Denali climber found dead at 17,000 feet

Story highlights

  • The body of a 39-year-old climber has been found on Mount McKinley in Alaska
  • Heraldo Javier Callupan of Argentina, was found lying in the snow in a 17,200 foot high camp

(CNN)The body of a 39-year-old solo climber was discovered Sunday at the 17,200-foot high camp of Mount McKinley in Alaska's Denali National Park.

Heraldo Javier Callupan of General Roca, Argentina, appears to have died of unknown medical issues, according to the National Park Service, which reported his death Thursday. He was found lying in the snow in the middle of the camp plateau with no visible signs of trauma.
A two-person climbing team found Callupan's body shortly before midnight. His gear was found nearby, but he had not set up his tent, said NPS spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri.
    His is the first fatality this year on the 20,320 foot mountain, the highest peak in North America, Gualtieri said. Although its official federal name is Mount McKinley, the mountain is more commonly known to Alaskans and climbers by its indigenous name, Denali.
    Callupan began his ascent of the West Buttress route on May 1 and headed up to the 17,200 foot camp on May 6, according to other climbing parties at the mountain's 14,200 foot camp. According to NPS records, no one else was camped at the 17,200 foot plateau between May 6 and Sunday, when his body was found.
    Denali's high-camp plateau sits in the lower foreground of this photo, below the summit in the upper right.
    It took several days for park officials to verify Callupan's identity. NPS staff worked with the Argentine Consulate to notify Callupan's next of kin on Wednesday.
    Snowy and windy weather on the mountain also have delayed efforts to recover Callupan's remains. NPS mountaineering rangers will retrieve his body by helicopter once they are safely acclimatized to the altitude and when weather conditions improve -- probably not before the weekend, Gualtieri said.
    "We'll try to get up there as soon as is feasible," she told CNN.
    Callupan's remains will then be transferred to the Alaska State Medical Examiner's office, which will seek to determine a cause of death.
    The NPS has recorded 123 fatalities on Denali since 1932. The most common cause of death is climbing falls, followed by exposure, avalanches and acute altitude illness.
    "It's a very rigorous climb," Gualtieri said.
    208 climbers are on the mountain, according to NPS logs.
    Callupan was a mountain guide in South America and had climbed several other major peaks, Gualtieri said, although NPS records show this appeared to be his first ascent of Denali.