Accomplished Canadian alpinist Marc-André Leclerc (25) has passed away near Juneau, Alaska together with his climbing partner Ryan Johnson. On 5th March, the pair had established a new route on the north face of the Main Tower of the Mendenhall Towers, but were reported missing after they failed to return as planned on Wednesday 7th. Alaska State Troopers have called off the six-day search within the last 24 hours.
Marc-André had posted a photo to Instagram from the summit showing blue skies, reading "Rare live update here... that is Mt Fairweather in the distance" and the pair also sent some text messages at this point. Having been flown in on March 4th by helicopter, their failure to return last Wednesday alerted rescue teams, who began planning a search. Weather conditions deteriorated overnight, with snow storms hampering rescue attempts.
Multiple search and rescue missions by Juneau Mountain Rescue Team, the Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Army National Guard were carried out in the following days, with difficult weather conditions limiting attempts to small windows of opportunity. Today, a GoFundMe page set up to assist with rescue costs was updated with a personal message from Marc-André's father, Serge:
"To all of our friends near and far who have been supporting us and praying for Marc-André I wanted you all to hear it from me first hand before it's in the news. Sadly we have lost 2 really great climbers and I lost a son I am very proud of. Thank you for the support during this difficult time. My heart is so broken...Part of me is gone with him...
Our family appreciates all of your prayers and we would like to ask for a time of privacy as we come to grip with these devastating developments... Marc-André was an amazing, loving man and he has touched many lives in so many ways. He will be remembered and loved forever. I know he is with our Lord and I will be with him again one day."
The page update read:
'All support for this page will now go to the family and Marc's partner Brette to manage and deal with the multitude of items they now have in front of them. As well as much needed respite and closure costs.
Thank you to everyone for all your messages and contribution. Our community is strong and we will get though this as a loving collective. Our gratitude goes to the Juneau Mountian rescue for all the effort and care they gave to search.'
A dispatch from the Alaska Department of Public Safety, State Troopers Public Information Office reported yesterday that the pair are now presumed dead.
"On 3/13/2018, weather cleared and search assets were able to be deployed. The chartered Coastal helicopter, with Juneau Mountain Rescue members on board, was able to reach the north face of the Mendenhall Towers. An intact anchor rope was seen at the top of an ice shoot on the 4th Tower. Two climbing ropes were also seen in a crevasse midway down the 4th Tower. The ropes match the description of the gear carried by Johnson and Leclerc. Due to the circumstances, Johnson and Leclerc are presumed deceased. Due to continuing significant avalanche danger and safety hazards, recovery efforts are not feasible at this time. Next of kin for Johnson and Leclerc have been notified."
Ryan Johnson (34) was local to Juneau and was familiar with the Mendenhall Towers, having made the first ascent of a route on the north face of the West Tower in 2008 with Sam Magro. Three years later in July 2011, Ryan returned with Gabe Hayden to make the first free ascent of the South Buttress Direct on the Main Tower. He was a recipient of the prestigious North American mountaineering prize, the Mugs Stump Award, and this year received one of the American Alpine Club's Cutting Edge grants for an expedition to the east face of Mt. Hayes, in the Alaska Range. A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist family and friends with costs related to Ryan's passing and to contribute to a fund for Ryan's two-and-a-half year-old son, Milo.
Marc-André made numerous cutting-edge first ascents in Canadian mountain ranges and has many Patagonian first ascents to his name - including the first solo of The Corkscrew, the first solo winter ascent of Torre Egger and the first ascent of the Reverse Torre Traverse with Colin Haley in 2015. His talent for bold solos extended to a Scottish winter climbing trip in 2016, where, on his first day, he soloed:
The following day he continued with:
Tower Ridge IV, Thompson's Route IV, downclimbed from the last few metres of Winter Chimney V, up the ice smear right of Winter Chimney, Gargoyle Wall, Green Gully and The Banshee.
And the next day:
Point Five Gully V, Hadrian's Wall Direct V, Smith's Route V, Minus Two Buttress V into Northeast Buttress, Italian Right-Hand IV into Tower Ridge, before climbing Happy Tyroleans IX in the Cairngorms with Jon Walsh.
A video captured Marc's thoughts on Scottish winter climbing:
In January this year, Marc-André made a first winter ascent with Tom Livingstone of Navigator Wall on Mt. Slesse in the Canadian Cascades, a route that he had free soloed in summer (UKC News Report).
Watch a video below of Marc-André climbing Sioux Wall: