Karen McNeill and Sue Nott, two of the foremost female alpinists in North America, are missing on 17,400-foot Mt. Foraker in the Alaska Range. The two women were aiming to make the first all-female ascent of the very difficult Infinite Spur (9,400 feet, Alaska Grade 6). They had planned to start up the climb on May 14, carrying about 10 days of food.
Late last week, Denali National Park rangers began a search for the overdue climbers. On Friday, they retrieved a pack from the base of the climb that apparently had fallen a great distance; the pack contained a sleeping bag and radio. On Saturday, they also spotted a jacket and hat near the pack’s location.
Despite these ominous signs, rangers have not given up hope. It’s possible the climbers dropped the pack but did not fall, and yesterday searchers identified tracks at about the 14,800-foot level on the Infinite Spur. A spokeswoman at the park’s Talkeetna ranger station said today that possible tracks were identified even higher at around 15,800 feet, near the end of the route’s difficult climbing. High winds hit Foraker for several days right around the time when the women would have reached this point, and they may have taken shelter in a snow hole on either side of the summit. A spokeswoman said the weather is good today, and a high-altitude Lama helicopter is on its way to search the upper mountain. Rangers also will search possible exit routes off the peak.
McNeill, 37, from Canmore, Alberta, and Nott, 36, from Vail, Colorado, are two of the most accomplished women climbers on the continent. McNeill has climbed alpine routes all over the world; Nott has climbed Shivling and a new route on Kalanka in India, and has done the north faces of the Eiger and Grande Jorasses in winter. Two years ago, McNeill and Nott teamed up to climb the Cassin Ridge on Denali’s south face, making the first all-female ascent of the challenging route in very poor conditions; they suffered through three days without food and spent a night at the summit before safely descending.Comment on this story