Rangers search for solo climber on Denali

A tall snowy mountain, its peak peaking out through the clouds.
Denali Pass is the V-shaped notch in the upper left quadrant, at 18,200 feet. Matthias Rimml was last heard from Saturday, April 30, when he told a friend via satellite phone that he was just below Denali Pass. (NPS Photo/Jeff Pflueger)

The National Park Service is searching for a solo climber on Denali, after he failed to check in with a friend by satellite phone for several days. 

The search started Wednesday. According to the park service, 35-year-old Matthias Rimml left his camp at 14,000 feet altitude on Denali’s West Buttress late last week, intending to summit the mountain and return to camp in one day. 

“Already acclimatized to altitude due to recent climbs, the soloist’s strategy was to climb alpine style, or travel fast with relatively light gear,” said a statement Thursday from the park service.

Park service spokesperson Maureen Gualtieri said Rimml was last heard from Saturday afternoon, when he called a friend on his satellite phone with about 2,000 feet left to climb. He said he was tired, but not in distress.

“It sounds like, from his friend, he had at least a sleeping bag and a stove with him,” Gualtieri said. “He had listed other items he intended to take to the summit on his registration sheet like climbing, protection — a picket, an ice screw, some rope. I’m not sure what else beyond that he had with him but it does sound clear that he had not intended to overnight … He did not have a tent, for instance.”

Rimml had been periodically checking in with his friend on his climb, according to the statement. His friend alerted the park service on Tuesday after several days passed with no word from Rimml.

Gualtieri said temperatures on the upper mountain have been around 25 to 30 degrees below zero during the day. About five inches of snow has fallen on the upper mountain since Saturday.

A park service helicopter and mountaineering rangers conducted searches Wednesday and Thursday. The helicopter landed at Rimml’s tent site at 14,000 feet on Thursday and rangers confirmed he had not returned to camp.

Rimml is reportedly an experienced mountain guide from Austria with search and rescue experience. He is the first registered climber to attempt Denali this season, and is alone on the upper part of the mountain, according to the park service. 

Gualtieri said searchers are hopeful Rimml is still alive.

“We’ve had a handful of remarkable survival stories in the Alaska Range so we’re certainly not ruling that out at this point,” she said. “We are actively searching for him.”

Gualtieri said the park service planned to continue searching Thursday evening or Friday.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.