On the day the National Park Service retrieved the body of one dead climber from near the 20,300-foot summit of Mount Denali, another was entombed in the Kahiltna Glacier.
The as-yet-unidentified Kahiltna mountaineer broke through a crevasse near the base of Mount Hunter’s North Buttress on Tuesday, the agency reported, only to have an avalanche of snow and ice follow him down into the depths.
The Park Service described the man as “a 43-year-old climber from Kanagawa, Japan, (who) was un-roped from his teammates when he fell through a weak ice bridge near their camp at approximately 8,000 feet on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna.”
It is considered standard operating procedure to rope up on the Kahiltna for safety. In the event of the failure of a snow or ice bridge, the fall of a roped climber can often be stopped by a climbing companion before a mass of debris follows him or her into a hidden crevasse.
Standard operating procedure is, however, regularly ignored early in the climbing season when most crevasses are well-bridged by the snows of the previous winter. Alaska glaciers can look deceptively safe in these conditions.
After the climber fell, the Park Service said a teammate made his way back to the Kahiltna Base Camp at 7,200 feet and arrived at 11:30 p.m. to notify mountaineering rangers.
In the long twilight in the land of the midnight sun, two members of a Park Service patrol team then skied back to the scene of the accident with the climber to try to perform a rescue, but that proved impossible.
“One ranger rappelled into the crevasse as deep as possible, confirming that the ice bridge collapse had filled the narrow crevasse with a large volume of snow and ice approximately 80 feet below the glacier surface,” Park Service spokesman Maureen Gualtieri reported.
“The ranger was unable to descend further. The climber is presumed dead based on the volume of ice, the distance of the fall, and the duration of the burial. The feasibility of a body recovery will be investigated in the days ahead.”
The agency was Tuesday successful in recovering the body of Austrian climber Matthias Rimml who died in a fall near Denali Pass. He was the first victim of the 2022 climbing season.
Rimml, who was alone on the mountain, had last been heard from on April 30 when he talked to a friend on a satellite phone. He was reported missing a few days later, and his body was spotted on May 6.
The Park Service said its high-altitude helicopter was able to longline his body off the summit ridge on Tuesday.
The Park Service also reported responding to about two dozen calls for help on the mountain during that two-month climbing season, but some involved the sort of minor injuries that happen to people everywhere.
One climber had to be evacuated from the 17,200-foot High Camp by helicopter after he threw his back out trying to put on crampons, and another was helicoptered out of the 11,200-foot camp after messing his back up shoveling snow.
Still there were a number of people seriously injured in falls or rendered gravely ill by high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).
There are risks that go with climbing in the range.