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Searchers scale back efforts to find missing climbers

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska ” Two missing climbers on Mount Foraker have not had enough water or supplies to survive since they were last seen nearly a month ago, prompting officials on Sunday to scale back search efforts.

Sue Nott, 36, of Vail and Karen McNeill, 37, of Canmore, Alberta, had supplies that would have lasted 18 days in ideal conditions, said officials at Denali National Park and Preserve. In the best case scenario, they have had no water for ten days.

“We’re shifting from a rescue to a recovery,” said park spokeswoman Kris Fister. “We don’t feel they’re alive anymore.”

The veteran climbers were last seen on May 14 at the base of a tough technical route known as Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker.

Helicopters have been trying to fly over the summit since Tuesday, when tracks thought to be made by the women were spotted in photographs taken about 1,000 feet from Foraker’s 17,400-foot peak. Aerial searchers found a radio, a sleeping bag and a ripped backpack believed to be Nott’s in an avalanche debris field.

But clouds and high winds kept searchers from getting another good look since then, and cloudy weather isn’t expected to improve in the next few days, according to a statement by the park.

Nott and McNeill, who two years ago were the first women to master the challenging Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley, had told people at base camp that they expected to complete the climb in 10 to 14 days.

Searchers held out hope for longer than usual because the mountaineers had escaped life-threatening situations before and have climbed or pioneered tough technical routes in South America, Switzerland, China and India.

“We gave them the benefit of the doubt because of their skills and stamina,” Fister said. “That was giving us that extra shred of hope.”

An air taxi operator and others familiar with the climbers’ plans flew the route early last week, and alerted park officials when they did not see signs of them. A search began on June 1.

Rangers will fly over the mountain periodically as it melts over the short summer, but it is possible the women will never be found.

Mount Foraker is the second-highest mountain in the Alaska Range located 12 miles southwest of Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak.


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