Climbing News: Denali and Hood Deaths, Karakorum Season Starts

Motorcycle Hill
Motorcycle Hill

It has been a difficult few days in the mountains with several deaths that are hard to understand.

On the heels of 10 Everest deaths this season, the media has taken more than a casual interest in these climbing deaths. Interestingly however, they have not attracted the same frenzied calls for regulations, drugstore limits or boycotts that the deaths on Everest encouraged.

Four Killed on Denali

The largest event was reported on Mt. McKinley aka Denali where on June 14, 2012 four Japanese climbers were caught in an avalanche in an area not known for deadly events.

They were descending a slope named Motorcycle Hill, which is about a 35 degree angle, when the slide began. They tried to outrun it but the snow caught them as the climbers slipped down the snow ladened slope. All five climbers were traveling on the same rope, not uncommon. It is presumed they were pushed into into a deep crevasse from the avalanche.

One of the climbers, 69 year-old Hitoshi Ogi was able to climb out of the crevasse but his four teammates apparently died in the fall. They were Yoshiaki Kato, 64, Masako Suda, 50, Michiko Suzuki 56, and 63-year-old Tamao Suzuki, 63. This was the first attempt of Denali for any on the team. It is assumed they had not summited due to poor weather earlier in the week.

This is somewhat of a mystery in that Motorcycle Hill, while a bit steep is a well known part of the normal route on Denali’s West Buttress trade route. While avalanches can occur on this slope, they are not overly common.  What happened to the climbers is unclear but it was reported their rope broke, very unusual, and they could not stop the slide. The slide started at 11,800′, was 200′ wide and 800′ long. The debris pile was 3 to 4 feet.

I have climbed up and down this same slope many times and have never seen signs of avalanche danger. However, 2012 has been a high snow year with dangerous winds and temps all season reducing the normal 50+% summit percentage down into the mid 30% range.

When fresh snow occurs on this route, the standard process is to wait a day or two for it to settle and consolidate before climbing. But this technique is used for more deadly areas such as the Autobahn just above the 17,000′ High Camp or perhaps near Windy Corner. Both of these locations have seen avalanche related deaths in the past. This one is the first on Motorcycle Hill. Another avalanche was reported a few days earlier but much higher on the mountain with no incident.

A two day search was conducted including aerial and dog teams plus an exploration of the crevasse that Ogi fell into but yielded no success. My condolences to their friends and family.

These deaths bring the total to six on Denali this season.

Hogsback on Mt. Hood
Hogsback on Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

On Mt. Hood, 11,237′, in Oregon last Thursday, June 15 a very experienced climber, Mark Cartier, 56, of Portland fell to his death near the summit. It was reported he fell near 11,000 foot level into the area known as the Hogsback for a 1,000′. It is unclear what started the fall. He was climbing solo in excellent conditions.

I have climbed in that exact area and can attest that can be tricky. We climbed roped and one of our members fell but we were able to arrest his fall.

This is the second climbing death this season on Hood. I appreciate this balanced report by Portland’s KWCN of the death:

Karakorum News

In other climbing news the Karakorum season is underway with several teams attempting the big 8000 meter mountains of the Gasherbrum (s), Broad Peak and of course K2.

One climber to watch is Canadian Al Hancock who is climbing Broad Peak first to acclimatize then hoping to make short order of K2. This technique is a perennial favorite for some operators but rarely results in a K2 summit.

Also follow Brad Jackson who is blogging via his Facebook page as he attempts Broad Peak.

An interesting storyline is from Swedish climber Anneli Wester who wants to pitch her tent and sleep on the summit of Gasherbrum II

K2 continues to be on one of the most difficult 8000m climbs in the world. There are around 10 expeditions on K2 this summer.

A courageous winter effort by a very strong Russian team did not summit this past winter.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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6 thoughts on “Climbing News: Denali and Hood Deaths, Karakorum Season Starts

  1. Good point – hadn’t thought about it being 2 AM. Well, knowing the thoroughness of the Denali ranger’s staff I’m sure they will have a detailed report of the accident out at some point. Certainly a shock, condolences to the families.

    1. This was a statement in an article by NIGEL DUARA… supports the “in shock” theory and may explain why he went all the way down.

      “Ogi was the lowest person on the rope team. He looked for the other four but couldn’t find them.

      “He wasn’t sure of all the events,” McLaughlin said, adding that Ogi spoke through a translator and was exhausted.”

  2. Thanks Alan for posting. I left Hood 4 days prior to this accident to climb Shasta. Tho lot of new snow, it seemed like Hood was in great shape. I have friends on West Buttress right now, so all this hits very close to home.

  3. Mike, my best guess and only a guess is that given the cultural customs, he wanted to report the incident to what he considered the “authorities”. Since that would have meant climbing back up to 14K Camp for the Rangers, going down was the best option. It was 2:00 AM so the 11K Camp might have been quiet. Not sure about the glacier travel but it has been very cold so again, he might have felt it was frozen and safe – also I am sure he was in shock. A mystery in many respects.

  4. Alan, insightful report. I left this comment for Kraig Becker about his Denali post. We both have been scratching our heads. Your thoughts? – Terrible news. What I don’t get is this statement “The incident actually occurred last Wednesday, but it wasn’t until Thursday that Ogi managed to make his way down the mountain for help” The camp at the base of Motorcycle Hill is active, not to mention climber traffic up and down this section of Denali. Any idea why he descended all the way down to Kahiltna Basecamp? I’ve seen this reported in a few of the stories and I just don’t understand, seems like some major details are missing.

    All I can think of is that he must have descended with another climbing team, it would be extremely dangerous to solo this section as the area is loaded with crevasses.

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