JUNEAU, Alaska — A British Columbia climber who died during a recent mountain trek in Alaska is being remembered as a talented athlete who was eager to share his expertise and passion for the outdoors.
Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday that Marc-Andre Leclerc, a 25-year-old from Squamish, B.C., and 34-year-old Ryan Johnson of Juneau are presumed dead.
They hadn't been heard from since March 5 when they posted a photo from the top of the Mendenhall Towers, a seven-peaked mountain about 20 kilometres north of Juneau. Poor weather hampered search efforts when the men were reported overdue two days later.
Leclerc grew up in a family that loved the outdoors and he became something of a climbing prodigy early on, said John Irvine, manager of global community marketing with outdoor gear company Arc'Teryx.
Arc'Teryx sponsored Leclerc's professional climbing exploits, providing him with the financial support and equipment he needed to pursue his passion.
Leclerc's skill as a climber was one of the reasons Arc'Teryx wanted to work with him.
"But more importantly for us, he was a great speaker. He was inspiring. He told great stories," said Irvine.
Leclerc enjoyed imparting his expertise about the technical and safety aspects of climbing and inspiring others to take up the sport, he said.
The climber would deliver his remarks as though he were speaking to buddies gathered around a campfire, said Irvine.
"He had the skill set that, in my opinion, was the equivalent of Sidney Crosby in hockey, and yet he was very approachable and very humble," he said.
"He didn't talk about his athletic abilities or prowess, but just simply his love and appreciation for the magic of being in the mountains."
The state troopers say a helicopter with rescuers aboard was able to reach the north face of Mendenhall Towers on Tuesday. There, they saw ropes matching the description of gear Leclerc and Johnson were carrying.
"Due to continuing significant avalanche danger and safety hazards, recovery efforts are not feasible at this time," the state troopers said in a news release Wednesday.
Leclerc's father posted a message on his public Facebook page late Tuesday night with news the pair had died.
"Sadly, we have lost two really great climbers and I lost a son I am very proud of," Serge Leclerc wrote. "Thank you for the support during this difficult time. My heart is so broken. ... Part of me is gone with him."
A GoFundMe campaign for Johnson says money raised for him will be used to pay for the search efforts and support his two-year-old son, Milo. The online crowdfunding website says money raised for Leclerc and his family will help his partner, Brette, as she and the family grieve.
The campaign for Johnson says the pair were "climbing a cutting edge new route on the north face" of the main tower.
Outside magazine called Leclerc "one of the best young alpinists in the world," and his biography on Arc'Teryx's website says he completed several ascents in Canada and Patagonia.
Treya Klassen, a close friend of Leclerc's father, said on the weekend the young man has had his eye on climbing Mendenhall Towers for a decade.
Johnson was described in the online version of Alpinist magazine as knowing the Mendenhall Towers "like nobody else."
Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, said it wasn't clear what went wrong because no one saw what happened.
"We know they made it to the top. We know they set anchor," she told The Associated Press. "Whether they were taken out by an avalanche, whether their rope failed — I mean, anything could happen."
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary, with files from The Associated Press.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Marc-Andre Leclerc was 24.