A Slovakian climber is lucky to be alive after spending nearly 15 hours wedged deep in a crevasse on the Kahiltna Glacier atop North America’s tallest peak — Alaska’s Denali — earlier this week.
Per the Associated Press, 38-year-old Martin Takac, of Trmava, Slovakia, was in the process of descending after summiting Denali’s 20,310-foot peak when he slipped and fell into a crevasse at around 7,800 feet. According to Alaska Dispatch News (ADN), he fell into the glacier at about 1:30 a.m. on Monday.
Takac was part of a larger climbing group, who summoned climbing guides upon witnessing his fall into the crevasse. The guides subsequently called the Denali National Park mountaineering rangers to assist in rescuing the Slovakian mountaineer. Once rescuers arrived, they quickly realized just how severe of a situation Takac was in.
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ADN reports that Takac had fallen roughly 60 feet deep into the crevasse. The opening to the crevasse he fell into was roughly 3 feet wide, but the crevasse constricted as Takac descended. The AP reports that Takac tumbled with such force that he fell through spaces just inches across.
National Park Service mountaineering ranger Chris Erickson told ADN that the space where Takac’s fall eventually stopped was only “10 to 12 inches across” and that the space was so narrow, it was impossible for Takac to even turn his head.
“The walls of the crevasse were pretty smooth ice, so not a lot of friction,” Denali National Park mountaineering ranger Frank Preston told the AP. “When he fell, in there, he had enough speed and force that he was able to slide down through skinnier places than we could squeeze people down there.”
In order to reach Takac, rescuers had to spend hours chipping away at the glacier to open a space just barely big enough to get a rescuer underneath Takac. From that position, rescuers were able to cut off Takac’s snowshoes and extricate him from the crevasse around 3:30 p.m.
Preston told the Associated Press the rescue was “not for the claustrophobic.”
“[The rescuers] couldn’t turn their head. They couldn’t turn their hips,” Preston told the AP. “They couldn’t move their feet. Once you were pointed in one direction with your face or with your feet, you could not move without coming out of the crevasse.”
Preston was severely hypothermic upon his extrication and was immediately taken to the intensive care unit of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. ADN reports that on Tuesday, following the rescue, he was listed in serious condition.
Read more about climbing and the dangers of crevasses