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Climber falls to his death from Alaska's Mt. McKinley

May 17, 2010 |  4:21 pm
A view of the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley on a crisp, clear day.

A French mountaineer fell to his death Sunday while climbing Alaska's Mt. McKinley. According to the news release, Pascal Frison, 51, and his climbing partner were approaching a feature known as "Lunch Rocks," near 12,000 feet on the West Buttress. Losing control of his sled, Frison attempted to stop it from sliding over the ridge, but both Frison and his sled tumbled toward the Peters Glacier. Frison, who was un-roped at the time, was unable to stop and fell more than 1,000 feet to a steep, crevased section of the Peters Glacier.

A nearby team witnessed the fall and made a radio distress call shortly after 3 p.m. to Denali National Park rangers. The park's high-altitude helicopter arrived at the accident site within five minutes, where spotters on board saw several pieces of fallen gear, and followed the fall line down to what appeared to be the climber laying in a crevasse at approximately 10,200 feet.

The steep terrain at the fall site offered no feasible landing areas, so helicopter and crew returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp, where they picked up mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright and returned to the area with Wright on a 'short-haul' line, hanging beneath the helicopter at the end of a 120-foot rope.

Pilot Andy Hermansky attempted to lower Wright into the crevasse, but could not safely reach Frison; however Wright readily determined that the climber had not survived the fall. Rangers plan to return to the site Monday for further reconnaissance and to determine if a body recovery is an option. Frison’s accident is the first known fatality in this area of the West Buttress route.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A view of the West Buttress of Mt. McKinley on a crisp, clear day. Credit: National Park Service

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