Newton doctor dies in fall from mountain

Adventurer was climbing Mount McKinley

By Martin Finucane and Calvin Hennick
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / June 13, 2009
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He had climbed Mount Everest and Mount McKinley, won the respect of colleagues at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, and was known for his drive for excellence.

On Thursday, Dr. John Mislow and his climbing partner died while scaling Alaska's Mount McKinley after falling about 2,000 feet, the National Park Service said.

Mislow, 39, of Newton, and Dr. Andrew Swanson, 36, of Minneapolis, were roped together when they fell shortly before 2 p.m., the park service said in a statement.

Another climbing team saw them falling between 16,500 feet on the Messner Couloir and its base at 14,500 feet. The Messner Couloir is an hourglass-shaped snow gully with a 40- to 50-degree snow and ice slope that is sometimes used by advanced skiers, the park service said. It is rarely descended or ascended on foot.

"Some people come down that couloir, but most typically on skis, not typically on foot, like they appear to have been at that time," said Maureen McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Denali National Park, where the mountain is located.

Three skiers in the area were the first to get to the climbers. A team of volunteer rangers, including an emergency room nurse and two medics, quickly arrived and confirmed the two men had died, the service said.

The two men began their climb of McKinley's West Rib on May 30. It was unclear if they were climbing up or down the 20,322-foot mountain when the accident occurred.

Mislow had graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago in 2004, according to the state Board of Registration in Medicine.

Mislow and his wife have two children. "He loved being a dad," said Arthur L. Day, chairman of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"He was a terrific person, an inspiration. He had a great work ethic," Day added. "When he was your doctor, you knew he was going to be there with you day or night, completely committed."

Mislow was in the fifth year of a seven-year neurosurgery residency. He had a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. and medical degree from the University of Chicago.

Day said he remembered Mislow talking about his climbing expeditions. "He was an adventurer, and that was another thing that made him so unique and interesting."

Last month, neighbors noticed camping equipment in his yard, apparently in preparation for his Mount McKinley climb.

The Park Service said both Mislow and Swanson were experienced mountaineers. The Denali National Park presented the two men with the Denali Pro Award in 2000, recognizing their achievements in safety, in self-sufficiency, and for assisting fellow mountaineers.

Eric Meyer, who joined Mislow in a 2004 ascent of Mount Everest, said he remembers Mislow as a careful climber.

"He was a very meticulous planner," Meyer said. "He would go to great lengths to plan his climbing approach in the mountains, his tactics. He was not one of these sort of fly-by-night people. He was very methodical, very calculated."

Although Meyer made only one trip with Mislow, he said he remembers Mislow for his enthusiasm.

"He had a very infectious love of climbing and a very charismatic, upbeat approach to climbing," Meyer said. "He was a joy to be around up in the mountains."

McLaughlin said that two other climbers have died this year on Mount McKinley, and that four climbers died last year.

"It's definitely experienced climbers that come here," she said. "It certainly has its dangers."

It was the second time in less than two months that a doctor with ties to the Brigham died in an accident. Phyllis Jen, the popular medical director of a major physicians' group at the Brigham, died April 21 after she was involved in a head-on car crash near her home in Needham. Jen, an internist, had served for the past 27 years as medical director of Brigham Internal Medicine Associates.