ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Climbers poking around a high-elevation camp on Mount McKinley discovered a human foot sticking out of the snow. Rangers dug out the frozen corpse of a man who died 35 years ago. The body was that of Gary Cole, 32, of Cody, Wyoming, who died of acute mountain sickness June 19, 1969. Identification was made by his wedding band and a watch with a calendar dated June 1969. The grim discovery was made Friday.
While looking for supplies at a storage area at the camp site, climbers noticed what looked like climbing gear in the snow. A closer look revealed it was a foot in a sock.
At that elevation, the mountain is perpetually frozen, and Cole's body was fairly well-preserved after it was dug out. He will be buried on the mountain as requested by his family.
Cole was one of six climbers who had set out to stash supplies at the 17,200 foot-high camp before returning to a lower camp, where the men were to launch their ascent to the 20,320-foot summit. But a storm forced the party to remain at the high-elevation camp.
"When the storm broke the next day, we went for the summit," said Walter Vennum, 63, of Sebastopol, California.
Cole, however, was vomiting and decided to stay back with another climber. After making the ascent, the other climbers returned to the camp and slept for six hours. They awoke to find Cole unconscious, his lungs filling with fluid. An oxygen bottle revived Cole for a time, Vennum said. "But the oxygen ran out, and that was the end of him," he said.
An Army helicopter failed to reach the men June 18, according to a newspaper account. It returned the next day but never landed after the crew learned Cole had died.
"He had passed away and we had left him in a cave that was at 17,200 feet, and some of the other climbers went back up and buried him," said Henry Noldan, 74, of Wilmington, N.C. "We were all so exhausted, we couldn't take him down the mountain."
Of 93 people who have died on Mount McKinley since 1932, the bodies of 35 are still on the mountain, Park Service records show. The only one known to have been buried in the area of Friday's discovery was Cole.