Missing climbers on Moose’s Tooth peak presumed dead; search scaled back

Denali National Park officials searching for missing climbers on Moose’s Tooth peak
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 12:56 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 2:26 PM AKDT
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TALKEETNA, Alaska (KTUU) - A search group is looking for two climbers last seen Friday morning before an attempt to climb the Moose’s Tooth in Denali National Park and Preserve.

The park said in a statement Monday that 34-year-old Eli Michel of Columbia City, Indiana, and 32-year-old Nafiun Awal of Seattle, Washington, were last heard from by friends via an InReach satellite communication device around 5 a.m. Friday.

In an update on Thursday, park officials said search efforts are being scaled back, citing the duration of time since it’s believed Michel and Awal were swept up in an avalanche. Officials said they will continue using aerial methods to search for the climbers as weather continues to warm and improve, but said that search managers have “concluded that survival is outside the window of possibility.”

The Moose’s Tooth is a 10,300-foot peak that steeply juts up over the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park, more than a dozen miles southeast of 20,320-foot Denali. The two climbers were reportedly attempting to climb the west ridge of the peak.

By Sunday morning, the friends had grown concerned when Michel and Awal did not report back and contacted mountaineering rangers who worked for the park in Talkeetna. The search party discovered the vacant tent of the pair and ski tracks that led up to the base of the mountain.

Rangers said they found a spot on the mountain where skis had been stashed and reportedly crampons had been put on to ascend the ridge, and the boot tracks led them to a spot where an apparent small slab avalanche had recently been triggered.

“No other tracks were observed on Sunday,” park officials said.

Park rangers said an aerial search is being conducted Monday on the “highly crevassed runout zone,” and a ground search will also be conducted, although will be limited due to the dangers of crevasses, as well as overhead dangers.

On Tuesday, authorities said two ice axes and a climbing helmet were found off the climbing route, and added that both men would have been discovered if they were visible on the surface of the ice.

With overnight temperatures ranging between 5 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the climbing team’s limited supplies, search teams concluded that the likelihood of surviving was slim.

Two climbers are missing on the ridge up the Moose's Tooth in Denali National Park and Preserve.
Two climbers are missing on the ridge up the Moose's Tooth in Denali National Park and Preserve.(Google Maps/Alaska's News Source)