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Four Japanese climbers feared dead after avalanche on Mount McKinley

Four Japanese climbers feared dead after avalanche on Mount McKinley
Anchorage Daily News
By Kyle Hopkins
June 17, 2012

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 popular 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 the mountain since four Canadian climbers were killed in a 1992 fall high on the mountain, 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 the last climber on the rope line and the highest on the mountain when his friends vanished. He walked and climbed to the surface of the crevasse following the fall, McLaughlin said. When he found no sign of his companions he spent much of the day making his way 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, and 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.

The Consular Office of Japan in Anchorage worked to provide information to the climbers' families following the accident, an official with the office said Saturday.

All five mountaineers appeared to be making their first attempt to climb the 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 Mount McKinley's West Buttress.

"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 some avalanche activity," she said. McLaughlin was not aware of any previous avalanche deaths in the area.

Another slide was reported earlier in the week higher on Denali, at about 15,500 feet, she said. That avalanche resulted in injuries but no deaths.

On Denali, falls kill climbers far more often than snow slides, according to Park Service records. Descents high on the mountain are particularly deadly, said Daryl Miller, a retired mountaineering ranger who worked in the area for 17 years.

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. Overall, the weather was not unusually bad for Denali and began to clear up on Thursday, McLaughlin 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, she 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.
Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at


Four Japanese climbers believed dead in Alaska avalanche

Four Japanese climbers believed dead in Alaska avalanche
* Could be worst climbing accident on McKinley since 1992
* Avalanche hit(s) the most commonly used path on the mountain
By Yereth Rosen
June 16, 2012

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, June 16 (Reuters) - Four Japanese climbers are presumed dead after they were swept up by a powerful avalanche on Alaska's Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak, the National Park Service said on Saturday.

Authorities said one man in the group survived and hiked down to get help. The avalanche struck early on Thursday, but searchers working that day and on Friday found no bodies or climbing gear, the Park Service said.

"We say 'presumed dead' because we haven't found their bodies," said Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, where the mountain is located. "We are still up there looking today."

If all four are dead, it would be the worst climbing accident on McKinley since 1992, when four Canadian climbers were killed in a fall, McLaughlin said.

The missing climbers were identified as Yoshiaki Kato, 64; Masako Suda, 50; Michiko Suzuki, 56; and Tamao Suzuki, 63. All are from Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, the Park Service said. They were part of a five-member Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation expedition, and were descending at the time of the accident.

The sole survivor in the group was Hitoshi Ogi, 69, also from Miyagi Prefecture, the Park Service said.

The avalanche struck on McKinley's West Buttress route, the most commonly used path to climb up and down t he mountain. The site was about 11,800 feet (3,600 meters) up the 20,320-foot (6,200-meter) mountain, at a point called "Motorcycle Hill."

The area is fairly steep, with a slope of about 35 degrees, and prone to avalanches. But there had not been any avalanche fatalities there until now, McLaughlin said.

Ogi was likely saved by falling into a crevasse, where the avalanche debris swept over him but did not bury him, McLaughlin said. Ogi, who suffered minor injuries, looked unsuccessfully for his climbing partners, then descended to the mountain's 7,200-foot (2,200-meter) elevation base camp to ask for help, she said.

All five were roped together, but the rope broke in the avalanche, McLaughlin said.

"His partners may have fallen into the same crevasse he was in, or they may have continued further down and fallen into another crevasse," she said.

The avalanche was about 200 feet (61 meters) wide, and it slid about 800 feet (245 meters) down the mountain, she said.

Park rangers and volunteers, now equipped with a search dog, will continue to probe the avalanche site on Saturday, McLaughlin said.

McKinley's climbing season runs from late April to early July. In a typical year, 1,200 to 1,300 climbers attempt to sc ale the peak.

Last month, in separate falling accidents, a German climber and a Finnish skier were killed on McKinley.
-Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Xavier Briand



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TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.



See yonder height! 'Tis far away -- unbidden comes the word "Impossible!"

"Not so," says the mountaineer.  "The way is long, I know; its difficult -- it may be dangerous."

"It's possible, I'm sure; I'll seek the way, take counsel of my brother mountaineers,
and find out how they have reached similar heights and learned to avoid the dangers."

He starts (all slumbering down below); the path is slippery - and may be dangerous too. 
Caution and perseverance gain the day
-- the height is reached! and those beneath cry, "Incredible! 'Tis superhuman!"

This is a passage we found on page 161 of "Scrambles Amongst the Alps" by Edward Wymper,
first published in 1871 and reprinted 1981 by Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated

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