Denali Mystery Solved With Discovery of Bodies


The location of Yuto Inoue and Tatsuro Yamada’s bodies at 19,800 feet near the top of Denali. The bodies were found in a steep, rocky area below the ridgeline and west of the upper Cassin Ridge, the prominent ridge in the foreground. The upper West Buttress route follows the snowy left skyline to Denali’s 20,320-foot summit. NPS Photo

Rangers at Denali National Park have located the bodies of Yuto Inoue and Tatsuro Yamada near the 20,320-foot summit of Denali. The two Japanese climbers had disappeared in May 2008 while attempting a remarkable enchainment of the two Kahiltna Peaks and Cassin Ridge on the south face of North America’s highest peak. Although evidence of their climb was spotted high on the Cassin, searchers could never locate the men or determine if they had reached the top of the route. 

A year later, on May 24, 2009, rangers identified what appeared to be two bodies connected by a rope while analyzing high-resolution photos of the upper south face in an effort to locate missing climber Gerald Myers. (Dr. Myers began a summit bid via the West Buttress route on May 19 and did not return. He has never been found.) To confirm the discovery of the two bodies, a helicopter hovered near the site, in a steep, rocky zone at 19,800 feet, to the west of the Cassin Ridge. A mountaineering ranger confirmed the presence of two frozen corpses, which rangers subsequently identified as Inoue and Yamada’s by their location, clothing, and rope color. The National Park Service said the bodies will not be retrieved because of the potential risks to a recovery team. 

Inoue and Yamada left their base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier around May 10, 2008, and did not return as planned by May 22. During that time, they climbed over 12,835-foot West Kahiltna Peak, traversed a knife-edge ridge up to and over 13,440-foot East Kahiltna Peak, and then climbed a new start to the Cassin Ridge, directly up the rock buttress from Kahiltna Notch at 11,960 feet. This elegant link-up—the complete south ridge of Denali—requires nearly 14,000 vertical feet of climbing to reach the mountain’s summit. 

Searchers discovered footprints and other evidence of the Japanese men up to about 17,000 feet on the Cassin Ridge, and they believed the men must have climbed to 19,000 feet or higher. But the discovery of their bodies at 19,800 feet, just below the upper west ridge, indicates they must have fallen or been blown off higher than previously thought, possibly from the final slopes of the West Buttress route, between the Football Field and the summit. This would indicate they likely finished the Cassin Ridge and were on their way down, though it’s impossible to say if they reached Denali’s summit before their accident. 

The elegant “complete south ridge” of Denali, climbing over the Kahiltna Peaks and up the Cassin Ridge. Gerry Roach Collection

Yamada, 27, was a member of the Giri-Giri Boys, the informal group of elite Japanese alpinists that has done a number of major new routes in Alaska in recent years. In 2007, he and two partners climbed three new routes in the Ruth Gorge. While he and Inoue, 24, were on the Cassin Ridge, their friends Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato, and Katsutaka Yokoyama linked the Isis Face and Slovak Route on Denali, an enchainment that will be featured in the 2009 American Alpine Journal

Date: May 24, 2009 

Sources: Denali National Park, Kei Taniguchi, Climbing.com

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