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Denali Report for June 9, 2017: Crevasse Rescue

by Phillip Manning ~ June 9th, 2017

Martin Takac was trapped in a sixty foot crevasse for about sixteen hours before rescuers could reach him.  NPS Photo/Frank Preston

Martin Takac was trapped in a sixty foot crevasse for about sixteen hours before rescuers could reach him. NPS Photo/Frank Preston

This week on the Denali Report, KTNA’s Phillip Manning discusses an increase in the summit rate and the emergency rescue of a climber that combined efforts of guides, rangers, and volunteers.

As predicted by mountaineering rangers last week, the summit rate on Denali has finally started to rise significantly. As of Thursday, it was listed at thirty-six percent, with over 150 climbers having made it to the top of the mountain.

This week also saw a harrowing rescue on Denali. Tucker Chenoweth, South District Ranger for Denali National Park and Preserve, says warming temperatures mean this time of year is often the most dangerous for crevasse falls. Late Sunday evening, Slovak climber Martin Takac fell into a crevasse near “Camp One” on Denali. Takac was climbing with a partner, but the two were not roped together. His partner saw the fall and went to base camp for help.

Tucker Chenoweth says guides from Mountain Trip guide service responded to the scene, but quickly realized they were not equipped to free Takac from the deep, narrow crevasse.

“[The] initial report was forty feet. It ended up being more like sixty feet down in a crevasse that was twelve to fifteen inches wide, and not straight down. It kind of arced, so you couldn’t even see

View from the top of the crevasse, with Martin Takac and a rescuer inside, but not visible from the surface. NPS Photo/Frank Preston

View from the top of the crevasse, with Martin Takac and a rescuer inside, but not visible from the surface. NPS Photo/Frank Preston

[Takac] from the top.”

The guides called for help within a couple of hours of the fall, and the National Park Service mobilized a team. Unfortunately, the weather was not clear enough for an immediate helicopter takeoff from Talkeetna. After waiting for conditions to clear, two teams of rangers began working to reach Takac, but the going was slow due to cramped conditions.

“The process was literally a chip of ice at the time to kind of expand the space for the rescuer, which then allowed them to move around enough to start expanding the space that the climber was in.”

It took about eight hours for rescuers to reach Martin Takac. At first, the trapped climber was responsive, but Tucker Chenoweth says that changed as the rescue attempt went on.

“[Takac] deteriorated over time to the extent that the rescuers believed that he had already passed at times, and then at other times was just about to. It continued that way for hours.”

After being trapped in the ice for about sixteen hours, rescuers were finally able to bring Takac out of the crevasse.

“When they finally got him to the surface, he was not looking very good at all. We had the helicopter on-scene moments after he was extricated.”

But, the weather had shut down yet again, at least to the south. Takac was flown to a hospital in Fairbanks. Tucker Chenoweth says subsequent reports show that Takac suffered minor injuries as the result of his ordeal, and has largely recovered.

The rescue team wasn’t done, however. On their return trip, another call of a fallen climber came in. Chenoweth says the second rescue was an illustration of the other extreme of a crevasse rescue.

“This new guy was just standing there waving, ‘Hey, I’m ok. I just need help.” So, it was two extremes, and they were able to just pop him out.”

As temperatures continue to warm on Denali, Tucker Chenoweth says rangers are urging climbers to travel in groups roped together to provide a degree of safety during glacier travel. While Martin Takac was extremely lucky, to the point that Chenoweth calls his lack of serious injuries miraculous, another climber who falls under similar, un-roped conditions may not be as fortunate.

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