Yuto Inoue 2008-05-22
Tatsuro Yamada

Search ends for climbers
Japanese mountaineers vanished while following perilous route to summit

By BETH BRAGG, bbragg@adn.com, Published: May 30th, 2008

Mount McKinley reached a grim milestone Thursday.

One hundred people have now lost their lives climbing North America's tallest peak.

Park officials called off the search for two Japanese climbers missing since May 22, estimating they have been without food and water for as long as 14 days.

Tatsuro Yamada, 27, and Yuto Inoue, 24, are the latest to perish on McKinley and the first to die there this season. They were expected to return from a climb of the Cassin Ridge a week ago.

Of the 100 climbers who have died on the mountain since 1932, 17 have been from Japan.

Japanese climbers perish at an even higher rate when you include fatalities on other Alaska Range peaks, such as Foraker and Hunter. Nine of the 39 climbers who have died on peaks other than McKinley have been from Japan.

That means 19 percent of Alaska Range climbers who have gone up but have never come down are Japanese.

Darryl Miller, a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park, said many Japanese climbers attempt riskier, more difficult routes than the average climber, most of whom use the traditional West Buttress route to reach the 20,320-foot summit.

Yamada and Inoue were climbing the Cassin Ridge, which only a handful of climbers have indicated they will attempt this year, according to the Park Service.

"I do believe that the Japanese are very focused on climbing hard," Miller said. "A lot of skilled Japanese climbers and mountaineers come here."

Most of the Japanese fatalities on McKinley -- 14 of the 17 -- happened before 1991. Since then, climbers from foreign countries generally have come to the mountain better prepared because park rangers began translating informational material into eight languages, including Japanese.

Beginning in 1995, climbers were required to register with the Park Service 60 days before their climbs, which gave officials time to provide climbers with information.

"Before that, climbers more or less just showed up," Miller said. "We didn't have a way to deal with some of their questions until they got here, and they may or may not have prepared."

Since 1996, there have been 15 deaths on McKinley.

EXPERIENCED CLIMBERS

Yamada and Inoue were members of a group of Japanese climbers called the Giri-Giri Boys, who are pursuing mountaineering firsts around the globe.

A year ago in April, Yamada joined two other Giri-Giri members -- Fumitake Ichimura and Yusuke Sato -- to pioneer three difficult routes here on Ruth Gorge.

Yamada and Inoue spent about a month on McKinley before their disappearance. They climbed Mount Wake in the Ruth Gorge before joining Ichimura, Sato and Katsutaka Yokoyama on the West Buttress route.

From there, Yamada and Inoue went on to pursue the summit via the Cassin Ridge.

The other three men went on an Alaska Range climbing spree that left Miller, a veteran climber, shaking his head in amazement.

A new route on Buckskin Glacier to the Bear Tooth;

The Moonflower route on Mount Hunter;

The Isis Face on McKinley's south side;

After descending the South Buttress -- something rarely done -- they climbed the Czech Direct route, also called the Slovak Direct, to about 16,000 feet before traversing to the Cassin Ridge route on their way to the summit.

"What they did this season is so impressive, it's just hard to imagine. It's one of the all-time Alaska adventures," Miller said. "To do it in the style they did -- very fast, efficient, matter-of-fact -- is very ambitious."

Roger Robinson, a ranger who spent time with all five men at the 7,200-foot Kahiltna base camp, said the two teams planned to rendezvous near the summit.

Yokoyama's team made it to the top, descended safely and returned to Talkeetna.

Yamada and Inoue didn't.

Like the Yokoyama team, Yamada and Inoue intended to travel light and fast.

The last entry in a journal they left at their camp near the mouth of Kahiltna Glacier's Northeast Fork was dated May 9. Park Service rangers think they probably began their climb May 10, taking only a few days' worth of food and fuel for a trip they intended to make swiftly.

"We're guessing they took about five days of food and an extra day of fuel," Robinson said. "By the 17th, they would have really been hurting."

The search began the day after the pair's May 22 due date. It continued daily, using both airplanes and a high-altitude helicopter that scanned the men's climbing route for 33 hours on days when weather permitted flying.

Park Service officials believe Yamada and Inoue reached the upper elevations of the Cassin Ridge route. They saw several sets of footprints and a campsite at 17,000 feet. Tracks followed by a subsequent climbing party reportedly reached upward of 19,000 feet. (Tracks are indicated by the lower two arrows in the accompanying graphic; the top arrow is what officials believe was the climbers' tent site.)

At park headquarters in Talkeetna, rangers examined enlarged photos taken by the aerial searchers.

This is only the second time searchers have used high-resolution photographs to scan for missing climbers, said Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Denali National Park and Preserve.

Two years ago, a pair of women disappeared on Mount Foraker, and images were able to capture some tracks they left behind, she said. Stormy weather hampered the search, though, and the women weren't found.

