Belgian mountaineer killed on Mt. McKinley

Posted: Wednesday, June 09, 2010

ANCHORAGE - An experienced mountaineer from Belgium was killed on Mount McKinley when his climbing anchor apparently failed and he fell in a steep, rocky gully.

The accident occurred Monday afternoon on a technically challenging section of the Cassin Ridge on North America's highest mountain, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

Joris Van Reeth, 27, of Borgerhout, Belgium, was leading the way as he and his climbing partner were scaling the Japanese Couloir at about 13,000 feet. It appears that Van Reeth's anchor pulled loose and he fell about 100 feet.

Van Reeth fell to where his partner, Sam Van Brempt, 24, also from Belgium, was positioned below him in the gully.

"This is a route that is climbed a lot less often," said Maureen McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Denali National Park. "Joris was up above and came down still attached to his rope and came to a stop not very far from where Sam was."

Van Brempt was not injured. After confirming that his climbing partner was dead, he used his satellite phone to call park officials.

A climbing ranger was flown by helicopter to Van Brempt's location, but fog and clouds prevented a rescue.

Two Japanese climbers were able to reach Van Brempt Monday evening and helped him lower the body to a safer location just above the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier at 11,500 feet, where Van Brempt set up camp. He was to remain there until the weather permits a pilot to fly in and retrieve him and bring the body down the mountain.

McLaughlin said it was fortunate that the Japanese climbers were able to reach Van Brempt because he was not carrying enough climbing rope to make it down on his own. He has enough food, water and fuel to last until a flight can reach him, she said.

Climbers who choose the more difficult but less traveled Cassin Ridge route tend to carry less equipment on the fairly quick trip to the top of the 20,320-foot mountain.

According to information filed with the Park Service, both the Belgian mountaineers had experience climbing in the Alps. A climb in Kazakhstan also was listed.

"They definitely were experienced climbers," McLaughlin said.

The death is the second on McKinley so far this climbing season. A French climber died last month. Pascal Frison, 51, fell about 1,000 feet after making a snap decision to try and keep his sled from sliding off a ridge at about 12,000 feet on the West Buttress route, an easier route used by the majority of McKinley climbers.

Van Reeth is the 108th person to die on McKinley since 1932.

Four climbers died last year.



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