Luciano Colombo 2011-05-16
Itali >an climber killed in fall on Mount McKinley
By MIKE CAMPBELL, firstname.lastname@example.org, Published: May 16th, 2011
Unroped Italian climber Luciano Colombo, 67, slipped while making a steep traverse
near Denali Pass and fell 1,000 feet to his death on Mount McKinley Monday morning.
The accident was the second fatality on North America's highest peak in less than
a week. On Thursday, Swiss climber Beat Niederer, 38, died at the 18,000-foot level.
A cause of Niederer's death has not been established, but several climbers in his
party suffered severe frostbite in the wind-whipped, sub-zero cold that battered
McKinley last week.
On Monday, several climbers at McKinley's 17,200-foot high camp saw the end of Colombo's
fall about 10 a.m.
Ranger Matt Hendrickson with the National Park Service and three fellow patrollers
were able to reach Colombo and confirm he was killed. Two of Columbo's teammates
were traveling farther ahead at the time of the fall, which happened while descending
in clear weather with calm winds. The team had not summited.
Denali Pass can be a treacherous area for McKinley climbers, and park service records
indicate that nine climbers have perished there since 1980. That makes it likely
the second deadliest place on McKinley behind the Upper West Rib.
Six years ago, twin brothers Jerry and Terry Humphrey, 55, of Ohio fell to their
deaths on their way down the treacherous traverse, the only deaths of the 2005 climbing
season. Like Colombo, they were not roped together.
"It's fairly steep," said Maureen McLaughlin, a public information officer at the
Denali National Park Talkeetna Ranger Station. "We certainly encourage teams to
be roped together at that point.
"What makes this a little more treacherous, is that (Colombo's party was) traversing
on a diagonal. There have been many falls over the years here."
The park service has installed fixed pickets on this section in recent years to
encourage climbers to rope in, she said.
"Footing is something you need to pay particular attention to here," McLaughlin
said. "It's very windblown, and there's not too much traction."
The route from the 17,200-foot-high camp to Denali Pass is about three-fourths of
a mile. The last several hundred feet are sloped generally 40-45 degrees.
Descending after an exhausting climb often is more difficult than going up, mountaineers
say. Eight of the nine people who have died below Denali Pass were on their descent
at the time, according to the Park Service.
The now-retired Nick Parker of Anchorage, who guided McKinley climbers for decades
and participated in more than 200 rescue missions on the mountain, went to the aid
of many who tumbled down the slope below Denali Pass over the years.
"That's a common accident," Parker said. "It's steeper than it looks, it's harder
than it looks and you're tired."
A rope linking climbers to one another is not enough by itself to prevent falls,
Parker said. If a climber stumbles or slips and begins to slide, he may yank his
partners off the slope, too, if no one can arrest the fall.
"Being on a rope is no protection unless you're attached to the mountainside," he
said. "Many modern climbers would say that if you're not attached to the mountainside,
why be on a rope? There's a good chance you can't self arrest."
Colombo is nearly twice the age of the typical McKinley climber, McLaughlin said,
with 34 being average. The oldest ever to reach the summit is a 76-year-old Japanese
"My oldest client was 72," Parker said, "but he ran circles around me. He had two
burly sons with him, and he did fine."
The body of Columbo, from the Italian town of Mandello, was taken to the 17,200-foot
camp, from where it will be recovered.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at email@example.com or 257-4329.