Alumni presumed dead after attempting climb

by Jeffrey Giuffrida | 7/3/96 5:00am

Two Dartmouth alumni who were reported missing after failing to return from an attempted climb of 14,573-foot Mount Hunter in Alaska's Denali National Park were presumed dead Tuesday after aerial searches of the mountain revealed a body and a pair of backpacks along the missing mountaineers' route.

The body, found in a snow and ice-filled gully early Monday morning, is believed to be that of Chuck Drake '90, but hazardous conditions have led searchers to postpone retrieving the body, said Kris Fister, Denali National Park spokesperson.

"We believe it to be [Drake's] by virtue of the color of his parka," said Fister. "But right now we just don't know. Between the snowfall and the rockfall, we can't get close enough to do a real investigation."

The backpacks of Drake and partner Joshua Hane '89 were found at the base of the gully, she said. Hane's body is believed to be trapped underneath debris nearby.

The pair had been missing since beginning their ascent of Mount Hunter's western ridge, a route which has never been successfully climbed, on June 22.

Fister said that the pair had told rangers that they intended to climb Hunter "light and fast," carrying only four days worth of food and no tent or sleeping bags.

When the team failed to return after five days, the Park Service began an aerial search, which was hampered by snowstorms and whiteout conditions, she said.

The poor conditions continue to hinder efforts to determine the cause of Hane and Drake's deaths, Fister said.

"We're not sure what the cause is," she said. "A pair of field observers noted ice fall, but until we get close, we can't tell. It could have been equipment failure, an avalanche, or any number of things."

The bodies "may never be recovered," if conditions continue to endanger searchers, she said. "We will monitor the site every day. If the position moves, if more of it exposed. In terms of recovery, it will only be done if there are no hazards."

Hane and Drake are not Mount Hunter's only casualties this year, Fister said. In May, two German climbers died climbing a different route up the mountain.

"The conditions are particularly hazardous this year because of poor snow cover," Fister said. "There's nothing to pick your ax in to. From my understanding, it's the toughest 14,000-foot peak in North America."

Hane was a geography major who rowed lightweight crew, climbed, and led the Dartmouth Outing Club's Freshman Trips program in 1988. He was enrolled in graduate school in art at the University of Wisconsin.

Drake studied earth sciences and also rowed lightweight crew and climbed at the College. He was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Washington at the time of his death.

Friends and fellow climbers have been trading news about Hane and Drake since their disappearance via e-mail. Hane's former roommate Jay Benson '90 said the concern for both climbers has made their loss easier.

"The amazing thing about the whole process is just how many different people considered Josh to be one of their better friends and how diverse their backgrounds were," he said.

"Josh and Chuck certainly touched a lot of people, and there's a lot of people that are devastated by this," he said. "They knew the risks, they were careful climbers, but nature wins sometimes."

Benson said a memorial service for both climbers is tentatively scheduled to be held in Hanover at the end of July. A memorial fund is being established in Hane's name, with funds to be given to the D.O.C.'s Safety Programs and the National Park Service.

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