Two Colorado Guides Receive Award for Bravery Following Rescue of Denali Climber

by Amy Myers

Five years ago, two Denali mountain climbing guides awoke in the middle of the night to a climber in distress, and what was a terrifying situation at the moment turned into one of courage and commitment. Now, the guides behind the rescue have received formal recognition for their efforts, the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Citizen’s Award for Bravery.

The rescue took place on June 5, 2017, when the team of guides from Mountain Trip were leading a group of climbers through Mount Denali, the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet and recognized as one of the Seven Peaks for mountain climbers.

When guides Karl Welter and Erin Laine found someone outside of their group in need, they didn’t hesitate to help. As they found out, a climber had fallen into a crevasse and was still alive and responsive. Fourteen hours into a harrowing operation, they were able to help free the man and get him to an emergency helicopter en route to a nearby hospital.

Naturally, this effort warranted plenty of praise and recognition which is why the DOI wanted to honor Welter and Laine in a way they won’t soon forget.

“The DOI’s most prestigious recognition, the award was presented last week at the 76th Departmental Honor Award Convocation ceremony in Washington by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland,” the release said.

How the Mountain Guides Rescued the Denali Climber From a Life-Threatening Situation

At the time of the accident, the group was making its way up the West Buttress. According to the guide service, this route isn’t the most technical way to summit Denali, however, it still requires a great deal of mountaineering skills to traverse crevasses and moderately steep terrain. The entire trip takes roughly three weeks to complete.

“Extreme winds, heavy snowfall and arctic cold all conspire to make it a serious undertaking. If you want to climb Denali, you need to be in top physical shape and prepared to suffer with a smile,” Mountain Trip shared on its site.

The night of the rescue, the team had set up camp and settled in for the night. A little after midnight, they heard someone calling for help. When they unzipped their tents, they found a distraught international climber who reported that “his partner had fallen into a crevasse without a rope and vanished,” the news release stated.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the climber, 38-year-old Martin Takac of Trmava, Slovakia, had fallen 40 feet into the crevasse. After contacting park staff, Welter and Laine tried to extract the man.

“They then attempted to rescue him from the narrow crevasse, however extraction proved difficult. Due to the force of the fall, Takac and his gear had wedged tightly into the ice in a contorted position with minimal room to excavate in the confined space,” the NPS reported. 

Hours later, five NPS rescuers arrived, taking turns descending into the crevasse and chip away at the ice to free the climber. Takac sustained critical injuries from the fall, but he was out of harm’s way and on the way to medical treatment.