Mount McKinley climbing season begins, claiming first victim

The climbing season on North America's tallest mountain has barely begun, and already Mount McKinley has claimed its first victim.

The National Park Service reported Friday that a 61-year-old William Hearne died on the approach climb along Kahiltna Glacier to the 14,000-foot camp on the mountain.

The terrain on the way to 14,000 feet is not overly steep, but the ever-increasing altitude from base camp at 7,200 takes a toll on even the most physically fit.

Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin reported Hearne, of Fairport, N.Y., was with a guided expedition traveling near Windy Corner on Thursday when he collapsed and then died, apparently of natural causes.

Windy Corner is named for the ferocious winds that sometimes develop there, but it is beautiful place when the weather is mild. It was reportedly a good day for climbing there Thursday, with winds of less than 20 mph and the temperature around zero.

Hearne was with six members of an expedition guided by Mountain Trip. They were ferrying supplies upward from an informal campground at 11,200 feet, below what is called Motorcyle Hill, and it is standard to carry equipment from that camp to just past Windy Corner, cache it, then return to camp to rest for the day.

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