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Contact: Maureen Gualtieri, 907-733-9103
TALKEETNA, AK - The active search for two climbers in Denali National Park and Preserve will scale back on Thursday, May 11, six days after the two men were last heard from before starting a climb of the 10,300-foot peak known as the Moose’s Tooth.
Eli Michel, age 34 of Columbia City, IN, and Nafiun Awal, age 32 of Seattle, WA, set out at 5 AM Friday, May 5 for a climb of the West Ridge, a steep technical route on the Moose’s Tooth characterized by a moderate angle approach to a mix of 60-degree snow, ice, and rock slopes. Based on communications with their friend, the team had intended to climb the route in a single, long push. As is typical, to minimize weight and move fast, they did not take overnight gear, nor likely more than a day’s supply of food, water, and fuel.
Clues collected by mountaineering rangers throughout the search indicate that Michel and Awal were swept off their feet by a small slab avalanche on the evening of Friday, May 5, high on the peak’s West Ridge route. Several items of the climbers’ equipment, including two ice axes, were observed off the climbing route during aerial searches of the 3,200-foot fall line. Multiple ground searches of the heavily crevassed glacier at the bottom of the fall line were conducted via helicopter short-haul in order to reduce exposure to rockfall and avalanche hazards to rescuers. The two climbers were not found.
Spotters on aerial and ground missions searched both the climbing route and the fall line to the degree that if the climbers were visible on the surface, there is a high probability they would have been discovered.
Considering the severity of the rocky terrain along the 3,200-foot fall line, the team’s limited supplies, temperatures ranging from 5 F to 20 F overnight, and the duration of time since last contact, search managers have concluded that survival is outside the window of possibility.
Although the search is being scaled back, Denali mountaineering rangers will continue the aerial search for signs of the two missing climbers throughout the next several months, as snow conditions change with the warming temperatures.
Last updated: May 11, 2023