Solo climber dies in fall on Denali

An image of a mountain shows where a fall occured
Image showing the Denali Pass Traverse from High Camp at 17,200 feet elevation to Denali Pass, at 18,200 feet. The X indicates the approximate location where T. Hagiwara’s remains were recovered. (NPS Photo)

A Japanese climber in his mid-40s was found dead Monday on Denali after his family reported not hearing from him for days, according to a statement from the National Park Service. 

The park identified the climber as T. Hagiwara from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. He was on a solo trip and had been regularly checking in with family through a satellite device. On Sunday, concerned family members contacted park rangers and said they had not heard from him in several days, said the park service’s statement.

Rangers patrolling the upper mountain later found Hagiwara’s tent empty. They determined he likely fell on Thursday from a steep traverse between the mountain’s high camp and Denali Pass.

Park spokesperson Paul Ollig said conditions in the area were extremely icy.

“We don’t really have any information to share on what may have caused the fall, or whether it occurred while the climber was ascending or descending,” Ollig said. “This traverse can be tricky.”

The park’s statement says accounts from other climbers and satellite device data helped inform where things may have gone wrong for Hagiwara.

A climbing team told rangers that they saw him traversing from a plateau at 17,200 feet to Denali Pass at 18,200 feet last Wednesday.

The park said rangers also pulled data from the his satellite device, which indicated it hadn’t changed location from 17,000 feet since Thursday, “suggesting a fall from the Denali Pass traverse took place on that day.” 

A mountaineering patrol team located Hagiwara’s body on Monday, and a helicopter flew his body off the mountain.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against navigating Denali alone. Ollig said the park encourages climbers to travel in groups of five or six. He said a soloist’s only recourse in a fall is to “self arrest” with an ice axe.

“Because the upper mountain terrain is notoriously icy and difficult to gain purchase, or self arrest that makes those conditions particularly challenging for a solo climber,” he said.

At least 14 climbers including Hagiwara have fallen to their death along this section of Denali’s West Buttress route. It’s among the peak’s most climbed routes.

This is also the second climber fatality in the park this season. A well-known New York forest ranger died in an ice climbing accident last month.

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