In this case, McLaughlin said, airborne crews extensively photographed the mountain from 50-150 feet away using Nikon D80 digital cameras and zoom lenses in a more concerted, meticulous effort. The digital images were downloaded back at headquarters, then studied by adjusting the images' color and contrast to try drawing out tracks, ropes, or other visible gear, she said.

With their bodies still on the mountain, Yamada and Inoue share their icy tomb with one of Japan's most beloved adventurers, Naomi Uemura, whose 1984 death at age 44 is perhaps the most famous fatality in McKinley history.

A national hero in Japan, Uemera was the first person to mush alone with a dog team to the North Pole. He was one of the first Japanese to step on the top of Mount Everest. He walked across Greenland.

And in 1984, he was the first person to reach the top of McKinley in the winter -- though he didn't get credit for a successful summit because he vanished on the way down.

It's believed the wind may have knocked him off the mountain. No one knows for sure, because his body has never been found.

To this day, he remains an inspiration to Japanese adventurers.

"This mountain means a lot to the Japanese because Naomi -- his spirit -- is here," Miller said. "Many climbers have expressed that it's a special place because of Naomi. He is very revered. He will always be a hero to most of the Japanese."

Daily News reporter James Halpin contributed to this report. Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.

YAMADA'S AND INOUE'S CLIMB

Park Service officials believe Yamada and Inoue reached the upper elevations of the Cassin Ridge route, passing a series of rocky sections. Officials saw several sets of footprints and a campsite at 17,000 feet. Tracks followed by a subsequent climbing party reportedly reached upward at 19,000 feet.

Rangers suspend search for missing climbers

Published: May 29th, 2008

The National Park Service suspended the search for two missing Japanese climbers on the Cassin Ridge of Mount McKinley this morning after determining searchers were unlikely to locate the men.

Mountaineering rangers will continue using digital images collected during the last week to try to find the climbers or their remains.

Tatsuro Yamada, 27, and Yuto Inoue, 24, were expected to return from a climb of the Cassin Ridge a week ago. In a discussion with Denali rangers a month before their climb, Yamada and Inoue said they planned to take five to six days of food and fuel on the Cassin Ridge. Normally, teams making a quick, technical ascent of the route take minimal gear.

Based on the dated journal entries, the men probably left their camp at 7,800 feet as early as May 10. That means they have been without food and water as long as 14 days, and search managers consider survival impossible at subzero temperatures with limited supplies.

The National Park Service began planning the search on Friday, and from Saturday to Tuesday, searchers flew 33 hours in helicopters and airplanes. Neither the climbers nor any gear was spotted on or near the route. No evidence of a fall or disturbed snow was seen either, the Park Service said.

More than 3.000 high-resolution photos of the search zone were taken during these flights. Analysis of the enlarged and enhanced images will continue on the ground.

Park Service official believe Yamada and Inoue reached the upper elevations of the route. They saw several sets of footprints and a campsite at 17,000 feet. Tracks followed by a subsequent climbing party reportedly reached upward of 19,000 feet.

Also, during a low-level flight Wednesday, mountaineering rangers in the Park Service's Lama helicopter discovered tracks traversing the 5-mile length of the Kahiltna Peaks.

According to the journals Yamada and Inoue left in camp, the team had intended to approach their route via that knife-edge ridge, which tops out at 13,440 feet. The tracks follow the dramatic ridgeline and connect with the Cassin Ridge, indicating the duo accomplished a difficult and highly technical new variation on the traditional approach.

Search continues for missing climbers
MOUNT MCKINLEY: Clear weather and high-resolution images aid the hunt for overdue Japanese pair.

By GEORGE BRYSON, gbryson@adn.com, Published: May 28th, 2008

National Park Service rangers resumed their search Tuesday for two overdue Japanese climbers who were attempting to reach the summit of Mount McKinley up the challenging Cassin Ridge. Flying aboa

rd a fixed-wing aircraft under clear blue skies, the searchers took advantage of a second straight day of calm weather to retrace the route and photograph the mountain, park service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said.

The climbers have been identified as Tatsuro Yamada, 27, and Yuto Inoue, 24.

High-resolution images can detect fine details in the snow, including footprints, that someone in a plane using a spotting scope might not see, McLaughlin said.

"It's been helpful, both in terms of detecting things and not detecting things -- because then we can be more confident that we've thoroughly searched certain areas and we can focus on others," she said.

Yamada and Inoue are two of five Japanese climbers who camped together on the popular West Buttress route to get acclimated in early May, then split into two teams that approached the 20,320-foot summit by way of the icy south face.

Three of the men followed the Slovak Direct route to the summit, which they reached 10 days ago. The missing men -- who haven't been seen since May 9 -- were attempting to climb the mountain via the Japanese Couloir variation of the Cassin Ridge.

They began their climb from the northwest fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, possibly as early as May 10, and were expected to return no later than May 22, according to the park service.

High winds and blowing snow that raked the mountain earlier this month have made the search more difficult, McLaughlin said.

"There are areas where footprints may have been, but we'll never see them because of the snow conditions," she said.

