Alaska snowstorm strands five on North America’s tallest peak

Mark Thiessen

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (AP) — Five people had to ski through a heavy Alaska snowstorm to a mountain chalet after abandoning their airplanes on a glacier on North America’s tallest peak, where they were stranded for the weekend, officials said on Monday.

The five landed last Friday in three separate small airplanes — a Cessna 180 and two Piper PA18s — on Ruth Glacier on Denali, said Maureen Gualtieri, a spokesperson for Denali National Park and Preserve.

A fast-moving storm prevented them from flying off the glacier, and they spent last Friday night in their airplanes at about 1,372 metres. They woke up last Saturday and realised they didn’t have enough resources to ride out the storm.

“That’s when they called for help,” Gualtieri said.

Two guides who work at the Sheldon Chalet about five and a half kilometres away were temporarily hired by the National Park Service to serve as a search and rescue team, guiding those who were stranded back to the chalet.

File photo of Denali, North America’s tallest peak, from an airplane flying over the Alaska Range. PHOTO: AP

“We contacted them there, and they had the requisite gear, and so brought them skis and harnesses and roped up with them and guided them back,” Gualtieri said.

The weather cleared on Monday, and she expected the five to be flown off the 6,190-metre mountain, which is about 426 kilometres north of Anchorage.

But their aircraft will remain on Denali for now because the storm dumped up to one metre of snow on the glacier, she said. And when they do return for the planes, there will be some hard work to do to get them off the mountain.

“It’ll probably be a larger effort than just getting back in the aircraft and flying out,” she said. They will “maybe go in with some more people and snowshoes and make for a runway out there in the glacier”.

And how does someone make a runway in one metre of new snow?

People would likely have to stomp out a runway with their snowshoes, she said.

None of the five people was injured, and the airplanes were not damaged when they left them last Saturday.