Bears Tooth (10,070′), left, and Mooses Tooth (10,355′), right, as viewed from Buckskin Glacier, Alaska Range, Alaska. Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Katsutaka Yokoyama made an impressive first ascent–Climbing Is Believing (Alaska Grade 6: 5.10a AI5 M7R A1+, 4,100′)–of the unclimbed northeast face of Bears Tooth. The line initally follows the east gully, then climbs the central weakness, where shadow meets sun in the image above, of the northeast face. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
The Denali enchainment of the Isis Face and the Slovak Direct by three Japanese climbers (see the May 27, 2008 NewsWire) was not the only success the Giri-Giri Boys found in Alaska. In April, before their historic enchainment, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Katsutaka Yokoyama made an impressive first ascent on the unclimbed northeast face of Bears Tooth (10,070′), attempted Mt. Hunter’s acclaimed Moonflower Buttress and ascended Denali’s West Buttress. These impressive achievements, however, were tempered by the tragic loss of two friends, Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue, on Denali’s Cassin Ridge.
From April 18-19, Ichimura, Sato and Yokoyama made the first ascent of Bears Tooth’s northeast aspect via the obvious steep and spicy line in the center of the face: Climbing Is Believing (Alaska Grade 6: 5.10a AI5 M7R A1+, 4,100′). The route is situated just south of the Mooses Tooth and right of the Bridwell classic, Useless Emotion (VII 5.9 WI4 A4, Bridwell-Christensen- Dunmire-Jonas-McCray, 1999). Yokoyama described the climbing down low as crux-filled, overhanging and with thin, unstable ice, “but the rock was not so bad, so there was no trouble with runout… higher, the ice was much better. On the last section of the face, we traversed just below huge, dangerous cornices. This line is so logical, but difficult because of its steepness.”
Above the Kahiltna Glacier, Ichimura, Sato and Yokoyama attempted Moonflower Buttress (Alaska Grade 6: 5.8 A3 AI6, 6,100′, Stump-Aubrey [to last rock band], 1981; Bibler-Klewin [to summit], 1983) all free from April 23-24. Moonflower Buttress (aka North Buttress) is a technical showpiece confirmed by Yokoyama as one of Alaska’s finest routes. The three unexpectedly encountered some M6 terrain on The Prow that they described as “really fun with great hooking.” They managed to climb just past the Bibler / Come Again exit but retreated hastily due to stormy conditions and never topped out.
Sato on Pitch 10 of Climbing Is Believing, Alaska Range, Alaska. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
After Moonflower the team flew to the Southwest Fork of the Ruth Glacier and completed their historic Denali enchainment of the Isis Face (Alaska Grade 6: M4 5.8 A1, 60 degrees, 7,200′ [to South Buttress], Stutzman-Tackle, 1982) and the Slovak Direct (Alaska Grade 6: 5.9, 100 degrees, 9,000′, Adam-Korl-Krizo, 1984), May 11-18. The team descended via the Ramp Route (Alaska Grade 3: 55 degrees, 9,300′, Kajiura-Nakamura-Nishimura, 1965) in order to link the two ascents.
Ichimura on Pitch 16 (M6) of Climbing Is Believing. Of the huge cornice above, Yokoyama said: “so scary.” [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama
Reflecting on the enchainment, Yokoyama said, “The most difficult part of the route was descending the Ramp because it is so dangerous. It’s pretty hard to find the correct line of descent. The Isis Face is such a beautiful line, but it was much easier than we imagined: we simulclimbed the entire route, swinging leads. The Slovak Direct was just fun: the ice was good, the rock was solid, so we enjoyed the climbing.”
While Ichimura, Sato, and Yokoyama have returned safely to Japan, Yamada, 27, and Inoue, 24, are missing and presumed dead. Searches were called off May 30 after officials estimated they had been without water or food for about two weeks. The two climbers were attempting to climb a difficult traverse along the Kahiltna Peaks into the classic Cassin Ridge (Alaska Grade 5: 65 degrees, 5.8 AI4, 9,000′)–an extraordinary pursuit–and were expected to return on May 22.
Yusuke Sato (left), Fumitaka Ichimura (center) and Katsutaka Yokoyama just after descending Climbing Is Believing via the east gully. [Photo] Katsutaka Yokoyama