Only a month into this year’s prime climbing season, five have died in the Alaska Range of Denali National Park. Two disasters last week–an avalanche on Mt. Barrille (7,650′) and a fall on Denali (Mt. McKinley, 20,320′)–took four lives in addition to Lara Karena Kellog’s tragic fall on April 23.
On Tuesday, May 15, Andre Callari (33) of Salt Lake City and Brian Postlethwait (32) of Park City, Utah, were attempting the Japanese Couloir (Alaska Grade 3) on the east face of Mt. Barrille, a popular objective in Ruth Gorge, when a slab avalanche released and caught them near the summit ridge. They had begun the climb at 8 p.m. and left their skis at the peak’s base. The climb generally takes ten to fifteen hours, so when another climbing party noticed that Callari and Postlethwait’s skis were still at the base of Mt. Barrille on May 17, and that the pair were late to return, they notified rangers. A helicopter flew to the area at 9:30 p.m. the next evening (whiteout conditions on Thursday afternoon and Friday prevented any inspection around Barrille) and spotted footprints leading into the avalanche zone. Although the rangers believed they had sighted the climbers among avalanche debris, it became too dark to continue. Two mountaineering rangers resumed the search the next morning, discovered the bodies, confirmed their identities and flew them back to Talkeetna.
On May 17, Mizuki Takahashi (36) of Lake Forest Park and her partner, Brian Massey of North Bend, Washington, fell 1,900 feet. The two were roped together on the Upper West Rib of Denali; they slipped near the Messner Couloir (ca. 19,000′) and fell to a point just below High Camp (17,200′). A mountaineering ranger patrol witnessed the fall from that Camp. Two climbing guides and members of the patrol traversed to the site to find Takahashi dead; Massey was alive but unconscious. The impromptu rescue team carried Massey to High Camp for emergency treatment. He did not regain consciousness, and he died the next morning at 8:30 a.m. Both bodies were recovered from High Camp on Saturday, May 19.
Lara Karena Kellogg (38) of Seattle fell to her death on April 23 while descending Mt. Wake (8,100′) in Ruth Gorge. She was married to Chad Kellogg, who was on an expedition to China’s Qionglai Mountains at the time the accident occurred. They were both experienced mountaineers.
“We’re getting off to a difficult start, and the climbing season has just begun,” said Park spokeswoman Kris Fister, who added that twenty-eight climbers have died in the Park since 1996. A record thirteen climbers died in 1992.