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.
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:
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.
Memories are Everything