Naomi Uemura was born in Hidaka, Japan on the 12th of February 1941. A shy boy, he decided to study climbing in college and hoped that mountaineering would increase his confidence.
Naomi was a licenced amateur radio operator, and would frequently use radio communication during his expeditions. His operator sign was JG1QFW.
Before Naomi turned 30, he had already solo-climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn and had walked the length of Japan. He had also submitted to the 1970 Japanese expedition to climb Mount Everest, alongside the International Everest Expedition in 1971.
In 1978, Naomi travelled to the North Pole. On the fourth day of the trip, a polar bear invaded his camp, stole his supplies, and pressed his nose against the sleeping bag where Naomi laid tense and motionless. When the bear returned the next day, Naomi shot him dead. Naomi also became stranded with his dogs on the 35th day of his trip, but eventually ended up finding a 3 foot (0.91m) wide ice bridge to get to safety. During this trip, he coordinated with the Canadian Air Force and received supplies from their helicopters. However, once he returned from the trip, he questioned the use of such extensive support and from then on decided to carry his supplies on his own back.
Naomi was the first person to ever reach the North Pole Solo. Describing his trip to the North Pole, he said: “What drove me to continue was the thought of countless people who had supported me and helped me, with the knowledge that I could never face them if I gave up.”
In August 1970, he decided to climb Denali (previously known as Mount McKinley) and did so becoming the first person to reach the top alone. He also completed this climb very quickly in comparison to other climbers: Naomi reached the top in just 8 days, carrying only a 55 pound (25kg) pack, whilst the average was 14 days to reach the top with an average of 110 pounds (50 kg) pack.
He also set a record for the long-distance record for a dog-sledge journey at 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles). This was in 1976 when he did a solo sledge-dog run from Greenland to Alaska in preparation for climbing Antarctica’s highest peak.
By now, you can see that Naomi is a well-experienced mountaineer and an outdoor survivalist. So it was no surprise to anyone when Naomi decided to climb Denali again. This time, he climbed in winter, contrary to his last climb here which was in August. Nobody had actually ever successfully climbed any large Alaskan peak in winter until 1967 when Gregg Blomberg organised an expedition that managed to get to the top of the Denali – but Blomberg himself did not summit and the team lost one member, and nearly all of the team in a storm on the way down.
Although this was considered dangerous to climb solo, especially in winter due to its crevasses which are often not visible, Naomi had developed his own “self-rescue” device which was constructed of bamboo poles tied across his shoulders which would span into any crevasse he fell into and allow him to pull himself out. Naomi also planned for a very light pack, weighing only 40 pounds (18kg) and planning to sleep in snow caves, meaning no need to carry a tent, and chose to take only cold food meaning he would not have to take any fuel.
He began the climb in early February 1984, and actually reached the summit on February 12th, 1984 – his 43rd Birthday.
On February 13th, 1984, Naomi made radio contact with Japanese photographers who were flying over Denali, saying that he had reached the top and had descended the climb to around 18,000 feet (5,500 metres). He said he planned to reach the base camp in two days, but sadly, Naomi never made it to the base camp. This is the last known contact from him.
Whilst the planes did fly over the mountain on the 13th, they never actually saw Naomi. It is also said that there were strong winds at the top, and the temperature was around -50 Fahrenheit (-46 Celsius).
Naomi was spotted the next day, the 14th, however, at around 16,600 feet (5,100 metres) supposedly on a ridge, but the weather made further searching difficult.
By February 20th, the weather had cleared, and there was no trace of Naomi. There was no sign of his earlier camp at 16,000 feet (5,100 metres) either, and no evidence of caches left by earlier climbers nearby had been disturbed.
Two experienced climbers dropped at 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) to begin searching for Naomi. Despite a storm coming in, they stayed on the mountain until the 26th. Although they never found Naomi, they did find a cave that he had stayed in on the way up. Inside the cave, they found a diary that belonged to Naomi. The last entry read: “I wish I could sleep in a warm sleeping bag. No matter what, I am going to climb McKinley.”
The diary also revealed that Naomi had left some gear in that cave, on the way to the top, to lighten his load. He had also left his self-rescue device at 9,500 feet (2,900 metres), he left them knowing he was past the worst crevasse fields on the mountain.
A set of Japanese climbers arrived to look for his body, however, they never found it. They did manage to locate a lot of his gear at around 17,200 feet (5,200 metres).
The first question that I had to ask whilst researching this case, was why did it take so long to send a search party out? Well, the answer to this is that nobody wanted to send a search party out in case it offended Naomi. That’s right, because of his well-known reputation and experience, no one wanted to risk upsetting him. Doug Geeting, one of the pilots who had been looking for him over his trip, said: “If it were anyone else, a search party would have been sent up immediately.”
Whilst it is strange, the reason for not sending a search party earlier is understandable. Naomi was an experienced traveller, and the people on the ground properly were not too worried if they hadn’t heard from him in a day or so.
Whilst Naomi’s body has still, never been found, it is generally accepted that he died on that mountain. Either from falling on his descent, becoming injured, dying and then being buried in the snow, or he made it to 14,200 feet (4,300 metres) and fell into one of the crevasses and died as a result of that.
If that is the case, and he did die, why was his gear found just over 1,000 feet (100 metres) up from where he was last seen? Why would Naomi have walked up the mountain, just to drop off his things, then walk back down again?
What do you think happened to Naomi?
True crime, unsolved, missing, USA, missing person, Japanese, cold case, unsolved case, disappearance, mystery, disappeared.