American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley, South Face, Second Ascent of Cassin Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1968

Mount McKinley, South Face, Second Ascent of Cassin Route. Kosaku Keira, Akio Kawagoe, Masahiro Shukuin, Yoshitaka Akimoto, Koichi Hirakawa, Tsukasa Yamanaka, Hideki Ujiie and I as leader went from Anchorage to Talkeetna on April 26 and on the same day were airlifted to the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier by Don Sheldon. For the next three days it snowed, but we made our way to Base Camp on the Kahiltna at 8850 feet in a lull. On April 30 it became fine. We finished carrying our equipment, food and fuel, about a ton, to Base Camp by May 5. We made an intermediate camp on the northeast fork of the Kahiltna (10,800 feet) on May 7. From there two men made a safe route through the great crevassed zone. On May 13 we gathered at Camp I (11,500 feet), from which we had to climb the side wall to the central ridge by a 50°, 1000-foot-high ice and rock couloir. Kawagoe and Ujiie needed three days preparing this route. They found ice-covered fixed rope left by the Italian party in 1961 at 12,600 feet. On May 14 and 15 it snowed, but on the 16th the weather recovered. Seven of us climbed to the site of the 1961 Italian Camp I (13,300 feet), and two stayed in this camp, pitched on a rock band where only two tents could be set up. We found things left by the Italians, a tattered tent, stoves, instant coffee, etc. These two men made the route to Camp II along a difficult knife- edge of ice for several hundred meters. Seven men excepting the leader gathered at Camp II (14,270 feet) on May 21. The next day they left, hoping to make Camp III. They climbed 40° hard snow first but it became too late for the difficult route on the rock and ice wall. Two stayed at the starting point of the wall, while the other five returned to Camp II, which was very dangerous because of heavy drifting snow. On May 23 the two men above tried to climb the ice wall but had to cut steps continuously in hard ice and could climb only eight pitches. That evening the other five men cut a tent platform in the 40° ice at 15,400 feet. Four men stayed in this Camp III. On May 24 they were forced to stay inactive by heavy drifting snow. The leader kept contact with each of the seven men by handy talkies. On May 25 it became good weather. Four men started for the top of Mount McKinley. First they climbed six pitches of ice and rock face by the fixed rope that the two had placed two days before. Then they climbed two pitches of rock wall and reached a firm snow slope. After three easy pitches they reached the site of the Italian Camp III at 17,000 feet. They had taken five hours from their Camp III to this spot. Above, the giant rock wall was awaiting them. They traversed and avoided climbing rock by using an ice couloir, where they were forced to keep some fine balance. After three or four false trials and fifteen hours without rest, they passed this giant wall and reached a big snow slope. At eight p.m. they made a bivouac camp at about 18,000 feet. May 26 was very fine, too, but one climber vomited and lost his appetite. Another had to stay with his sick friend. Kawagoe and Ujiie started for the attack. First they traversed the ice slope for about 400 feet. Next they climbed a snow-covered couloir about 1300 feet high. The two men climbed, wrestling with snow which reached their knees. At twelve noon, troubled by high altitude, they reached the central ridge. After climbing the snow ridge for several hundred meters, they climbed an ice couloir, avoiding the rock ridge. Finally they ascended rock for four pitches. And then they walked in loose snow for an hour to reach the Kahiltna Horn. It was 6:30 p.m. of May 26 when they were on top. After an hour they began to descend. Luckily it stayed good weather for more than 48 hours. They descended carefully to the bivouac camp where their friends were waiting, reaching it at one a.m. on May 27. That day the four came down to Camp II with the three men from Camp III. The next day they got back to Camp I, where the leader was waiting. On May 30 we reached Base Camp and continued to the landing spot on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna, but the weather became bad and we had to wait until June 6 for Sheldon’s plane to pick us up.

Takao Sasaki, M.D., Hokkaido Alpine Association

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