Will Hirst, 05-17-06

Climber dies in crevasse

MOUNT BONA: Snow bridge gave way; wedged in, man suffocated

By KYLE HOPKINS Anchorage Daily News
Published: May 19, 2006

A California man died Wednesday after falling into a crevasse while crossing the Klutlan Glacier in the Wrangell Mountains, according to the National Park Service.

Will Hirst, 56, of Castro Valley, was with another climber and two guides near Mount Bona when he fell through a snow bridge. The party was roped together, with Hirst in the lead, followed by guide Eli Potter of St. Elias Alpine Guides, the Park Service reported.

Hirst caught himself at first, then the snowbridge gave way and he fell about 20 feet, according to the report.

He died from "positional asphyxia," said deputy medical examiner Stephen Erickson, meaning Hirst couldn't breathe.

"His body was wedged in a way where he couldn't inhale or exhale and quickly suffocated," Erickson said.

He said Hirst was found upright with his backpack compressing his head downward.

Mount Bona, about 16,500 feet, is roughly 40 miles east of McCarthy.

It's not unusual for mountaineers to visit the area beginning around April, said Marshall Neeck, chief ranger for the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Reserve.

Although it was windy, he said weather conditions did not appear to play a role in the accident, which was the first climbing death in the area this year.

A 38-year-old Colorado climbing guide died after falling in a crevasse in the same area in 2000.

"We've regretfully been having about one or two fatalities a year in the park," Neeck said.

Wednesday, the climbers were roped together and wearing snowshoes at an elevation of 9,700 feet, according to the Park Service.

After Hirst fell, the guides contacted the Alaska National Guard Rescue Coordination Center by satellite phone.

The Park Service reported that the pilot who flew the group to the area, Paul Claus, returned to the glacier at 4:15 p.m., along with a doctor who happened to be staying at Claus' lodge. The doctor pronounced Hirst dead after an attempt to revive him.

A man who answered the phone at St. Elias Alpine Guides said he couldn't comment on the accident.

Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins can be reached at khopkins@adn.com.