The Search Continues for Two Missing Climbers in Alaska. Here’s What We Know So Far.
A search is underway for Eli Michel and Nafiun Awal who went missing while climbing on the 10,335-foot Moose’s Tooth in Denali National Park over the weekend.
A National Park Service news release suggested that the climbers likely triggered a small slab avalanche while climbing high on the West Ridge route on Friday, May 5.
The Moose’s Tooth is a well-traveled peak on the east side of the Ruth Gorge, just 15 miles from Denali. A revered mountain despite its moderate height, the Moose’s Tooth is home to the 5,000-foot East Face, and is riddled with ice couloirs, cornices, crevasses, and bulging seracs. It’s a mountain void of “walk up” routes, and it is commonly used as a test-piece for climbers with big-mountain aspirations.
Michel, of Columbia City, Indiana, and Awal, of Seattle, Washington, sent their last GPS dispatch on Friday morning. Search efforts began two days later, after a friend notified park officials of the team’s lapse in communication.
Park officials arranged two 8-hour flight missions and ground searches. Officials quickly located the team’s abandoned campsite, and traced ski and boot tracks to a small slab avalanche near the top of the West Ridge.
Pieces of the team’s equipment were also located amidst the avalanche’s 3,200-foot fall line including two ice axes and a climbing helmet. The fall line terminates near a heavily crevassed glacier, which has complicated search efforts.
Denali National Park spokesperson Maureen Gualtieri stated: “That is the area we are focusing our aerial search efforts in the days to come.”
“The avalanche itself looks to be a comparatively small one in terms of snow volume, so we are not seeing a large debris pile at the base,” Gualtieri said. “Whatever debris there was, it appears to have been deposited into the various large crevasses on the glacier.” An aerial search will continue as weather permits, although Tuesday’s search efforts were delayed due to snowfall and poor visibility.
Climbing will update this story as more information becomes available.
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