An additional 117 climbers have already arrived and departed this season, rangers say, with 17 successfully reaching the mountain’s summit, resulting in a 15% summit rate.