"I was literally being thrashed," said Ed Maginn, of Salt Lake City. ''I thought, 'Please let me hit something to put me out of my misery.' ''
Maginn, a 34-year-old Army Reserve officer, said he smacked into the hard snow countless times, often with his face, during the fall Thursday night.
Maginn was flown off the mountain to Anchorage early Friday afternoon, park officials said. He was treated at Alaska Regional Hospital and released. His most serious injuries appeared to be scratches on his corneas.
"I feel rough, but nothing's broken, and I'm getting around," Maginn told The Anchorage Daily News on Friday. "I thought I was dead. I've got a lot of thinking to do here."
Maginn, an experienced ski mountaineer, was skiing McKinley for the first time with two friends.
The Orient Express, next to the more popular West Rib route, is infrequently climbed. Fewer than 5 percent of the more than 1,200 climbers who annually attempt McKinley use it, said Daryl Miller, South District ranger for Denali National Park.
Since 1972, 15 men and women have died while descending it on crampons, according to the Park Service.
Maginn said he started skiing about 10:30 p.m. on Thursday and had already passed the hardest part of the route starting from the mountain's summit.
He hit a wind drift of snow at about 18,300 feet and fell. He was going too fast to stop as he kept trying to dig the special ax heads of his ski poles into the snow.
"Two times I hit incredibly hard," he said. "I wanted the next one to be the death blow."
Maginn's fall ended at 15,700 feet. His mouth and eyes were jammed with snow and his pack was beside him. He's not sure if he lost consciousness, he said.
His partners, the only witnesses to Maginn's fall, thought it was fatal, as did rangers they contacted by radio at a camp at 14,200 feet.
Rangers found Maginn as he was walking toward the camp, according to a statement from the park.
Park officials said his injuries are consistent with a long fall.
"He's pretty banged up for sure," spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said. "I don't think we have any doubt that he fell an incredibly long distance."
Maginn said he doesn't know if he'll return to McKinley.
"I haven't sorted everything out yet," he said.