John Mislow 06-11-09
Andrew Swanson

Two climbers die in fall on Mount McKinley


Published: June 12th, 2009

Two climbers died Thursday when they fell thousands of feet on Mount McKinley, the National Park Service said.

They were identified as Dr. John Mislow, 39, of Newton, Mass., and Dr. Andrew Swanson, 36, of Minneapolis.

The climbing partners were roped together and fell at least 2,000 feet to their deaths on the Messner Couloir. Another team saw them fall from the 16,500-foot elevation to 14,500 feet, a statement from the Park Service said. But where the pair started falling is not known yet, said spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin.

The doctors were considered experienced climbers. In 2000, when they made their first and only other trip to the mountain, the Park Service gave them an award for safety, self-sufficiency and assisting other mountaineers. They helped other teams in distress, the service said.

The two men were alone and began their climb of the West Rib on May 30. It was unclear if they were on their way up or down the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. The Messner Couloir is not a route typically used to ascend or descend the mountain. It is a steep snow gully that drops from 19,000 feet to the 14,200-foot basin. It has been increasingly popular with skiers, but the men did not have skis with them, McLaughlin said. She said it's possible they were traversing the ridge.

The Park Service was still gathering information to determine exactly what happened. McLaughlin said they will interview any teams that may have run into the pair, but it's possible officials will never know why they were on the Messner Couloir or why they fell.

The weather Thursday was good -- with clear skies and light breezes, McLaughlin said.

Three skiers were the first to get to the fallen men. A team of rangers, including medics, arrived shortly thereafter and confirmed the climbers died in the fall.

Rangers recovered the bodies in a helicopter Thursday night.

Swanson, an orthopedic surgeon, worked at a private clinic in Mankato, Minn.

Mislow was a fifth-year neurosurgery resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. He had climbed or at least attempted to climb Mount Everest, according to the alumni Web site for Princeton University, where he got his undergraduate degree.

Mislow's hospital put out press release calling Mislow "a brilliant surgeon and researcher as well as a devoted spouse, father and friend."

Climbing of North America's highest peak is in full swing now, with 339 climbers on the mountain. Typically about 1,100 people attempt it every year. The average length of stay is 18 or 19 days, McLaughlin said.