The names of two Japanese climbers missing on Denali’s Cassin Ridge were released by the National Park Service last night. Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue were expected to return from their climb no later than May 22, but since then numerous observation flights have offered few leads on their whereabouts. The NPS continues the search by aircraft and foot.
Yamada and Inoue are Giri-Giri Boys who climbed in the Alaska Range with Katsutaka Yokoyama, Yusuke Sato and Fumitaka Ichimura throughout April 2008. In May the two decided to attempt the Cassin while the other three made the historic enchainment of the Isis Face and the Slovak Direct (read the May 27, 2008 NewsWire for more information).
In early May Yamada and Inoue acclimatized on the West Buttress. They planned to climb the Cassin after first traversing Kahiltna Peak, but for unknown reasons gave up the traverse and repositioned themselves at base camp (7,800′) near the mouth of the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. It was here they were last seen on May 9. Journal entries found in base camp suggested an earliest climbing start date of May 10, and Yokoyama said their friends may have started climbing around May 14 or 15. The two planned to take five or six days on route; they carried enough food for that duration.
The search began on May 23, though poor conditions grounded an aerial search until the next morning. Initially cloud cover and high winds–some more than 100 mph above 17,200′–limited fixed-wing and Lama helicopter flights; however, in recent days, better conditions allowed the NPS to sweep large swaths and gather high resolution telephoto images that are being scrutinized for clues. Tracks were found at ca. 16,000′, and a possible former tent site was discovered at ca. 17,000′. More information will be posted on Alpinist.com as it becomes available.