National park rangers in Alaska on Friday located the body of the year’s first registered climber on North America’s tallest peak.
Because it’s so early in the climbing season, Matthias Rimml, a 35-year-old professional mountain guide from Tirol, Austria, was alone on the upper part of Denali, a 20,310-foot mountain about 240 miles north of Anchorage. The climbing season usually runs from May through mid-July.
Other climbers and rangers are camped below the 14,000-foot level.
Rimml hadn’t been considered overdue compared to his planned return date and food and fuel supply, according to Denali National Park and Preserve officials. However, a friend who had been receiving periodic check-ins from Rimml contacted mountaineering rangers Tuesday after not receiving a call for days, officials said in a statement.
Park officials said Rimml was already acclimated to the altitude because of recent climbs. He had planned to climb Denali “alpine style,” or traveling fast with light gear. His goal was to make the summit in five days even though he carried enough fuel and food to last 10 days.
The average Denali expedition is 17 to 21 days for a round trip, with climbers making the summit on day 12 or 13, according to the National Park Service.
Rimml began his climb April 27 from the Kahiltna Glacier base camp at 7,200 feet, officials said.
His last known call to his friend was on April 30, when he “reported being tired, but he was not in distress,” officials said. It was unclear whether he intended to climb higher or return to his camp at 14,000 feet.
Rimml reported his location as just below Denali Pass, at 18,200 feet elevation on the West Buttress, the most popular route for Denali climbers.
On Wednesday, a pilot and mountaineering ranger in a National Park Service helicopter looked for Rimml. Intermittent clouds didn’t allow a thorough search, but they did not see any signs of him.
They saw his tent at 14,000 feet but didn’t observe any recent activity, the statement said. High winds and poor weather prevented the helicopter from landing at the campsite, but the helicopter returned Thursday when weather was better. Rangers confirmed Rimml hadn’t returned to the tent.
Clouds prevented the helicopter from flying above 17,200 feet on Thursday, but park spokesperson Maureen Gualtieri told The Associated Press a helicopter with two rangers aboard took off Friday morning from Talkeetna, the nearest community, to resume the search.
Rimml’s body was spotted in the fall zone below Denali Pass during the aerial search, park officials said Friday evening in a statement.
Rimml likely fell on the steep traverse between Denali Pass at 18,200 feet (5,547 meters) and the 17,200-foot plateau, a notoriously treacherous stretch of the West Buttress route, officials said. Thirteen climbers, including Rimml, have died in falls along that traverse, the majority occurring on the descent, the statement said.
Recovery efforts will not be attempted until a national park ranger patrol is acclimated to the high altitude.
Weather conditions on the mountain have been cold, which park officials say is normal this time of the year. Daytime highs have been around minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit with winds at the two base camps registering up to 30 mph (48 kph). Five inches of new snow have fallen in the past week on the upper mountain.
On the website for his guide business, Rimml said he always has been close to mountains and nature.
He trained as a carpenter after receiving his high school diploma. In 2015, after he completed military service, Rimml switched to being a freelance ski instructor in Austria and outside Europe.
He became a professional mountain guide in 2015, the fourth generation of his family to do so, his biography states. His specialty was long, technically difficult combined tours.
“With over 700,000 meters of altitude in winter, 200,000 meters of altitude in summer, with well over 90,000 km by car and 130 overnight stays in mountain huts or bivouacs per year, I am constantly on the move with my guests in the mountain world,” he says on his bio.