While one chapter of the climbing history of Mount McKinley remains unfinished, another has been closed with the discovery of two partially buried bodies high on the unforgiving mountain.
Though the friends and family of Dr. Gerald Myers, who went missing late last month during a solo bid for the summit, still have no resolution, the families of two Japanese climbers lost a year ago have been given finality.
The search for Dr. Myers was suspended on May 26, a week after the Centennial, Colorado, man headed off with little survival gear for the 20,320-foot summit.
During the search for the chiropractor, hundreds of high-resolution photographs were taken of the mountain from helicopters with hopes that when studied they might hint at his location. While those photos have failed to find any trace of Dr. Myers, they have revealed the remains of two young Japanese climbers who disappeared after an attempt of the Cassin Ridge in May 2008.
Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue were expected to return from a climb of the Cassin Ridge on May 22, 2008. According to the journals left in their camp, the two had intended to approach their route via Kahiltna Peaks, a 5-mile-long knife-edge ridge that reaches a peak elevation of 13,440 feet.
This route was an arduous and highly technical new variation on the traditional approach to summiting McKinley. During the ensuing search, tracks were spotted that followed the dramatic ridgeline and connected with the Cassin Ridge, indicating the team accomplished that part of their goal.
When the men failed to return a search was launched, only to be suspended four days later.
While analyzing high-resolution photos this past Sunday, May 24, in their search for Dr. Myers, rangers observed what appeared to be two partially buried figures connected by a rope in a steep rocky area west of the Cassin Ridge at 19,800-feet. On the afternoon following the photo discovery, the park’s contracted A-Star B3 helicopter was able to hover close enough to the site for a NPS mountaineering ranger to confirm the presence of two frozen figures.
Based on their location, clothing, and rope color, NPS mountaineering rangers identified the bodies as the 27-year-old Yamada and the 24-year-old Inoue. The National Park Service and the Japanese Consulate in Anchorage notified the next of kin. Family and friends representing both the Yamada and Inoue families came to Talkeetna this week to meet with mountaineering ranger staff.
During the 2008 Cassin search, which was the first time Denali National Park rangers used the photographic approach to search a vast land area, the cameras used were effective in locating tracks and general disturbances in open snow fields. However, finding definitive clues in rocky and shadowy terrain proved difficult.
A more advanced camera and higher powered lens were used during the recent May 2009 search for Dr. Myers. While the majority of images taken during Myers’ disappearance in May have been analyzed, the photographic search will continue through the remainder of the season.
National Park Service managers have determined that the bodies of the two Japanese climbers will not be recovered from their current location due to the extreme risk posed to a recovery team.