Two Climbers Missing on the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska

Two climbers skied in to the Moose’s Tooth earlier this month, in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge. They last communicated via their InReach device around 5 am, May 5. As of May 7, they were overdue, and park rangers later found their camp deserted.

The climbers — 34-year-old Eli Michel of Columbia City, Ind. and 32-year-old Nafiun Awal of Seattle — were still missing on Tuesday morning. The pair had planned to climb the West Ridge of the Moose’s Tooth, located in Denali National Park, according to their May 5 message.

A Monday statement from the National Park Service (NPS) relayed those details after the message’s recipients contacted the park concerning the overdue climbers. A sweep of the area by Denali National Park’s mountaineering rangers ensued.

The operation suggested that an avalanche had occurred. The rangers first found the team’s “unattended tent,” and then followed ski tracks that led to the base of the route. There, they located the climbers’ cached skis, which they’d swapped out for crampons to start climbing.

“Boot tracks then continue high on the West Ridge into a recent small slab avalanche,” the statement said.

The rangers found no other tracks on Sunday. Dangerous conditions on the route frustrated their search, and aerial assets became involved by Monday — focusing on the “highly crevassed” avalanche runout zone. The park service said that the crevasse risk, plus the avalanche hazard, will limit further ground searching.

The Moose’s Tooth massif summits at 3,170m above the Ruth Glacier, about 24km from Mount Denali. The West Ridge is a highly serious route at grade V, with 80-degree ice, and is one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. SuperTopo notes that most climbers do not tag the ridgeline’s main summit from the route, due to objective danger.

It’s unclear where on the route Michel and Awal’s tracks disappear.

(See video below, from an unrelated ascent, for further route context.)

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.