Walker Parke                     4/25/94 Mt. Wake Fall Mountaineering
Todd Brendan McCann 4/25/94  Mt. Wake Fall Mountaineering

Climbers Die Near McKinley:  2 Girdwood Men Fall 1,500 Feet On Wake
By Craig Medred, ADN 04/26/94

The Denali National Park climbing season got off to a deadly start Sunday when two Alaska climbers fell to their deaths while descending 9,000-foot Mount Wake, the National Park Service reported Monday. Park service spokesman John Quinley identified the dead as Walker Parke, 36, and Todd Brendan McCann, 26. Both were residents of Girdwood. Along with climbing companion Michelle Morseth, the two men had been retreating from a camp at 5,700 feet when the accident happened.

Denali National Park climbing ranger Roger Robinson said the two men had made two descents by rope down the mountain from their camp when something went wrong, and they fell an estimated 1,500 feet to their deaths.

Details on exactly what caused the fall were sketchy, Quinley said, although he added that rangers have ruled out the possibility the men were swept away by avalanching snow or ice.

"They're not exactly sure of the circumstances," Quinley said. The climbers were unroped at the time of the fall, he said. One possibility, Quinley said, is that one climber lost his balance on a ledge and knocked the other off with him.

Rangers did not learn of the fatal accident until Monday afternoon when a message was relayed to an airplane flying through The Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier.

Quinley said another pair of climbers camped near the base of Mount Wake had recovered the bodies and come to the aid of Morseth, who was uninjured and evacuated to the ranger station in Talkeetna on Monday night. The names of the climbers who helped were unavailable Monday night, as were the age and home town of Morseth.

"They were another group that was more or less down on the Ruth that was going to another peak," Quinley said.

The bodies of Parke and McCann were recovered by a park service aircraft Monday evening.

Mount Wake is a tower of rock and ice about 15 miles southeast of Mount McKinley. It is one of a series of peaks that rise like walls for thousands of feet alongside The Great Gorge.

Many are popular with ice climbers looking for difficult, technical routes. "It's a pretty challenging peak," said mountaineer Todd Miner, head of the Wilderness Studies Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The deaths of Parke and McCann came just as park service rangers were beginning preparations for the 1994 climbing season. Chief mountaineering ranger J.D. Swed was on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley, helping put up the agency's climbing camp, when he learned of the accident, Quinley said. Rangers had been hoping for an uneventful climbing season on McKinley and nearby peaks this year. Only one climber died during the 1992 season.