5 dead in first month of climbing season in Denali National Park

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Five mountaineers have died on the treacherous peaks of Denali National Park this season, with four of those deaths, including two climbers from Washington state, occurring in the past week, park officials said.

Andre Callari, 33, of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Brian Postlethwait, 32, of Park City, Utah, were the latest to be identified in the series of fatalities in the Alaska Range on routes that range from moderate to highly technical.

An avalanche swept the men to the base of 7,650-foot Mount Barille, where they were found amid snow and chunks of ice by park rescue personnel late Friday, said park spokeswoman Kris Fister.

Callari and Postlethwait were attempting a moderate route, called the Japanese Couloir.

Their bodies were flown to Talkeetna, a small town south of the park where climbers charter aircraft to fly them and their gear to any of the hundreds of routes within the park. The families will make arrangements to have the remains flown home from Talkeetna, Fister said.

Word of the two fatalities came shortly after news that another pair of climbers, both experts from Washington state, had fallen to their deaths while descending 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

Mizuki Takahashi, 36, died shortly after falling 1,900 feet Thursday night from a point near a challenging route called the West Rib. Her climbing partner, 27-year-old Brian Massey, remained unconscious throughout the evening and died Friday. High winds prevented the park's mountaineering rangers from recovering the bodies until Saturday.

"We're getting off to a difficult start, and the climbing season has just begun," said park spokeswoman Kris Fister. The climbing season starts in late April and tapers off by early July, Fister said.

Last month, 38-year-old Lara-Karena Kellogg of Seattle, a highly experienced climber, died while rappelling down 8,100-foot Mount Wake. The mountain is far smaller than McKinley, but is considered a peak that only top climbers should attempt.

Since 1996, 28 climbers have died in the park, 13 while attempting Mount McKinley, Fister said.

Fister said many people tend to underestimate the Alaska Range because they've climbed higher peaks in other parts of the world.

"The far north location and the two weather systems that slam into the range make things a little more complicated," Fister said. "That's in spite of the fact that the elevations may not be as high as what some mountaineers have experienced."

The park began requiring registration and fees from climbers who attempt Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker, the two highest peaks in the park, after a disastrous 1992 season. A record 13 climbers died that year.

The $200 in fees pays for educational materials that are sent to climbers within 60 days of an attempt. Registration papers help park officials tailor their advice to the climbers' experience levels.

Fister said park policies will remain the same for now.

"Unfortunately there are inherent hazards in any type of recreational activity," Fister said. "We're not going to tell people they can't do it, but we let them know about all the problems that can happen."