Officials say it’s likely two climbers missing in Denali National Park and Preserve in the area of the Moose’s Tooth fell Friday while on a high ridge.
The National Park Service identified the climbers as Eli Michel, 34, of Columbia City, Indiana, and 32-year-old Seattle resident Nafiun Awal. A friend told rangers they last heard from the pair early Friday morning, park officials said. Their ski and boot tracks were spotted leading to a small slab avalanche.
Park officials said Tuesday that they believe the two climbers triggered the avalanche, resulting in the fall.
The boot prints and other clues indicated the pair fell while climbing high on the West Ridge route of the 10,300-foot peak, according to an update. Other items spotted during two days of searching include their vacant tent and pieces of climbing equipment, including two ice axes and a helmet.
Bad weather in Ruth Gorge, including low visibility and snow, grounded search flights Tuesday, officials said. The aerial search will continue when the weather allows.
Search efforts are expected to focus on a 3,200-foot “fall line” that ended in a heavily crevassed area at the bottom of the slide path, according to park spokesperson Sharon Stiteler.
“The avalanche itself looks to be a comparatively small one in terms of snow volume, so we are not seeing a large debris pile at the base,” Stiteler wrote in an email. “Whatever debris there was, it appears to have been deposited into the various large crevasses on the glacier.”
Search efforts began Sunday after the friend alerted park officials that the team had not checked back via InReach following their climb, according to the update.
Mountaineering rangers and the park’s contracted helicopter pilot flew two missions each Sunday and Monday totaling nearly eight hours, park officials said. A ranger conducted ground searches of the glacier at the base of the peak while harnessed to the end of a rope.