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

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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.

Comments

Lauren, for many, pushing the edge a little bit heightens the intensity and beauty of life. From all accounts, these two gentlemen were highly skilled climbers and very analytical in their approach. Accidents can happen anywhere, from crossing the street to climbing a mountain. While their deaths were truly tragic and unfortunate, they were doing what they loved.


My heart goes out to their families. No matter how much you train and prepare accidents can still happen. Both John and Andrew seemed like very responsible and seasoned individuals.

Dan
Winter adventure, Northeast USA


Simply a wonderful young man! He did so much and gave so much, but fortunately lived his all too brief life to the full. I am so saddened by his tragic death. My heart goes out to all he touched and were touched by him. To his closest family and friends my condolences. Andrew will be sorely missed and long remembered.


This is just not right. Andrew, you were a good kid in school and a great man in life. I am sorry you are gone, the world is a worse place without you.


I came across this site searching for information about my childhood art teacher, John's grandmother I believe.
My hope was to get in touch with John's mother I met only a few times many years ago.
I am shocked and sad for both men's families. My heart goes out to his family.


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