Massive Link-Up and Missing Climbers in Alaska

The 7,000-foot Isis Face gains Denali’s south buttress at about 15,000 feet. The Japanese climbers descended about 4,000 feet on the far side to gain the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and the start of the Slovak Route on Denali’s south face. Photo by Jack Tackle.

A trio of Japanese climbers with years of experience in the Alaska Range completed a monumental link-up of hard routes on Denali over eight days in mid-May. Their celebration was marred, however, by news that two of their friends had not returned from an attempt of the Cassin Ridge, also on North America’s highest peak. 

Starting on the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato, and Katsutaka Yokoyama climbed the Isis Face, a 7,000-foot spur on the east side of Denali’s south buttress, and then descended about 4,000 feet via the Ramp Route to the East Fork of the Kahiltna. From there they climbed the Slovak Route on Denali’s 8,500-foot south face to the summit and descended by the West Buttress Route. The Japanese made the third ascent of the Isis Face (Stutzman-Tackle, 1982) and the fourth ascent of the Slovak Route (Adam-Korl-Krizo, 1984). In all, the combination involved about 16,000 vertical feet of ascent and a difficult descent from the south buttress—a tour de force of big-mountain endurance and climbing skill. 

Rolando Garibotti, who was guiding on the mountain, said, “I saw them coming off the summit—they looked good, as if they were coming back from any old day climb.” 

The three Japanese had warmed up with several weeks of climbing in the range, including an ascent of the West Buttress Route on Denali with two friends, Yuto Inoue and Tatsuro Yamada. While the three were on the Isis–Slovak Route link-up, Inoue and Yamada started a climb of the Cassin Ridge, planning to finish on May 22. When they did not return, a search began early last weekend. Although spotters located what’s believed to be their tent site at 17,000 feet on the ridge, the two have not been found. The National Park Service is continuing to search the ridge and possible descent routes with fixed-wing aircraft and a high-altitude helicopter. 

The upper Cassin Ridge on Denali’s south face, from about the 14,000-foot level to the 20,320-foot summit. A tent site believed to have been established by the missing climbers was spotted at 17,000 feet on the ridge, almost exactly in the middle of this photo. The Slovak Route reaches this point from the right, after climbing much steeper ground below. NPS Photo.

The Japanese climbers are among a self-titled group known as the Giri-Giri Boys that has enjoyed remarkable success in the Alaska Range in recent years. Last year, Ichimura, Sato, and Yamada completed three first ascents in the Ruth Gorge. In 2006, Ichimura and Yokoyama climbed a new route in the Ruth and repeated Deprivation to the summit of Mt. Hunter. The year before, the same two climbers did a new route on Mt. Huntington and the third ascent of the Denali Diamond on the southwest face of Denali. 

Date of Ascents: May 2008 

Sources: Rolando Garibotti, Jack Tackle,,, National Park Service, American Alpine Journal

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