Climbers Lost Near End of Huge Alaskan Traverse

Japanese Climbers Lost Near End of Huge Alaskan Traverse

5/30/08 - The National Park Service has called off the active search for Japanese climbers Yuto Inoue, 24, and Tatsuro Yamada, 27, who disappeared high on the Cassin Ridge of Denali this month. The Japanese left their warm sleeping bags at a camp at 7,800 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier and climbed the west face and upper southwest ridge of 12,835-foot West Kahiltna Peak. Then they traversed the long knife-edge ridge over East Kahiltna and down to Kahiltna Notch. This traverse was first done in 1980 by German climbers Bertl Breyer and Udo Knittel, who reached the ridge by the first ascent of the north face of West Kahiltna. Describing the traverse in the American Alpine Journal, Knittel wrote, "This difficult ridge is in great part double-corniced and has sections up to 70°; it was nearly impossible to belay on the steep snow."The Japanese also may have climbed new ground on the lower Cassin Ridge. Since they were attempting an integral link-up along the ridge, they apparently did not divert to the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna to climb the Japanese Couloir on the west side of the ridge, a 1967 variation to the original route that is used by almost all climbers today. Instead, they apparently climbed directly up the rock prow from Kahiltna Notch at 11,960 feet. Rangers and expert local climbers now believe they disappeared somewhere near Denali's 20,320-foot summit. Their full traverse, including the Cassin, required nearly 14,000 vertical feet of climbing.

If Inoue and Yamada had managed to summit Denali and return safely, their link-up would have been the second major new enchainment on Denali by Japanese climbers this season. Starting on the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier on May 11, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato, and Katsutaka Yokoyama linked the Isis Face, a 7,000-foot spur on Denali’s south buttress, to the Slovak Route on Denali’s 8,500-foot south face. Between the two routes, they descended about 4,000 feet via the Ramp Route on the south buttress.

The Japanese climbers all were friends and climbing partners. Last year, Yamada climbed three new routes in the Ruth Gorge with Ichimura and Sato. Yamada has written a feature article about these climbs that will appear in the 2008 American Alpine Journal.

Date of Attempt: May 2007

Sources: National Park Service, American Alpine Journal, Climbing.com, Alpinist.com

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