American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche — Fall on Snow

Alaska, Denali National Park, Mount Frances

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

On May 23 two Japanese climbers, Jiro Kurihara (33) and Junya Shiraishi (28), were reported a day overdue after they left Denali Base Camp in an attempt to climb Mount Frances a few days prior. NPS rangers took a recon flight around Mount Frances for signs of the climbing party and spotted some dark shapes in what appeared to be avalanche debris at the bottom of a significant gully on the west side of Mount Frances. Upon landing near the location, rangers uncovered the bodies of the two missing climbers and determined that they had been either swept off of the face by an avalanche or had fallen from a point high on their climbing route. Both were deceased and had suffered significant trauma associated with a long fall in complex terrain.

Analysis

The climbers had chosen to climb in a period immediately following new snowfall that totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 inches. The slopes they were climbing on had likely not received much in the way of sun exposure, and a significant warming event following the storm. In observing their chosen route and the point that it seems they fell from, it is hard to tell if their fall triggered a wet snow avalanche, or if perhaps they were swept off the upper portion of their route by such a slide. Regardless, their resting place was at the bottom of a large avalanche gully, and their bodies and equipment were mostly buried by avalanche debris. Perhaps they exercised poor judgment in choosing to travel on loaded slopes during a warm period of the day or perhaps it was just an unfortunate and somewhat random event. (Source: Coley Gentzel, Lead Mountaineering Ranger)

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