Also Tuesday on Mount McKinley, a climber from the Czech Republic who froze his hands was airlifted by a high-altitude Lama helicopter from 14,000 feet to the 7,000-foot base camp. He was flown from there by plane to a hospital in Anchorage.

Zdenek Soldan, 44, was the fifth person evacuated from McKinley due to injuries since the climbing season began in late April.

Climbers in Denali National Park pay a $200 registration fee that covers part of the cost of potential rescues.

As of Friday, 1,156 people had registered to climb Mount McKinley this year. The climbing season ends in early July.

Find George Bryson online at adn.com/contact/gbryson or call 257-4318.

Empty camp spotted, but not climbers
MCKINLEY: Japanese pair on a tough ascent have been missing since Thursday.

By BETH BRAGG, bbragg@adn.com, Published: May 27th, 2008

Clear weather helped searchers take a closer look at Mount McKinley on Monday, but it didn't clear up the mystery of two climbers overdue since Thursday.

A high-altitude helicopter made its first extensive search Monday morning amid blue skies and mild winds, and a mountaineering park ranger aboard spotted the remains of a tent camp at 17,000 feet.

"This was our first sighting of it, and it does appear to be fresh, from this season," said Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the National Park Service. "We don't know of any other climbing teams that have been there, so that suggests the team made it through many of the hazards below -- but we can never be 100 percent sure of that."

Neither the Lama helicopter nor a fixed-wing Conquest 2 that searched the mountain three times Monday saw any other sign of the Japanese climbers, who are attempting to reach McKinley's 20,320-foot summit via the difficult Cassin Ridge route.

McLaughlin said spotters also saw footprints going up the mountain above the abandoned tent camp, but at least some of them were made by a different team of Japanese climbers.

Three men who took the Slovak Direct route to the summit -- a route that merges with the Cassin Ridge route at about 16,400 feet -- told rangers they saw the tent camp on May 17. If the camp at 17,000 feet belonged to the missing men, that means they made it up the daunting, nearly vertical rock climb called the Japanese Coulier, which goes from about 12,200 feet to 13,000 feet.

The three climbers who took the Slovak route have returned from their climb and are awaiting news of the overdue climbers. All five climbed part of the easier West Buttress route together earlier this month to acclimate themselves to high altitudes. Then one group headed off on the Slovak Route and the others took the Cassin Ridge route.

The search will continue today, provided the weather stays good, McLaughlin said. Prior to Monday, high winds and poor visibility limited search efforts to fixed-wing aircraft.

McLaughlin said each climber pays a $200 fee to the park service. Some of the money is used to educate climbers about the mountain, and some helps pay for ranger support on the mountain. The Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., pays for searches and rescues in national parks, she said.

The Lama was used a second time Monday when it attempted to evacuate a climber being treated for frostbite at the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress. The helicopter turned back amid increasing clouds, and the climber remained on the mountain.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.


2 climbers lost in 2008 are found on Denali
MCKINLEY: Two men found during search for missing doctor.

By JAMES HALPIN, jhalpin@adn.com

Published: June 5th, 2009

Searchers combing through high-resolution photos of Mount McKinley in the hunt for the body of a doctor who has been missing for weeks have instead discovered the remains of two Japanese climbers who disappeared more than a year ago, according to the National Park Service. Tatsuro Yamada on right

The bodies of 27-year-old Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue, 24, were spotted earlier this week on the upper west face of the mountain, where they died after a fall in an attempt of Cassin Ridge in May 2008, Denali National Park and Preserve spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said. They were about 800 feet off their planned route on ridge, she said.

"Although we don't know why they ended up in that particular spot, it seems less likely that it was a diversion during the ascent to the top of the ridge," McLaughlin said. "More likely the fall occurred while they were descending from the ridge above."

Their bodies, discovered Sunday using photos of the mountain taken in the search for Dr. Gerald Myers, were seen as partially buried figures connected by a rope in a steep rocky area west of the Cassin Ridge at 19,800 feet. The next day, a helicopter pulled in close and confirmed there were two frozen figures.

Based on their location, clothing, and rope color, park rangers identified them as Yamada and Inoue, both of Tokyo. Their families have been notified.

The bodies, however, will remain in place because of the "extreme risk posed to a recovery team," according to park officials.

The pair was expected to return from a climb of the Cassin Ridge on May 22, 2008, but they weren't seen again.

Park officials searched the mountain for a week, generating a total of 33 flight hours in helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. Searchers at the time took thousands of images that turned up numerous clues, including tracks and a possible campsite, but the men weren't found.

In their search for Myers, a "more advanced camera and higher powered lens" were used and turned up their locations, park officials said.

Searchers have still found no sign of Myers, who disappeared last month on a solo attempt at summiting North America's highest peak. Searchers have called off the active search for him, saying he is missing and presumed dead.

They are continuing to examine the photos for evidence that could lead to his location.

Since tracking began in 1932, 104 people have died on Mount McKinley. Counting Myers, 39 bodies remain out of reach on the mountain, McLaughlin said.

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.