Two climbers who have been missing on the Mendenhall Towers since last week are presumed dead, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Juneau resident George “Ryan” Johnson, 34, and British Columbia climber Marc-André Leclerc, 25, were due back March 7 from climbing the Mendenhall Towers, but did not return. A dispatch from Troopers on Wednesday morning stated that searchers found an anchor rope on the fourth Tower and two climbing ropes were located in a crevasse midway down the Tower. The ropes and equipment matched the descriptions of the gear carried by Johnson and Leclerc, the dispatch stated.
“Due to the circumstances, Johnson and Leclerc are presumed deceased,” the dispatch read. “Due to continuing significant avalanche danger and safety hazards, recovery efforts are not feasible at this time.”
Leclerc’s father Serge posted on his public Facebook account late Tuesday night, updating friends and family prior to the news coming out.
“Sadly we have lost two really great climbers and I lost a son I am very proud of,” the post read.
The Troopers dispatch stated that missing person files have been entered for the two men. Troopers thanked the responders who helped out during the search.
Responders from the Troopers, Juneau Mountain Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army National Guard spent six days searching for the two men.
Weather greatly hindered search efforts, keeping search helicopters grounded for most of the time for the first five days. On the sixth day, Tuesday, responders spent much of the day up around the Towers — peaks that rise nearly 7,000 feet over the Juneau Ice Field — looking for signs of the two experienced climbers.
The two men climbed the north face of what is called the Main Tower, JMR Operations Section Chief Jackie Ebert said. When looking at the Towers from the Brotherhood Bridge , this is the second tower from the left. They then descended the ridge between the Main Tower, Ebert explained, moving from left to right as one looks at the Towers from the bridge.
The two men then rappelled down a gulley on the north side near the fourth tower, Ebert said. Their ropes and gear were found in a crevasse in this gulley, she said.
Talented and humble
There’s been a large outpouring of support for the search. Two GoFundMe pages (entitled “Marc Leclerc, Ryan Johnson search” and “Ryan Johnson Closure & Milo Fund”) have popped up, raising a total of over $76,000 for a variety of costs as of Wednesday afternoon. The money, according to the descriptions of the pages, is being used to help Leclerc’s friends and family travel to Juneau and assist with the search. One of the accounts says that in a worst-case scenario, some of the money can be used to create a fund for Johnson’s 2 and a half-year-old son Milo.
Both Johnson and Leclerc were extremely experienced climbers. Johnson has scaled the Towers — which rise nearly 7,000 feet over the Juneau Ice Field — multiple times and received a $3,000 American Alpine Club grant earlier this year to scale 13,832-foot Mt. Hayes in the Alaska Range.
Samuel Johnson (no relation), a good friend and alpine climbing partner of Ryan Johnson’s, said Ryan had accomplished hundreds of first ascents (being the first person to climb in a particular area) in the Juneau area. These included multiple climbs on the Mendenhall Towers, including his final ascent on the north face of the Main Tower.
“He was likely the best winter climber in Alaska’s history,” Samuel Johnson said, “and undoubtedly one of the more talented alpinists in North America.”
Ryan had climbed all over the world, Samuel said, including Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and China. In recent years, Ryan had focused on raising his son and helping others get involved with climbing.
“He was a visionary and a dreamer with the motivation, skills and dedication needed to accomplish what many others considered difficult or impossible feats,” Samuel said.
Leclerc has quickly become an international name in the climbing community. Like Johnson, Leclerc was known for being the first to scale many difficult routes. He climbed in Patagonia, Alaska, Canada and elsewhere.
John Irvine, Manager of Global Community Marketing at Arc’teryx (an outdoor equipment company that sponsors Leclerc), referred to Leclerc as a “prodigy.” Despite the the attention, Irvine praised Leclerc’s humility.
“He’s exceptionally humble,” Irvine said. “He is very comfortable sharing his exploits and sharing his passion for the mountains in a public speaking sense and through film and through articles. But again, it’s in a very humble way and in a way that doesn’t profile him as a hero, but in a way that profiles his passion for being in the mountains.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.