Disaster at 18,200 feet

On a mountain top, 2 climbers assist a sick climber while one observes from afar.

Hokyoung Kim for Insider

The story of what really happened when a mountaineer fell 1,000 feet while summiting North America’s tallest peak, Denali

None of them noticed the fall. One moment, Adam Rawski was with them on the mountain. The next, he was gone.

It was May 24, 2021, around Day 15 of their trek up Denali, North America’s tallest peak. There was Grant Wilson and Sarah Maynard, Alaska natives and close friends since high school who were now in their early 20s; Rawski, a 31-year-old clean technology executive from Canada, who had befriended them on the mountain a week earlier; and Dr. Jason Lance, a 48-year-old radiologist from Utah who had paired up with Rawski at the last minute after both of their climbing partners turned back.

The four had hoped to summit that day. But Rawski was exhausted and showing signs of altitude sickness. He couldn’t go any further. Just over a thousand feet from the summit, they had no choice but to stop and turn back.

Now on the descent, at around 18,200 feet, they had just crossed Denali Pass, a relatively flat, open snowfield with sweeping views of the Alaska Range and surrounding wilderness. In front of them lay the Autobahn, a notoriously dangerous icy slope that descends 1,000 feet. At least 13 deadly falls have been recorded here since 1980.

The Autobahn’s terrain can vary from rock solid ice to several feet of snow. If climbers lose their footing and fall, there’s nothing to slow their momentum and prevent a fast and almost certainly fatal tumble down the slope. It’s said some German climbers died at this spot years ago, which is how it became known as the Autobahn — as in, Germany’s highway with no speed limit.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about the

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