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Climber Rescued on Denali after 2,000′ Fall

An aerial view of the southwest face of Denali (20,320′), Alaska Range, Alaska. The West Buttress (Alaska Grade 2: 50 degrees, ca. 13,100′, Ambler-Bishop-Buchtel-Gale-Griffiths-Hackett-Moore-Washburn, 1951), where Claude Ratte was climbing solo on June 3, roughly follows the red line. The blue line approximates where Ratte fell ca. 2,000′ to the Peters Glacier that morning. He was rescued later that same day by Denali mountaineering rangers after the longest raising operation in the mountain’s history. [Photo] NPS / Bradford Washburn

Editor’s Note: The following news release was submitted to Alpinist by Maureen McLaughlin of Denali National Park and Preserve. McLaughlin confirmed that no new information is available regarding the two missing Japanese climbers on Denali’s Cassin Ridge (see her May 29, 2008 NewsWire for the most recent information).

Denali mountaineering rangers led a life-saving technical rope rescue of a fallen solo climber on Denali (20,320′), Alaska Range, Alaska the evening of June 3.

Claude Ratte, age 44, of Montreal, Quebec was descending the West Buttress route from the 17,200′ high camp to the 14,200′ camp when he fell almost 2,000 feet down to the Peters Glacier. The climber fell from an elevation of approximately 16,400′ down a 35-40 degree snow and ice slope, suffering facial trauma and a leg and ankle injury in the fall. Ratte was able to use his satellite phone to dial 9-1-1 shortly before noon on Tuesday. Alaska State Troopers connected the distressed climber with Denali National Park rangers who initiated a ground rescue. The high-altitude Lama helicopter was unable to fly due to heavy cloud cover.

A hasty team led by NPS mountaineering ranger Brandon Latham mobilized immediately from the 17,200′ high camp, reaching the injured climber within three to four hours. A second rescue team led by mountaineering ranger Mik Shain climbed up the fixed lines from the 14,200′ camp to assist in the elaborate technical rope rescue.

After an initial medical assessment was performed by the first responders, Ratte was secured in a rescue litter and the labor-intensive technical rope rescue commenced. Using multiple anchored rope systems, the patient was first raised 2,000 feet back up to 16,200′ on West Buttress ridge, before being lowered 2,000 feet down the Headwall to the NPS ranger camp at 14,200′. From the time of the initial distress call, the entire ground rescue operation took ten-and-a-half hours and involved fourteen ground rescuers including mountaineering rangers, NPS volunteers, mountain guides, and independent climbers.

Denali mountaineering staff estimates there have been at least ten significant climbing falls onto the Peters Glacier, including three separate fatalities in 1998. The tehnical rope rescue of Ratte involves the longest raising operation in Denali mountaineering history.

As of the morning of June 4, Ratte remains in serious but stable medical condition at the 14,200′ camp awaiting helicopter evacuation. With improving weather conditions on the mountain, the patient is expected to be flown off this afternoon and transferred to an Anchorage-based air ambulance for further medical care.