Alaska News

Helicopter crew rescues stranded Japanese climber in Denali National Park

A Japanese climber known for his solo ascents in Denali National Park and Preserve was flown to safety Sunday from a mountain in the park, two days after he became stranded and called for help.

Park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said in a statement that the climber, 42-year-old Masatoshi Kuriaki, was flown off 14,573-foot Mount Hunter's West Ridge climbing route from an altitude of 8,600 feet. Kuriaki, climbing alone, was on the 75th day of what had been planned as a 65-day expedition.

The climber sent a signal from his SPOT transmitter that was picked up by the park's communications center at about 7:30 a.m. Friday. An Alaska Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and HC-130 search plane were sent to the mountain from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

"Marginal weather prevented the Pave Hawk crew from approaching Mount Hunter," Gualtieri wrote. "(H)owever, the crew aboard the HC-130 was able to make positive radio contact with (Kuriaki) at 10:30 a.m. on April 1."

Kuriaki told the HC-130 crew that he was unhurt and had at least two days of food and water, as well as an adequate snow shelter. Avalanche conditions were considered "high to extreme," however, amid weather that had brought higher temperatures -- and what backcountry visitors reported as roughly 30 inches of new snow -- to much of the Alaska Range's middle elevations.

Stormy weather kept aircraft from approaching the mountain until Sunday morning. An A-Star B3e high-altitude helicopter, carrying a pilot and two mountaineering rangers, traveled to the Kahiltna Glacier at about noon Sunday and was subsequently able to reach Kuriaki.

"Kuriaki was short-hauled from his camp on Mount Hunter to the glacier below in an external rescue basket," Gualtieri wrote. "The pilot, crew, and climber then flew back to Talkeetna."

Kuriaki, also known as the "Japanese Caribou," spent 83 days alone on Mount Hunter during the winter of 2010. He is famous for his winter solo ascents of mountains in the park, including being the first Japanese man to successfully summit 20,310-foot Denali in 1998 and the first person to make a winter solo ascent of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker in 2007.