What Led to a 1K-Foot Fall on Denali

Kelsey Vlamis explores the fateful ascent attempt in a piece for Insider
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2022 8:20 AM CDT
2 Men Tried to Ascend Denali. Then It All Fell Apart
Denali.   (Getty Images / RobsonAbbott)

At Denali's 14 Camp, some climbers decide to call it quits. It's where the upper mountain begins, and where the already challenging journey to the Alaskan summit becomes even more treacherous. It's a decision made for safety's sake, but as Kelsey Vlamis explains in a lengthy piece for Insider, it can trigger an unsafe situation. Climbers who lose partners (the mountain is too dangerous to climb alone) will pair up into new teams—"strangers won't know the skill level or risk tolerance of their teammates, or be able to spot when the other person is sick or exhausted." That's what happened on May 23, 2021. Adam Rawski's partner left, so the 31-year-old teamed up Jason Lance, 48, who was in the same situation. They decided to attempt a summit the next day. It ended with one person in a coma and the other charged with crimes.

At various points on the ascent, the two met up with Grant Wilson and Sarah Maynard, whom Rawski had met on the mountain. As they all got higher, Rawski's condition sharply deteriorated, to the point where they had to turn back. Getting down meant descending the Autobahn, "a notoriously dangerous icy slope that descends 1,000 feet." Climbers are urged to rope up for protection. The group says one minute Rawski was there, and the next he had silently vanished—and then they spotted him, 1,000 feet below. He hadn't been roped. Rawski ended up being one of the few people to survive such a fall (though he was in a coma for two months). Vlamis details the other three's struggle to get down the Autobahn, which ended with Lance requesting a rescue that Wilson and Maynard said wasn't needed. He ended up charged with misdemeanors. (Read the fascinating story.)

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