Denali's busiest period of the year kicks off with multiple callouts for frostbitten, hypothermic climbers

Several climbers remain on the peak awaiting rescue as helicopters struggle to reach them (Image credit: Getty)

Memorial Day typically kicks off the busiest two-week climbing period of the year on Denali, and this week has kept mountain rescue teams for the National Park on their toes on North America's tallest peak. Rescuers have reportedly spent several days trying to reach and deliver aid to five climbers who are suffering from hypothermia and frostbite.

According to a news release from the National Parks Service, mountaineering rangers received an SOS message via a Garmin InReach satellite communication device at 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning reporting that a team of three climbers on the 20,310-foot summit was hypothermic and unable to descend.

"Rangers maintained two-way communications with the team until approximately 3:30 a.m., when the team texted that they planned to descend to the ‘Football Field’, a flat expanse at 19,600-foot elevation," states the report.

Park helicopters were unable to land in the area due to adverse weather conditions on Tuesday morning, so the Alaska Air National Guard was recruited. Their crews managed to spot two of the climbers at between 19,000 and 20,000 feet just before noon, while the third was located by a climbing guide near Zebra Rocks lower down. The helicopter was finally able to land at a camp at 14,200 feet at 5 p.m.

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Memorial Day typically kicks off the busiest two-week climbing period of the year on Denali (Image credit: Getty Images)

In a separate incident, two climbers had been receiving treatment for frostbite at a medical tent at the same camp for several days, and the helicopter was able to evacuate them by air before returning to attempt to reach the climbers higher up the mountain.

By 9 p.m., one of the three climbers had made their way down to the 17,200-foot high camp and was experiencing severe frostbite and hypothermia. An NPS ground team ascended from 14,200 feet and were ultimately able to evacuate the patient at around 10:15 p.m.

Clouds moved back into the area that evening and attempts to reach the remaining two climbers failed. As of Wednesday morning, they remained at the Football Field and rescuers were waiting for the weather to clear before trying to reach them again.

Just last week, a Japanese climber was found dead on Denali while a month ago, we reported on a New York forest ranger who died in a 1,000-foot fall while climbing in Denali National Park.

The NPS reports that there are currently 506 climbers attempting climbs on Denali. So far this season, 17 out of an additional 117 climbers have reached the mountain’s summit, equating to a 15 per cent summit rate.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.