Mizuki Takahashi, 05-17-07
Brian Massey, 05-17-07
Two climbers die after plunging 1,900 feet in Denali descent
By MEGAN HOLLAND, Anchorage Daily News
AT 19,000 FEET: Officials wonder why they were traversing Messner Couloir.
Published: May 19, 2007
Mizuki Takahashi, 36, from Lake Forest Park, was found dead where she fell Thursday
evening. Her climbing partner, Brian Massey, a 27-year-old firefighter from North
Bend, was critically injured and died while still on the mountain Friday morning.
The accident occurred near the weather station at 19,000 feet on the West Buttress
Route of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak.
The pair were roped together when they tumbled down a 40-degree slope of ice and
snow to a point just below High Camp at about 17,000 feet, said Daryl Miller, south
district ranger. A mountaineering ranger witnessed the fall and immediately went
to the aid of the climbers.
The deaths are the first on McKinley for this year's climbing season, which began
last month and goes until midsummer. Last year, a Korean climber died on the mountain.
The year before, two brothers from Ohio died.
Park authorities said they do not know the cause of Thursday's fall. The pair was
roped together but, as far as authorities can discern, they were not anchored to
Miller did not know if the pair made it to the summit before trying to reach the
The climbers ascended the upper West Rib route and were traversing across the top
of the Messner Couloir to near the weather station on the West Buttress route when
they fell, Miller said.
Climbers on the West Rib route often go to the McKinley summit and then come down
the West Buttress. Trying to reach the Buttress using the route Massey and Takahashi
chose across the Messner is far less common.
Rangers were puzzled why the pair chose to come down the route they did. "I don't
know why," Miller said. "It seemed much harder."
Miller said it is possible the pair altered their course because of high winds at
"It's fair to say that we'll never know for sure," he said. "But there's one theory
that they were trying to come down under the ridge out of the wind, and they could
see camp and they decided to just descend from that point instead of traversing
all the way down to 18,200."
It's possible one slipped and fell into the other, or that one slipped and pulled
the other down because they were roped together. The latter is a scenario all too
common when climbers in a hurry fail to put in anchors and take the precaution of
belaying each other across dangerous areas on the rope.
Miller said that in his 25 years of climbing the mountain and 15 years of working
on McKinley, he's never heard of anyone falling at the site where the two fell.
Takahashi and Massey suffered a great deal of trauma in their slide down more than
six football fields, Miller said.
Heavy clouds and darkness prevented lifting the unconscious Massey off the mountain
Thursday night. A paramedic cared for him overnight but ran out of oxygen early
Friday morning. Miller said his oxygen intake was good but the trauma to his body
was severe; he didn't believe the lack of supplemental oxygen made a difference.
Massey died at the ranger station on the mountain at about 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Massey and Takahashi connected over the Internet with a third climbing partner and
planned the trip, Miller said. The third partner was not with them at the time of
the accident. That partner, not identified by the park service, elected to stay
at a lower elevation when the two left the 14,200-foot level for the summit on Tuesday.
The trio flew to base camp on May 6 and were scheduled to leave May 31.
The bodies remained with park authorities at 17,000 feet late Friday. The park service
said high winds were preventing a recovery of the bodies.
McKinley is girding for the peak of the climbing season in several weeks. There
were about 300 climbers on the mountain at the time of the accident and about 40
at the 17,000-foot area of the mountain, Miller said.
Takahashi and Massey were experienced and well known within Washington climbing
Massey was a firefighter in Kent, Wash., who recently married. He was technically
savvy and played an integral part in converting building and street maps to computers
on the fire trucks, said Kent Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kyle Ohashi.
Massey's family released a statement late Thursday saying, "Brian passed away doing
what he loved. God grant that we all do likewise."
On a climber's blog, summitpost.org, Massey mourned the death at the end of April
of Lara-Karena Kellogg, who died while rappelling down nearby Mount Wake in Denali
National Park and Preserve, about 15 miles southeast of Mount McKinley. Kellogg's
death was the first in the park this year.
Massey wrote, "My thoughts go out to her family and friends. ... She will be deeply
missed in the PNW (Pacific Northwest) climbing community."
Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DENALI DEATHS Climbing deaths on Denali since 1932
96 total fatalities
52 died in descent
57 were foreign
39 were from U.S.
43 climbing falls
10 crevasse falls
2: CO poisoning
1 rock fall
Source: National Park Service