Rare storm, winds up to 100 mph threaten Mt. McKinley climbers

Most of the 35 climbers on the mountain are ready for severe weather

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2003

FAIRBANKS - A rare summer storm was expected to hit the Alaska Range's highest peaks by this morning with winds up to 100 mph, perhaps creating the most severe conditions in more than a decade, the National Weather Service said Monday.

Rangers at Denali National Park and Preserve used satellite phones to warn the 35 climbers on the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Rangers had not received any distress calls by Monday afternoon.

An area called Denali Pass or South Pass that climbers use to summit the mountain could see gusts of up to 120 mph.

"There's no way that anybody can be safely there (on Denali Pass) in winds that strong," said Ted Fathauer, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

He called the storm the mountain's most severe climbing-season weather in more than a decade.

More than half the 35 climbers reported on Mount McKinley on Monday were part of a group and had been in touch with rangers via satellite phone.

"Most people are prepared for long durations of bad weather. They don't like hanging out in bad weather, but it's just all part of the nature of climbing here," said Roger Robinson, lead climbing ranger at the Talkeetna station.

Meteorologists expected the heavy winds to create a whiteout through Wednesday at altitudes above 15,000 feet. The guided climbers were at an upper base camp at 14,000 feet Sunday and planned to stay put, Robinson said. They were asked to tell other climbers of the expected weather change.

A few additional climbers have contacted the National Weather Service with satellite phones and were warned of the storm.

The storm would be a stark contrast to the recent clear, warm weather around McKinley. Fathauer said he hopes those on the mountain have gotten the news and made it to safe locations.

"With luck everybody will get off alive," he said. "Cross your fingers."

The wind could make certain areas of the route to Mount McKinley's summit impassable.

Most climbers come prepared for nasty weather on McKinley and if the wind is bad enough, will hunker down and wait for the conditions to improve, rangers said.

The heavy winds are a high-altitude phenomenon.

"This system is not going to create strong winds at the surface, where people live and do things," said Bob Fischer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks.

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