Lost climbers could be hunkering down
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska ” Park officials say there’s a chance Vail resident Sue Nott and climbing partner Karen McNeill might be taking shelter below the south summit of Alaska’s Mount Foraker, where rescuers focused their search on Tuesday.
Though there is no strong evidence the pair is alive or dead, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said searchers still consider their effort a rescue mission, not a recovery.
“It’s the last specific area we can pinpoint them having been,” Fister said. “We think they got to that point and they went into a crevasse or some other area to protect themselves from the elements.”
Rescuers confirmed Monday night they spotted tracks they believe were made by the women at 16,400 feet near the Infinite Spur route, although Fister said she didn’t know if the tracks were one set or two.
Twelve observers split between two Chinook helicopters based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, left a base camp Tuesday afternoon to search “prime area” below the south summit of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker.
Rescuers expected weather conditions into late Tuesday would allow continued air searches, although increasing clouds and a chance of snow were forecasted later in the day, Fister said. Several people checking weather and looking for Nott and McNeill with a powerful telescope at the base of the Infinite Spur route moved out of the area.
A backpack, with its contents strewn around it, that was found June 2 with shoulder straps intact was not ripped off because of an avalanche, Fister said, adding the backpack likely fell a short distance.
No tracks have been found on Nott and McNeill’s on a alternate route to the Infinite Spur Nott and McNeill could have used to get off the mountain.
Mount Foraker is the second highest mountain in the Alaskan Range, located 12 miles southwest of the highest peak, Mount McKinley. The Infinite Spur route begins at 8,000 feet, continues up the south summit of Mount Foraker and is ranked Alaskan Grade Six, the highest grade of difficulty.
“You really have to know what you’re doing if you’re attempting a grade six,” Fister said.
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