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Roped-Together Climbers Die in Fall On Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve


Two acclaimed climbers fell to their deaths on Mount McKinley in the vicinity of the mountain's West Rib and West Buttress routes. NPS photo.

Two acclaimed climbers who were roped together while climbing on Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve have fallen several thousand feet to their deaths.

While two medics and an emergency room were quick to reach the two, there was nothing they could do.

Killed in the accident Thursday were Dr. John Mislow, 39, of Newton, Massachusetts, and Dr. Andrew Swanson, age 36, of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While part of the fall was observed by other climbers on the mountain, park officials say many factors remain unknown about the accident, such as the location where the initial fall occurred and whether the team was ascending or descending at the time.

Although the onset of the fall was not witnessed, a team did observe them falling between the 16,500-foot elevation on the Messner Couloir and its base at 14,500 feet.

Park rangers at the 14,200-foot camp were notified via FRS radio within minutes of the event, which occurred shortly before 2:00 p.m. on Thursday. Three skiers in the vicinity were first to respond to the climbers, who were located approximately 30 minutes away from the 14,200-foot camp. A team of four volunteer NPS rangers, including an emergency room nurse and two medics, followed close behind and confirmed that the two men had died in the fall.

The bodies were recovered by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter that same evening and flown to Talkeetna.

The two men began an ascent of the West Rib route on May 30, and their climbing registration forms did not specify a particular descent route. Situated in between the West Rib and the West Buttress routes, the Messner Couloir is a steep, hourglass-shaped snow gully that drops from near Archdeacon’s Tower at 19,000 feet down to the 14,200-foot basin. With a 40- to 50-degree snow and ice slope, the Messner Couloir is an occasional advanced ski descent route, but is rarely descended on foot or ascended.

Drs. Mislow and Swanson were both experienced mountaineers. In 2000, Denali National Park and Preserve presented the two men with the Denali Pro Award, an honor recognizing the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, and assisting fellow mountaineers.

During their 2000 attempt of the West Rib route they aided several different teams in distress; assisted a National Park Service patrol with multiple visitor protection projects; and demonstrated sound risk assessment in their climbing objectives.


Boy does that suck. One mistake. Game over.

Drew was a good friend who'll be missed. My heart goes out to all his loved ones.

OMG!! That is so sad. I just can't believe it has happened. I had an appt with Dr. Swanson next Wed. and surgery scheduled on July 2nd. He was a very nice man and I feel privileged to have met him. My heart goes out to the friends and families of both of these men.
Hollie Hanf

My heart goes out to my dear friends Eydie and Gene Swanson and their family, Kyle, Molly and Heidi et al over the loss of their beloved son and brother, Andrew. It is unbelievable to me and heart wrenching to suddenly lose such a vibrant and talented young man as Andrew was. I send all my love and sympathy. My heart is broken for you.
All my love,
Dana Wigton

the weather on the mountain that day was perfect. light winds and clear skies.
i was there in base camp. we wonder what happened. may they be at peace.

I saw Dr. Swanson four times in my life and I have been so distraught over this tragedy. Why do the good have to die young?

He saw me in November and indicated I should have a laminectomy. We were to set a date soon. However, my pain became so intense that I could not walk nor function. I went to see him on Thursday, November 13 and he took one look at me and said he was aware of what I was going through and he was just so sorry but he was leaving for Ghana Saturday morning. The more he talked to me and watched me, he apparently decided this surgery might still be doable. He called his nurse and asked her to try to get an operating room the next day and if so, she needed to cancel certain appointments in the office; she was able to make all the arrangements and I was in the OR under anesthesia when he came in and did a perfect surgery. He came to my room about 7:00 that evening and told me all was well. And it was. I had no pain AT ALL. He went to Ghana on Saturday and I saw him for followup in a week or so. I was well.

I have never had a doctor go out of his way for me like that (and I'm 70 years old). It was so touching to see him make the decision to perform surgery despite his very busy schedule. You can be sure that I have talked about his great kindness to me to many people. He really went the extra mile. The more I read and hear about him, it seems that was his way of life. What a wonderful gift.

I can only offer his family and friends my deepest condolences. As I indicated, I only knew him professionally for a short time but I have been in shock and pain for this young man who had to leave this world too soon.

That is so sad!!

That is so sad! Why do good people put themselves into dangerous situations when they have wonderful lives & wonderful loved ones??

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