2 experienced climbers believed dead on Alaska mountain

The pair, from British Columbia, was reported missing after they failed to return from a climb March 7.

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two experienced mountain climbers trying to tackle a new route in Alaska were presumed dead after climbing ropes that matched their gear were found in a crevasse, authorities said Wednesday.

George “Ryan” Johnson, 34, of Juneau, and Marc-Andre Leclerc, 25, of Squamish, British Columbia, were reported missing after they failed to return from a climb March 7 on a seven-peaked mountain not far from Alaska’s capital city.

Rescuers had to wait until Tuesday for the weather to clear to fly to Mendenhall Towers, a mountain that rises nearly 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) over the Juneau Ice Field, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Juneau.

They found an intact anchor rope at the top of an ice shoot on one peak and saw two climbing ropes in a crevasse midway down the same peak.

Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, said it wasn’t clear what went wrong because no one saw what happened.

“We know they made it to the top. We know they set anchor,” she said. “Whether they were taken out by an avalanche, whether their rope failed — I mean, anything could happen.”

Officials won’t be able to recover the bodies right away because of avalanche danger. Johnson and Leclerc had been flown to the mountain and planned to ski out to an area to be picked up.

Leclerc was considered a gifted climber. Outside magazine called him “one of the best young alpinists in the world,” and his biography on the website of a sponsor, Canadian outdoor equipment company Arc’Teryx, says he completed several ascents in Canada and Patagonia.

“Sadly, we have lost two really great climbers and I lost a son I am very proud of,” Leclerc’s father, Serge, wrote on Facebook. “Thank you for the support during this difficult time. My heart is so broken … Part of me is gone with him.”

Treya Klassen, a close friend of Serge Leclerc, said last week that the younger Leclerc had his eye on climbing Mendenhall Towers for a decade.

An online version of Alpinist magazine said Johnson knew the mountain. He had scaled Mendenhall Towers multiple times and received an American Alpine Club grant earlier this year to climb the 13,832-foot (4,216-meter) Mount Hayes in the Alaska Range, according to the Juneau Empire newspaper.

Online fundraising pages have been set up for both men. The page for Johnson said the money will be used to pay for search efforts and to support his 2-year-old son.

Leclerc’s family said donations will help his partner as she and other family members grieve.

Lawmakers in the Alaska House of Representatives held a moment of silence for the climbers Wednesday.

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