An avalanche on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress during the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 13, 2012 has claimed the lives of four Japanese climbers, leaving one survivor. National Park Service Spokesperson Maureen McLaughlin says this is the first time an avalanche on the west buttress has resulted in fatalities.[audio:http://ktna.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/18DenaliAvalanche1.mp3|titles=18DenaliAvalanche1]
After several days of heavy snow and high winds, a five-member expedition from the Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation was descending an area called Motorcycle Hill near 11,800-feet early Wednesday morning when an avalanche swept them all downhill into a crevasse. Hitoshi Ogi, age 69 of Japan, survived the slide after the rope linking him to his team was severed. After being unable to locate his four teammates in the snow and ice, Ogi was able to climb out of the crevasse. He then descended more than 4-thousand feet alone, to arrive at the Kahiltna Basecamp on Thursday evening, more than 36 hours after the incident.
By the time the first helicopter search of the area was initiated on Thursday evening, there was little chance the others had survived. By Friday, a team of four searchers probed the area, and on Saturday the search grew to ten people and included Rangers, Volunteers, and a search and rescue dog. It is the first time that dogs have been used to probe avalanche debris on Mt McKinley.
McLaughlin ads that while not frequent, it is not unheard of for the area known as motorcycle hill to shed snow, especially after periods of high snow fall as have occurred on the mountain over the last week.[audio:http://ktna.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/18DenaliAvalanche2.mp3|titles=18DenaliAvalanche2]
During Saturday’s search, Rangers descended in to the same crevasse that Mr. Ogi had fallen in to during the avalanche. There, after some excavation they found the end of a broken rope. The rope was fixed in compacted snow and ice, and further excavation inside the crevasse would have put searchers at risk. In light of this discovery, and due to the recovery efforts were suspended permanently.
With about one month left in the McKinley Climbing season, This year’s count of six fatalities has already equaled that of last year.