Japan climber rescued from Alaska peak amid avalanche risk

TALKEETNA — A helicopter rescued an experienced Japanese climber from an Alaska mountain where spring storms had created significant avalanche risks.

Masatoshi Kuriaki, a 42-year-old climber from Fukuoka, Japan, was rescued Sunday at the 8,600-foot level of 14,573-foot Mount Hunter, Denali National Park said in a news release.

Kuriaki was uninjured, but transmitted a signal for emergency help on Friday morning, the park said. He had two days of food and three to four days of water left.

An Alaska Air National Guard helicopter was unable to approach Mount Hunter on Friday because of bad weather, and storms prevented further attempts until Sunday, the news release said.

As skies cleared, a high-altitude helicopter with two Denali mountaineering rangers reached Kahiltna Glacier at noon. They picked up Kuriaki from his camp on the mountain’s West Ridge climbing route and transported him in an external rescue basket to the glacier. From there, they flew back to Talkeetna.

Kuriaki was on day 75 of a solo expedition that had been planned for 65 days, according to the release.

Hideki Watanabe, director of a branch of the Japanese Alpine Club in Fukuoka who knows Kuriaki, said he was relieved the climber was safe, adding that he is not surprised that Kuriaki ditched his attempt and he must have had a reason, like weather or avalanche danger, to make that choice.

“Mr. Kuriaki has his own theory about mountaineering and safety, and he is extremely careful,” Watanabe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “He never pushes himself when he is not fully confident.”

Avalanche danger was high to extreme after a recent storm cycle brought unusually warm and wet weather conditions, Denali Park said. Reports indicated that at least 30 inches of snow fell at mid-elevations of the Alaska Range through Thursday, and more than a foot more through the weekend.

The park described Kuriaki as very experienced in solo winter expeditions in Denali Park. It said this was his 19th expedition in the Alaska Range, 17 of which were solo winter climbs. He has attempted 20,310-foot Denali four times in winter, including a successful solo ascent in 1998. Kuriaki also made the first solo winter ascent of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker in 2007.

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