Air search for Marc-Andre Leclerc, of Squamisha, and Ryan Johnson, of Juneau, has been delayed. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bad weather delays air search for B.C. climber on remote Alaska glacier

JUNEAU, Alaska — Bad weather in southwestern Alaska has delayed the air search for a British Columbia man and his climbing companion near Juneau.

Twenty-four-year old Marc-Andre Leclerc of Squamish and his 34-year-old climbing partner Ryan Johnson of Juneau were climbing the Mendenhall Towers.

A search began last week when the pair of experienced climbers didn’t return by Wednesday, the same day a significant snowstorm battered the area.

Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, says if the weather allows, a helicopter would try to reach the north side of the Mendenhall Towers some time on Monday.

Poor weather on Friday and Saturday hampered the air search, but a helicopter crew was able to fly over the south side of the towers on Sunday before the weather closed in again.

A family friend says Leclerc has been praised as an accomplished and careful climber, so the family is hopeful he and Johnson are waiting out the storm in a cave.

Treya Klassen, a close friend of Leclerc’s father, said the young man has had his eye on climbing Mendenhall Towers for years.

“He’s seasoned to do this. He’s trained to be able to survive a lot. He trained, so hopefully he’s holed up in a cave, waiting out a storm,” she said.

Peters said rescue efforts remain dependent on the weather.

“Sometimes we have situations like this where people are unaccounted for and we don’t yet know why, and hopefully we will find them and they’ll be OK. But until we find them, we won’t have a better idea of what transpired,” she said Monday.

Leclerc and Johnson were dropped off on the Mendenhall icefield near the towers on March 4. Leclerc posted an Instagram photo from near the summit of the 2,100-metre main tower a day later.

The pair was supposed to hike and ski out of the area over the following two days but the bad weather hit. Search and rescue officials say neither man was equipped with a satellite phone or emergency beacon.

Some of their gear was found by searchers, but other than the photo posted last Monday, there has been no contact from the climbers.

Richard Leclerc said his nephew took a photo and got in touch with his sponsor after reaching the summit.

“Marc-Andre also exchanged text messages with his father,” Leclerc said.

Outside magazine has called Leclerc “one of the best young alpinists in the world,” and his biography on sponsor Arc’Teryx’s website says he completed several ascents in Canada and Patagonia.

“He’s a powerful human being. It takes something to do these endeavours,” said Klassen, who set up a fundraising page in his name to help the family travel to Alaska to participate in the search.

“He’s an amazing human being and he comes from an amazing family.”

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