Search begins for overdue Mendenhall Towers climbers

When two men went on a climbing trip to the Mendenhall Towers, they told friends and family they’d be back no later than Wednesday evening.

Wednesday evening came and went, and as of Thursday afternoon, the men were still not back, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. Troopers, Juneau Mountain Rescue and the U.S. Coast Guard personnel are searching for 34-year-old Juneau resident George “Ryan” Johnson and Marc-Andre Leclerc of British Columbia.

The two were dropped off at the Towers this past Sunday, according to the dispatch. Leclerc’s age was not available, AST spokesperson Megan Peters said.

After climbing to the top of the Towers — two large peaks on the Juneau Icefield — the two men contacted friends and family Monday. Leclerc posted a photo to his Instagram from the climb as well. That was the last contact they have had with friends or family, according to the dispatch.

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

A post shared by Marc-Andre Leclerc (@mdre92) on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:33am PST

When Johnson and Leclerc weren’t back by 10:06 p.m. Wednesday, friends or family of the men contacted Troopers. Peters said she wasn’t sure if it was family or friends who contacted Troopers.

The two men are experienced climbers. Johnson has scaled the Towers many times and has documented some of his climbs. He has been featured in the Empire and on Climbing.com, and has chronicled his trips on his personal blog, AKalpinist.blogspot.com.

Leclerc was featured in Climbing Magazine in September 2017. The magazine listed him as 24 years old at the time. Both men’s families have been notified of the situation, according to the AST dispatch.

Johnson and Leclerc were supposed to hike and ski back to town via the West Mendenhall Glacier Trail, according to the dispatch. There was a snowstorm Wednesday, and neither man has a satellite phone or emergency beacon, according to the dispatch.

Some of the men’s gear has been located, according to the dispatch. JMR and Coast Guard personnel are using a pair of Coast Guard MH-60 helicopters, and as of 3 p.m. Thursday, the search was ongoing. Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens said late Thursday that one helicopter was diverted from a patrol to assist, and a second helicopter was deployed from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka.

Local climber Jacek Maselko said he wasn’t sure which route Johnson and Leclerc were taking, but that climbing on the Towers is “very challenging.” Maselko said it’s not uncommon for climbers at the Towers to not have a SAT phone with them, as there’s actually cellphone reception at certain places on the Towers.

“That’s one of the interesting things about the Towers,” Maselko said, “is you’re in cell range of town and in visual distance of town, but you are very much on your own.”

Maselko said “so many things” could have happened on the descent to delay the climbers, but he didn’t want to speculate. At this point, he said, he and the rest of the climbing community are staying positive.

“We’re just hoping for the best,” Maselko said.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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