Climber killed in Denali avalanche

Utah man presumed dead after ice wall in national park collapses

Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000

Utah climber is presumed dead following the collapse of an ice wall at Denali National Park, park service officials said Friday.

Seth Shaw of Salt Lake City was caught in the avalanche shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday night on Mount Johnson, an 8,400-foot peak near Mount Dickey on the west side of the Ruth Gorge. The 38-year-old man's climbing partner, Tim Wagner, also of Salt Lake City, suffered a broken leg in the slide near the east buttress of the mountain, said Jane Tranel, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

Shaw's body has not been retrieved and might never be, park ranger Daryl Miller said after rangers flew over the site.

``Conditions are too dangerous and the location is too high-risk to the people who would do the recovery,'' he said. ``That's how it is at this point. But that could change.''

Wagner, 34, told rescuers that he and Shaw had climbed Mount Johnson last week and had been at their Ruth Glacier camp near the 5,000-foot level since May 15, Tranel said. They left the camp about 7 p.m. Thursday to practice ice and rock climbing, Tranel said.

The pair encountered the ice wall about an hour later at the 4,500 foot level. Wagner was near an ice cave at the base of the wall, testing the ice with an ice pick when a 50-foot high chunk collapsed on top of Shaw, who had been taking photographs near the base of the icefall, Tranel said.

Wagner was pinned behind ice boulders from the slide. One of the falling ice rocks broke the climber's left leg, Tranel said. Wagner worked himself free in about 15 minutes, and then failed to find Shaw beneath the debris.

Wagner managed to ski up the Ruth Glacier, where he found other climbers Friday morning. One of climbers went for help. Three others went to the slide area to look for Shaw and later radioed a nearby air taxi for assistance, Tranel said.

The park service was notified at 11:10 a.m., according to Tranel. She said Talkeetna Air Taxi flew the injured climber to Talkeetna, where he was treated at the Sunshine Medical Center and released.

``Unfortunately, this is the first fatality in the Alaska Range this season,'' Tranel said. ``And we certainly hope it's the last.''



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