Jiro Kurihara 2011-05-21
Junya Shiraishi

Two climbers dead in Denali-area avalanche

By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press, Published: May 25th, 2011

Two climbers who recently completed a successful summit of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley died in an avalanche on nearby Mount Frances while attempting a new route on the much smaller mountain, the National Park Service said Wednesday.

Park rangers at Denali National Park said the two climbers, one from Canada and the other from Japan, died in the avalanche on the 10,450-foot peak, which sits just behind McKinley's base camp.

The dead have been identified as Jiro Kurihara, 33, of Canmore, Alberta, and Junya Shiraishi, 28, of Sapporo, Japan. They were attempting a new route on the west face of Mount Frances when they were killed in the avalanche, National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said.

Their deaths raise the number of Alaska Range climbing fatalities this season to five. That's one more than died last season, according to McLaughlin, but less than half the number recorded in the range's deadliest year, 1992, when 13 died, including 11 on Mount McKinley.

A search for the climbers began Monday when they did not return to base camp. Rangers aboard a helicopter spotted a body lying in avalanche debris at the base of the mountain. Both bodies were recovered Wednesday.

Park officials said records indicate these are the first two fatalities on Mount Frances.

The two climbers arrived in the Alaska Range on April 27. They had successfully climbed Mount McKinley and had a couple of other objectives in mind, McLaughlin said. One of those was to attempt a new route on Mount Frances. The mountain is about half as tall as McKinley, but offers some technical climbs for mountaineers, she said.

The two were last seen at McKinley's Kahiltna base camp on Saturday. When they hadn't arrived back by Monday from what should have been a day trip, rangers used a spotting scope in hopes of locating them. When that failed, a helicopter search was launched Tuesday morning.

Beth Bragg of the ADN contributed.