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Thread: Fatal Denali Avalanche
06-16-2012, 05:54 PM #1
Fatal Denali Avalanche
Four Japanese mountain climbers are believed dead following an avalanche early Thursday morning on North America's tallest peak.
The 800-foot slide came at about 2 a.m. as the five-person team was roped together, descending a main route down Mount McKinley, according to the National Park Service. Four of the climbers, all in their 50s and 60s, disappeared in the snow.
The lone survivor is a 69-year-old man who fell about 60 feet down a crevasse -- a deep crack in the ice -- but scrambled to safety with no significant injuries.
"The rope had broken so he was separated from the rest of his team members," said Maureen McLaughlin, a Park Service spokeswoman in Talkeetna.
The slide appears to be the most deadly single accident on Denali since four Canadian climbers were killed in 1992 fall, according to Park Service records.
The avalanche began at about 11,800 feet, according to the Park Service. It was about 200 feet wide, piling roughly three to four feet of snow and debris on the glacier, McLaughlin said.
The survivor, Hitoshi Ogi, was able to walk and climb to the surface of the crevasse, she said. When he found no sign of his companions he spent much of the day climbing another 4,600 feet down the mountain, reporting the accident at the Kahiltna base camp shortly after 4 p.m.
"I don't know if he had a radio. He lost quite a bit of his gear in the crevasse," McLaughlin said.
"His hand was wrapped up and I'm not sure if that was frostbite or injury," she said.
A subsequent aerial search by Park Service rangers that evening found no sign of the missing climbers or their gear.
A team of about 10 searchers, including an avalanche rescue dog named Sisu, was on the mountain Saturday looking for the remains of the other four climbers, McLaughlin said. They are presumed dead because of the time that has passed since the slide.
The missing climbers, two men and two women, were identified as:
• Yoshiaki Kato, 64
• Masako Suda, 50
• Michiko Suzuki, 56
• Tamao Suzuki, 63
All are from Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, and members of a Japanese alpine club called Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation. McLaughlin said she did not know if Michiko Suzuki and Tamao Suzuki were husband and wife.
All appeared to be making their first attempt to climb Denali's 20,320-foot peak, according to the Park Service. Some of the group listed prior experience on peaks such as Kilimanjaro and Mount Fuji, McLaughlin said.
The climbers were descending an area known as Motorcycle Hill on the main route of the West Buttress of Denali.
"It's about a 35-degree slope, just a gradual climb. Generally snow and ice fields," McLaughlin said.
While not a particularly treacherous portion of the climb, the area is prone to avalanches, she said.
Another avalanche was reported earlier in the week on Denali at about 15,500 feet, she said. That slide resulted in injuries but no deaths.
So far this season, 234 people have reported reaching the 20,320-foot summit. The weather recently turned against mountaineers, however, and Park Service officials assume the Japanese expedition did not summit.
Winds of 25 to 45 mph and cumulative snowfall of about two feet over the past week or two has thwarted climbers' attempts to reach the mountaintop, McLaughlin said.
"The same rough weather conditions led to the avalanche conditions," she said.
Including the Japanese climbers, six people have died on Denali this season.
A Finnish mountaineer skiing down a 40- to 45-degree slope called The Orient Express died May 23 after tumbling 2,000 feet. The 36-year-old landed in a crevasse at 15,850 feet, according to the Park Service.
On May 18, a climber fell more than 1,000 feet to his death after trying to grab a sliding backpack at about 16,200 feet.
The Japanese expedition began its climb on or about May 26, according to the Park Service. The average expedition takes about 17 or 18 days, McLaughlin said.
The climbing season on Mount McKinley peaks in late May and early June, she said. As of Saturday, there were 395 climbers on the mountain. Most are on the West Buttress route.Baka wa shinanakya naoranai!