It could take up to two weeks to recover the body of Tacoma doctor Sylvia Montag, who died in a fall May 5 on Mount McKinley in Alaska.
Denali National Park and Preserve officials believe Montag, 39, died after falling 800 to 1,000 feet while descending from Denali Pass at 18,200 feet on the 20,322-foot Alaskan peak.
Montag had been climbing with Mike Fuchs, 34, of Berlin, but their attempt to summit was halted by a storm. The two became separated while attempting to come down from the pass. Fuchs was able to make it to a park rescue cache at 17,200 feet. He was eventually flown off the mountain by helicopter.
In order to safely recover Montags body, the parks mountaineering patrol members need to be acclimated to work that elevation.
Our most acclimated rangers are currently at 14,200 feet assembling our rescue camp, park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said Monday. In the next week, or possibly two depending on weather, they will ascend to the 17,200-foot camp, then perform the recovery.
While a medical examiner will determine her cause of death, Gualtieri said Montag likely died of traumatic injuries incurred in the long, tumbling fall.
As for what caused her fall, we can't know for certain since it was not witnessed, Gualtieri said. However, we have unfortunately seen quite a few falls in this particular stretch of the route.
There have been 12 fatal falls from Denali Pass, 11 of which occurred on the descent, she said.
Factors that contribute to falls include fatigue, high winds, hard-packed snow or icy terrain, and the 35-45 degree slope of the terrain that is traversed on a diagonal.
If a climber is unroped and not clipped into fixed protection such as pickets (aluminum stakes driven into the snowpack that catch the rope in a fall), then it is very difficult to self-arrest a fall. The slope is steep and the snow is very hard packed and difficult to find purchase with an ice axe, the park spokeswoman said.
Montag had worked as a urologist for MultiCare Health System from August 2012 until she left for the climb in April.