ANCHORAGE — A man trying to climb North America’s highest mountain fell 40 feet (12.2 meters) into a glacier crevasse and got wedged into the ice, forcing rescuers in Alaska to drop into the narrow hole one by one to chip him out.
Martin Takac, 38, of Trmava, Slovakia, was in critical condition Tuesday with suspected trauma injuries and hypothermia after it took crews 14 hours to lift him out of the deep crack on 20,310-foot (6,190-meter) Denali.
He was one of two climbers rescued in separate incidents Monday by Denali National Park rangers. They also came to the aid of Michael Metzler, 23, of Carnation, Washington, a solo climber who fell ill.
Takac fell into the crevasse at 7,800 feet (2,377 meters), and a professional guide, Mountain Trip co-owner Bill Allen, and two assistants tried to rescue him but the force had wedged him into the glacier.
They radioed park rangers at 1:30 a.m. Monday. A helicopter flew in five rescuers hours later.
The crevasse was wide enough for only one person to descend at a time. The five took turns dropping in to cut away at the ice, requiring them to free Takac while making sure he was secured by rope.
“He could have fallen in deeper,” National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said. “That’s one of the first things they address in a crevasse rescue.”
In the meantime, the pilot flew Metzler, the ill solo climber, to an airport, and he was transferred to an ambulance.
Bad weather kept the helicopter on the ground for a few hours. When conditions improved Monday afternoon, it flew back to the crevasse with more three more rescuers armed with power tools to chip away the ice quicker.
They freed Takac at 3:30 p.m. and he was flown to a hospital.
Low snow on the lower glacier of Denali has left open crevasses that are hard to detect, the park service said. Climbers are warned to travel while roped to companions and to use snowshoes or skis to distribute their weight, which can prevent breaking through a thin layer of snow over a crack.
Takac was not using ropes. His rescue was the second from a Denali crevasse this year of a person not roped to others. A climber fell May 26 a bit lower on the mountain.
As of Monday, the park service had registered 1,084 mountaineers to climb Denali this year, and 527 were on the mountain. The agency said 386 climbers had completed their climbs, and 122 people had reached the top.