April 3, 2016

TALKEETNA, AK — Denali National Park and Preserve rescue personnel conducted a short-haul helicopter rescue of a stranded climber on Mount Hunter (14,573-feet) on Sunday afternoon, April 3, according to the National Park Service. Masatoshi Kuriaki, age 42 of Fukuoka, Japan, was evacuated from an elevation of 8,600 feet on Mount Hunter’s West Ridge climbing route. He was on Day 75 of a planned 65-day solo expedition.

Denali National Park and Preserve’s Communications Center received an SOS notification at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, April 1 from Kuriaki’s SPOT unit, a device which provides GPS tracking and limited one way emergency communication. Denali mountaineering rangers then requested initial assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. At 10 a.m. that morning, the Alaska Air National Guard launched an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron and an HC-130 King aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron, each with a team of Air National Guard Pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron. Marginal weather prevented the Pave Hawk crew from approaching Mount Hunter; however the crew aboard the HC-130 was able to make positive radio contact with the stranded climber at 10:30 a.m. on April 1.

According to the radio communications on Friday morning, Kuriaki was uninjured, but was requesting emergency assistance; he had 2 days of food left, 3 to 4 days of water, and an adequate snow shelter. In addition to his SPOT device, Kuriaki had an aircraft radio which enables communication with nearby aircraft.

Avalanche danger was considered high to extreme on all mountain aspects. A recent winter storm cycle had brought unusually warm and wet weather conditions to Southcentral Alaska. Reports from backcountry users indicated that at least 30 inches of new snow fell at mid elevations of the Alaska Range through Thursday of last week, with over a foot of additional snow accumulation through the weekend.
Continued storm activity prevented additional rescue flights the remainder of Friday and all day Saturday. By Sunday, April 3, Denali National Park’s contracted AStar B3e high altitude helicopter was available as an air resource. Helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky flew to the Kahiltna Glacier with Denali mountaineering rangers Chris Erickson and David Weber at 12:00 p.m. Sunday under clearing skies. Kuriaki was short-hauled from his camp on Mount Hunter down to the glacier below in an external rescue basket. The pilot, crew, and climber then flew back to Talkeetna.

Masatoshi Kuriaki is extremely experienced in solo winter mountaineering in Denali National Park and Preserve. According to park records, this is his 19th expedition in the Alaska Range, 17 of which were solo winter climbs. This season’s attempt is his ninth winter solo expedition on Mount Hunter. Kuriaki has attempted Denali (20,310 feet) four times in winter, including a successful winter solo ascent on March 8, 1998. Kuriaki has attempted Mount Foraker (17,400 feet) five times, successfully reaching the summit three times, including the first solo winter ascent of that peak on March 10, 2007.