Park City man among pair killed in Denali slide
May 23, 2007
Summit Park resident Brian Postlethwait was a skilled mountaineer who climbed difficult peaks in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
But on Friday the 32-year-old’s body was found on 7,650-foot tall Mount Barille in Denali National Park in the Alaskan Range, after Postlethwait and Salt Lake City resident Andre Callari, 33, were swept to their deaths by an avalanche, authorities say.
"This was not so-called pilot error," said Matt Theilen, a longtime climbing partner of Postlethwait who lives in Reno, Nev. "This was an accident."
Rescuers found the men’s bodies among snow and ice after the avalanche carried them nearly 2,000 feet down the mountain, Denali National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister said.
"It was pretty well traveled territory," said Theilen, who is 33 years old. "An avalanche took them out when they were up pretty close to the top."
As Postlethwait’s wife of eight months, Tara, who is a physical therapist, mourned her husband’s death, Theilen spoke to The Park Record about his friend.
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"He was the safest, most experienced climber ever, and it was just a freak accident," Theilen said. "Climbing has inherent dangers and then when you step into that kind of terrain, ice and snow and weather, there is a little bit more. But for the most part, it’s pretty safe."
Postlethwait and Callari, who were pilots for SkyWest Airlines, were climbing an alpine mixed route, comprised of rock, ice and snow.
"When he left I was concerned," Theilen said. "Whenever your partners go out and they do something really cool you always want them to be careful and be safe."
Still, he insists the men were comfortable on the modest Japanese Couloir route.
"This was not the novice guy going up Mount Everest with a guide," Theilen said, adding that it was Postlethwait’s first time climbing in Alaska.
Within 48 hours of arriving at Denali, the pair completed a popular climb called "Ham and Eggs," Theilen said.
"They had done this really great climb," he said.
But bad weather likely confined the men to base camp until they began climbing Mount Barille in the evening on May 15, Fister said.
"They are thinking [the avalanche] likely occurred last Tuesday," she said in a telephone interview Monday, adding that "we don’t know what triggered it."
This week Postlethwait was scheduled to return to Park City where he had lived for less than a year, Theilen said.
"The weather was good and I guess they decided to go up another route," he said. "[Postlethwait] went up there with goals to definitely go climbing, but when you go to a place like that, you have to play it by ear because the weather can change and you could sit up there for two weeks in your tent."
Climbers notified park rangers that Postlethwait and Callari hadn’t returned to camp on May 17, Fister said, adding that the men’s skis were found near the start of the climb.
"We couldn’t get in there until Friday evening," she explained. "It was really nasty weather."
The men’s bodies were found Friday but not removed from the mountain via helicopter until Saturday afternoon, Fister said.
Meanwhile, the two fatalities came after another pair of climbers, a man and woman from Washington state, fell to their deaths Thursday night while descending 20,320-foot Denali, the highest mountain in North America.
High winds prevented those bodies from being recovered until Saturday afternoon, Fister said, adding that the climbing season in Denali spans May and June.
"They certainly all had good skills," she said about the climbers killed in the park last week.
In 15 years of climbing, Theilen claims he never met a safer climber than Postlethwait.
"We had lots and lots of adventures together," he said. "He was the most motivated person I’ve ever known. He was the man."