Two climbers killed in avalanche on Alaska mountain

Reuters News
Posted: May 25, 2011 6:05 PM

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Two climbers have been killed in an avalanche on Mount Frances in Alaska's Denali National Park, making them the first to perish on that craggy peak near Mount McKinley, the National Park Service said on Wednesday.

The climbers, Jiro Kurihara, 33, of Canmore, Alberta, Canada and Junya Shiraishi, 28, of Sapporo, Japan, were attempting to ascend a new route on the west face of the 10,450-foot mountain, the Park Service said.

They were last seen on Saturday at the Kahiltna Glacier base camp used by most Mount McKinley climbers, the Park Service said.

When they had not returned to the camp by Monday, park rangers began searching for them. Rangers flying over the avalanche debris on Tuesday spotted one body, and on Wednesday found the other, the Park Service said.

Rangers recovered the bodies of both men and hauled them from the site by helicopter.

Mount Frances, just north of the Kahiltna base camp, is a technical peak tackled by experienced mountaineers. Climbers use two routes, on the southwest ridge or northeast ridge.

Both involve moderately steep ascents over snow and ice, and the southwest route includes a steep section of rock, according to the American Alpine Institute.

The west face targeted by Kurihara and Shiraishi also has a mixture of snow, rock and ice, with 45- to 50-degree slopes on the upper half, said Maureen McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Denali National Park.

"The route that they were intending to go had never been climbed," she said.

About a dozen climbing parties attempt Mount Frances each year, McLaughlin said.

Kurihara and Shiraishi, both highly experienced climbers, had just returned from an ascent of McKinley, North America's tallest peak, before they began their attempt of Mount Frances, McLaughlin said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton)