5 stranded near base of Denali rescued with help from Sheldon Chalet guides

Tourists hike back from Ruth Glacier to Sheldon Chalet in 2018 near the base of Denali in Alaska.
Tourists hike back from Ruth Glacier to Sheldon Chalet in 2018 near the base of Denali in Alaska.(Chris Burkard |
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 10:20 AM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 4:42 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The five people who were stranded on Ruth Glacier near the base of Denali over the weekend have been rescued with the help of guides from the Sheldon Chalet, a small resort 10 miles from the mountain’s summit.

A press release issued on Tuesday by a public relations representative for the chalet stated that the stranded group and two guides who led them off the glacier are safe. While initial attempts to dig out the group’s planes were unsuccessful, the pilots and passengers are now back safely in Anchorage.

The initial Alaska State Trooper dispatch issued on Saturday stated that the group had flown to Ruth Glacier on Friday. The group was forced to spend the night atop the glacier due to inclement weather making it unsafe to fly off the mountain.

The group was said to be at an altitude of approximately 4,500 feet.

The dispatch said the group had limited survival resources, which led them to request a rescue. However, the National Park Service requested help from troopers due to a lack of aerial resources.

At around 11:16 a.m. Saturday, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center contacted state troopers to assist with the search and rescue. The dispatched noted five people and three aircraft were stranded on the glacier at the base of Denali.

The Sheldon Chalet release said the group included three pilots and two passengers.

Between the state troopers, rescue center and park services, the agencies arranged an emergency hire for several guides to hike to the group during the inclement weather conditions, according to the trooper dispatch.

Robert Sheldon, co-owner of Sheldon Chalet, reported two possible windows to fly, if they could dig their planes out and snowshoe pack a runway. Conditions ultimately did not improve enough for them to take off, leaving them stranded, according to the resort’s release.

As a result, Sheldon Chalet requested the help of experienced glacier guides Nick Jenkins and Kathryn Walsh to hike more than 4 miles to reach the stranded pilots and visitors. The passage to the group’s location required the guides to descend 2 miles, trek through about one-third of a mile of ice chasms and another 2-mile hike down the gorge to the group, according to the resort’s release.

The guides reached the stranded group three hours later at 5 p.m. Saturday. Together over the course of 4.5 hours, they hiked to the Sheldon Mountain House, a rustic structure that is separate from the chalet .

“To put one’s life at risk to save another is the penultimate in selflessness,” Sheldon said. “For our guides to continue to carry that courage through to today resonates deeply with our family, and we’re eternally grateful.”

The group was welcomed to the house with hand-delivered meals and stayed the night.

The release said within the following 18 hours, more than three feet of snow fell, which half-buried the aircraft. The group was forced to stay at the mountain house Sunday night as well, in hopes of better luck on Monday.

However, during that same night, the release said gorge winds shifted snow to further encase the planes.

On Monday, the group was picked up by a plane from Talkeetna Air Taxi and taken to their aircraft. According to the release from the chalet, attempts Monday morning to dig them out were initially unsuccessful, but Denali National Park reported in a Wednesday press release that the pilots were able to fly the three planes back to Anchorage on Monday, “without further incident.”

Editor’s note: the story was updated to provide additional information from a Shelton Chalet press release. This story has also been updated with supplemental information from the Denali National Park that the group made it back to Anchorage on Monday.

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