Two Climbers Killed in Avalanche on Mt. Frances
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
Two overdue climbers on Mt. Frances were confirmed dead after Denali National Park mountaineering rangers located their remains in avalanche debris near the base of the 10,450-foot peak. Jiro Kurihara, age 33 of Canmore, Alberta, Canada and Junya Shiraishi age 28 of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan were attempting a new route on the west face of Mt. Frances, a commonly climbed technical peak just north of the 7,200-foot Kahiltna Basecamp, when the avalanche occurred.
The two men were last seen at the Kahiltna Basecamp on May 21. When they had not returned to their campsite by May 23, NPS rangers skied to the western face with a spotting scope, but did not observe the two climbers. On the morning of Tuesday, May 24, mountaineering rangers on board the park’s contracted A-Star B3 helicopter did an aerial search of the peak and identified one body lying in avalanche debris, with a partially buried rope attached. Rangers flew back to the debris zone early Wednesday morning May 25 when the colder morning temperatures created a safer recovery operation. Rangers were able to locate and recover the bodies of both men using helicopter shorthaul technique.
Kurihara and Shiraishi had flown into the Alaska Range on April 27 with original plans of climbing the Cassin Ridge of Denali. The team had recently completed a successful ascent of Denali’s West Buttress route when the accident occurred.
According to park records, these are the first two fatalities to occur on Mt. Frances.
Did You Know?
The vast landscapes of interior Alaska are changing. Large glaciers are receding, permafrost is melting and woody plants are spreading. Comparison of "then-and-now" photographs and data from major vegetation monitoring should allow detection, understanding and potential management of these changes.