Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Accidents in the Alaska Range

Weather and conditions have been good on Denali this week, but that has also created hard packed slopes in some areas and avalanche conditions in others.

Late Wednesday night, a rope team of four climbers fell near Denali Pass at 18,000 feet.  The accident resulted in the death of two climbers and injured the two other climbers.  The two injured climbers were placed in rescue litters and lowered to High Camp at 17,200' for overnight medical care and were flown off the mountain Thursday morning.  The cause of the fall is unknown at this time and the weather was clear with relatively calm winds. No names have been released as of 5:20pm.  See below for Denali National Park's Press Release.  For an article, click here

The second accident happened on Mount Frances (also in Denali National Park) when an avalanche swept away two climbers.  Jiro Kurihara from Canada and Junya Shiraishi  from Japan were last seen May 21 at the Talkeeta Basecamp at 7,200 feet.  When the climbers had not returned to their campsite May 23, NPS staff skied to the western face and tried unsuccessfully to spot the climbers with a spotting scope.  On the morning of May 25, a NPS helicopter spotted the remains of the two climbers in the avalanche debris. 

Denali Pass

National Park Service Press Release
Date: May 26, 2011

A fatal climbing fall at Denali Pass on Mt. McKinley took the lives of two mountaineers late Wednesday night May 25, while two other members of the climbing team were flown to area hospitals with critical injuries early the morning of May 26.

Mountaineers at the 17,200-foot high camp reportedly witnessed the four-person rope team fall from Denali Pass near 18,000 feet at approximately 11:00 pm Wednesday night. An expedition of Air National Guard pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron responded to the fallen climbers and confirmed that two of the four had died in the fall. The other two patients were placed in rescue litters and lowered to the 17,200-foot high camp for emergency medical treatment. One patient was responsive and in stable condition with a broken leg and head injury. The second patient was non-responsive with labored breathing; the Air National Guard medics at high camp worked throughout the night to maintain the patient’s airway.

At 4:15 am on Thursday, May 26, Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter flew to the 17,200-foot high camp and evacuated each patient separately. They were flown to the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp to two awaiting LifeMed air ambulances.

Details on the cause of the fall are unknown. Weather at the time of the accident was clear with relatively calm winds. The four-person rope team was beginning the traverse from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp along a 45-degree slope of very hard, windblown snowpack. This fall occurred in the same vicinity as the fatal fall of an unroped Italian climber on May 16.

Names of the climbers involved in the fatal accident are being withheld pending notification of family and friends.

National Park Service Press Release
Date: May 25, 2011

Two overdue climbers on Mt. Frances were confirmed dead after Denali National Park mountaineering rangers located their remains in avalanche debris near the base of the 10,450-foot peak. Jiro Kurihara, age 33 of Canmore, Alberta, Canada and Junya Shiraishi age 28 of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan were attempting a new route on the west face of Mt. Frances, a commonly climbed technical peak just north of the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp, when the avalanche occurred.

The two men were last seen at the Kahiltna Basecamp on May 21. When they had not returned to their campsite by May 23, NPS rangers skied to the western face with a spotting scope, but did not observe the two climbers. On the morning of Tuesday, May 24, mountaineering rangers on board the park’s contracted A-Star B3 helicopter did an aerial search of the peak and identified one body lying in avalanche debris, with a partially buried rope attached. Rangers flew back to the debris zone early Wednesday morning May 25 when the colder morning temperatures created a safer recovery operation. Rangers were able to locate and recover the bodies of both men using helicopter shorthaul technique.

Kurihara and Shiraishi had flown into the Alaska Range on April 27 with original plans of climbing the Cassin Ridge of Denali. The team had recently completed a successful ascent of Denali’s West Buttress route when the accident occurred.

According to park records, these are the first two fatalities to occur on Mt. Frances.

On the West Ridge of Frances, looking down on the Kahiltna Glacier. (file photo)

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