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Hope fades for climbers

Dan Joling
The Associated Press
In this photo provided by the McNeil family, Karen McNeil, left, and Sue Nott are seen Denali in 2004 when the two climbed the Alaskan peak. Cloudy weather kept a high altitude helicopter on the ground Wednesday morning, frustrating attempts to find the two climbers missing on Mount Foraker, Wednesday, June 7, 2006, in Alaska. Park officials are hoping for a break in the clouds at 8,000 feet so that they can continue looking for Nott, 36, of Vail, Colo., and McNeill, 37, of Alberta, Canada, on the 17,400-foot mountain. (AP Photo/McNeil family via The Rocky Mountain News)
AP | ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska ” Hope is fading for two mountain climbers missing on one of Alaska’s most difficult peaks, as search crews figure the two women have been without food and fuel for more than a week in snow, wind and subzero temperatures.

“Given the harsh conditions up there, it makes the possibility that they have survived less and less with each passing day,” said Kris Fister, spokeswoman for Denali National Park and Preserve.

An American climber, Sue Nott, 36, of Vail, Colo., and a Canadian, Karen McNeill, 37, of Canmore, Alberta, have been the subject of an official search on Mount Foraker that reached its eighth day Thursday.

But the 17,400-foot mountain remained shrouded by clouds Thursday, casting doubt on continuing the search. Search aircraft also were grounded by clouds Wednesday.

Nott and McNeill, both experienced mountaineers, left their base camp May 12, and began their climb of the ascent route, the Infinite Spur, on May 14. The climbers had told people at base camp that they expected to complete the route in 10 to 14 days.

An air taxi operator and others familiar with the women’s plans flew the climbing route early last week.

“People who knew their plans did the initial checking,” said Fister, speaking from park offices in Talkeetna 60 miles southeast of the mountain. “When they didn’t see any sign of them on the route, that’s when we were alerted.”

At the urging of people at base camp the women carried a radio, but it apparently was not used, Fister said.

The radio, a ripped backpack believed to be Nott’s, and a sleeping bag were spotted June 2 in an avalanche debris field. A helicopter crew on Sunday spotted a yellow bag, black fleece hat and pink nylon jacket in the same area.

Searchers last week spotted tracks at the 15,500-foot to 15,800-foot level. On Monday, photographs confirmed footprints at 16,400 feet, extending hope that the women were at the higher elevation.

Fister said searchers theorize the two climbers may have burrowed into a sheltered spot to reduce their exposure to the wind and cold.

Temperatures likely are dropping below zero at night on the mountain’s higher elevations, she said.

Fister said the agency’s search efforts would continue until the areas of highest probability were searched as thoroughly as possible.

Mount Foraker is 12 miles southwest of Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak.


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