Alaska News

2 experienced climbers still missing on Juneau ice field as weather hinders search efforts

Two experienced climbers were still missing Friday on a Juneau ice field as poor visibility and bad weather prevented rescue crews from searching the mountainous area.

George "Ryan" Johnson, 34, from Juneau, and Marc-Andre Leclerc of British Columbia were dropped off near the Mendenhall Towers on Juneau's Mendenhall Ice Field on Sunday, according to Alaska State Troopers.

They had planned to return to Juneau via the West Mendenhall Glacier Trail by Wednesday evening. On that day, a "significant snow storm" swept through the Juneau area, troopers said.

On Friday afternoon, a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flew to the area with members of the Juneau Mountain Rescue team, said Lt. Brian Dykens, spokesman with the Coast Guard 17th District in Juneau. But the team wasn't able to land.

Clouds were hanging over the glacier, Dykens said, and foggy weather had impacted visibility.

Juneau Mountain Rescue was planning to resume the search on Saturday with help from the Air National Guard, said training coordinator Jackie Ebert, although "the weather forecasts are not in our favor."

The two men last communicated with family and friends Monday after climbing to the top of the towers, troopers said.

On Friday, Outside magazine reported that the men ascended the 6,910-foot main tower via its north face, "a route that appears to have never been climbed before."

Leclerc — a renowned climber profiled in Climbing Magazine in September — posted a photo of their climb to Instagram on Monday.

Rare live update here... that is Mt Fairweather in the distance.

A post shared by Marc-Andre Leclerc (@mdre92) on

At the top, Leclerc called Justin Sweeney, the team manager for his main sponsor, Arc'teryx. Sweeney told Outside magazine that the two climbers were celebrating their climb. They discussed whether they should descend via the north or south face. Sweeney didn't know which route they had chosen.

Johnson is also a well-known climber who "has made waves in the Mendenhall Towers before," free-climbing the south buttress of the Main Tower and establishing a new route on the West Tower, Rock and Ice magazine reported Friday.

On Thursday, about 10 searchers were able to get to the site via helicopter, touching down on the glacier area for a "short period of time" before weather worsened and they had to leave, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters wrote in an email.

The search and rescue team found a gear cache that the men were supposed to use to ski out after their ascent of Mendenhall Towers.

"We know they climbed to the top … it appears they didn't make it back down to the gear they didn't need for climbing," Peters wrote in an email.

Neither of the missing men is reported to have a satellite phone or emergency beacon, troopers said. Juneau climber Jacek Maselko told the Juneau Empire that wasn't unusual, as there is cellphone reception on certain parts of the towers.

Juneau Mountain Rescue is assisting in search efforts. On Friday morning, they posted a short message on Facebook.

The climbing community in Juneau is a tight one. We understand the concern of the community because we are feeling it too. We are continuing to work with the Alaska State Troopers to search for Ryan and Marc.

Posted by Juneau Mountain Rescue on Friday, March 9, 2018

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.