Fatality on Mt. McKinley

Climbers on the West Buttress route of Denali. Photo by Ben Carlson

Climbers on the West Buttress route of Denali. Photo by Ben Carlson

A climber collapsed and died on the summit of Mt. McKinley on the evening of July 4, 2008. James Nasti, age 51, of Naperville, Illinois was a client on an Alpine Ascents International expedition that began their climb on June 20. According to the two expedition guides, Nasti exhibited no signs of distress or illness throughout the trip, and was climbing strongly immediately prior to the collapse. The guides administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for up to 45 minutes, but Nasti did not regain a pulse.

Denali National Park mountaineering rangers at the 14,200-foot camp were immediately notified by the guides via radio. The team was instructed by the NPS rangers to descend carefully with the remaining four clients to the 17,200-foot camp, as there was no safe means of recovering the deceased at that time. Conditions were initially calm and clear on the summit, though weather began to deteriorate as the incident progressed.

The 20,320-foot summit of Mt. McKinley features an exposed flat area roughly the size of a single car garage. Just below the summit, climbers must negotiate a 500-foot-long knife-edge ridge. A recovery along this ridge would require a highly skilled technical rescue team and a rope rigging system. Considering the high risk involved in such a ground lowering, as well as the excessive risk of a helicopter recovery at this extreme elevation, the National Park Service has determined that the safest alternative is to leave the remains of the deceased climber on the mountain at this time.

This incident represents the first time a mountaineer has died on Mt. McKinley's summit. In 1988, a climber died at an elevation of 19,600-feet on a descent from the summit; the body was not recovered.

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