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Update: Two GoFundMe campaigns have been created for the search efforts. The first campaign will help get Leclerc’s family to Alaska to aid in the search. The second campaign will help fund ground and air search efforts, and aid the family of Ryan Johnson.
Marc-Andre Leclerc, a star alpinist and free soloist from Agassiz, B.C., and Ryan Johnson of Juneau, Alaska, are missing, after failing to return from a first ascent attempt in Alaska’s Mendenhall Towers on the Juneau Icefield. The pair was last heard from on Monday, March 5, when Leclerc posted a photo to Instagram from a point high up on one of the towers.
A snowstorm blew through the area Wednesday, March 7, the day the climbers were expected to check back in with friends and family. State troopers were notified Wednesday evening around 10 P.M. that Leclerc and Johnson were overdue. On Thursday, a search was initiated using a pair of Coast Guard MH-60 helicopters.
According to Megan Peters, of the Alaska State Troopers Public Information Office, searchers located the climbers’ skis and some other gear near the base of the towers on Thursday. Peters said the pair had chartered a helicopter that flew them onto the icefield on March 4. They had planned to climb a route and then ski out along the West Mendenhall Glacier Trail.
Weather hampered the search effort Friday.
“Today the weather is not cooperating. We could not launch air assets,” said Peters on Friday afternoon. She could not give an estimate as to when a ground search team might be able to reach the towers, noting the remoteness of the area.
“This isn’t something where you can have people just walk out there and search. It’s not conducive to deploying ground searchers without using air assets,” she said.
Leclerc, age 25, has made a name for himself in recent years with visionary solo ascents in British Columbia and Patagonia, most notably The Corkscrew linkup on Cerro Torre in 2015. Merging high-level rock-climbing talent with hardcore alpine panache, Leclerc has pushed back the boundaries of fast-and-light style on some of the world’s most imposing faces.
Ryan Johnson, 34, is a 2008 recipient of the Mugs Stump Award. He’s put up big first ascents from Alaska to Kyrgyzstan, including a previous line in the Mendenhall Towers.
Clint Helander is a close friend and frequent partner of Johnson. The pair made two previous trips to the Mendenhall Towers, as well as climbs of Denali and Mount Hunter. Reached at his home in Anchorage on Friday afternoon, Helander said the Mendenhall Towers offer steep, high-quality granite climbing, though finding protection can be challenging due to the dense and compact nature of the rock. He said Leclerc and Johnson are believed to have climbed a new route on the unclimbed north face of the Fourth Tower, which Johnson and Helander had attempted but abandoned due to poor conditions on a previous trip.
“Ryan knows those mountains, the Mendenhall Towers, like nobody else,” he said. “He knows all the descent options, which ones go and which ones don’t.”
Climbing.com will provide updates as new information becomes available.