We are devastated to learn that a week-long search and rescue operation in Alaska was brought to a close on Tuesday night, leaving two of North America’s brightest alpinists presumed dead in the Mendenhall Towers outside of Juneau.
Just over a week ago, Juneau local Ryan Johnson, 34, and Marc-André Leclerc, a Canadian rock climber and alpinist of prodigious talent, posted a summit shot of themselves atop a new route on the north face of the Main Tower. When they missed their planned check-in, search and rescue operations began, only recently finding an anchor and ropes, thought to belong to the pair, in a crevasse part-way down the mountain. A fall during the descent is suspected, and the bodies have not been found at this time.
Johnson, a tireless and dedicated alpinist, is credited with fueling a surge in development at the Mendenhall towers in recent years, including the notable first ascent of The Great White Conquerer which was graded V M5 AI4 A1. Leclerc first came to fame as a supremely skilled young rock climber with eye-catching ascents in Squamish such as the FFA of The Last Temptation of St. Anthony (5.13 R/X) and a speed solo of The Grand Wall (5.11a A0) in under an hour. In recent years, Marc-Andre had continued to unpack his talents with hard rock, ice, and mixed routes in North America and in Patagonia including the first ascent of La Travesia del Oso Buda graded 5.10 A1 M5 WI5/6 and the utterly mind-bending first solo of the Corkscrew Route on Cerro Torre, a 4000 5.10d A0 route during which Leclerc climbed almost entirely freesolo, in the dark, breaking out his rope to protect only about 5 feet of climbing (otherwise using the rope to haul his pack behind him), according to reporting by Rock and Ice in 2015.
Both climbers were possessed of the blend of natural talent and boundless enthusiasm that makes for generation-defining alpinists. They will be missed by the family, friends, and world-wide community of admiring climbers they leave behind. Those who have been inspired by their contributions to Alpinism are encouraged to visit the GoFundMe pages that have been setup in support of the climbers families to cope with expenses related to the rescue efforts and, in Ryan’s case, support of his 2-year old son Milo: