Guy Edwards, 04-13-03
John Millar

Climbers missing in Southeast

OVERDUE: Canadians were trying to be first up Devils Thumb face.

By PETER PORCO, Anchorage Daily News
Published: April 22, 2003

Two Canadian climbers are missing on a distinctive mountain near Petersburg after a weekend of mostly bad weather hampered search efforts, Alaska State Troopers said.

The search for Guy Edwards and John Millar of British Columbia was kept on hold most of Monday too as low clouds kept a helicopter pilot from flying close to 9,077-foot Devils Thumb, troopers said. It resumed when the clouds broke Monday evening.

The pilot indicated that avalanches had occurred in the area recently, said trooper Chris Umbs in Petersburg.

Devils Thumb rises from the Stikine Ice Cap about 30 miles northeast of Petersburg. A Utah climber fell and died there in July.

Edwards, 30, and Millar, 24, were last seen on the north face by their climbing companion, 33-year-old Kai M. Hirvornen of Vancouver, British Columbia, more than a week ago.

All three are seasoned mountaineers, the troopers said.

They apparently chartered a boat that took them and supplies to last four to six weeks to the base of Baird Glacier about two weeks ago, Umbs said. They had planned to do a lot of climbing, he said.

For three days they skied about 20 miles up Baird and another glacier, Witches Cauldron, to the base of the mountain.

Hirvornen "just didn't feel like going up with them" when Edwards and Millar left camp April 13 with gear and food for a four- to five-day climb up the face, Umbs said.

In the middle of the night, Hivornen saw the shine of their headlamps, his last glimpse of them.

The weather was poor for most of last week. Hivornen became concerned Friday when his partners had not returned.

"He didn't know if they were hunkered down, and he wanted to get help," so he decided to come out, Umbs said.

Hivornen skied to the head of Thomas Bay, where he called for help with a hand-held radio, according to troopers. A pilot for Temsco Helicopters in Petersburg picked him up Friday evening and brought him to town.

At 5 a.m. Saturday, the pilot flew off to search for the other two, taking Hirvornen along. Two fixed-wing pilots with the Juneau Civil Air Patrol joined the search, troopers said.

By Saturday afternoon, worsening weather grounded the CAP planes, and by 7 p.m. the search was suspended for the night.

The Temsco pilot made several trips to the area Sunday as the weather allowed, troopers said.

The first recorded climb of Devils Thumb was in 1946. It is an infrequent destination, said Colby Coombs, a Talkeetna mountaineer and co-author of "Alaska: A Climbing Guide."

There's no easy way up; the area is remote, and the mountain is close enough to the sea that it collects plenty of bad weather. The few people who try are almost all experienced climbers, Coombs said.

Its 6,000-foot north face, the route apparently taken by the missing climbers, is a prize yet unclaimed, said Joe Reichert, a National Park Service ranger in Talkeetna who scaled Devils Thumb by a standard route 10 years ago.

"It's one of the most coveted unclimbed faces in North America," he said.

Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at or 257-4582.

Troopers call off search for Canadian climbers
DEVILS THUMB: Two men have been missing for nearly a week.

Daily News staff

Published: April 23, 2003
Alaska State Troopers have called off the search for two Canadian climbers who have been missing on the remote Devils Thumb for almost a week, trooper Chris Umbs said Tuesday from Petersburg.

Intermittent searches since Saturday have turned up no sign of Guy Edwards and John Millar, Umbs said.

Troopers have not ruled out the possibility that Edwards, 30, and Millar, 24, are hunkered down for safety somewhere. Their base camp about a mile from the mountain is largely intact and unoccupied, Umbs said.

A helicopter pilot indicated that avalanches have occurred in the area, he said.

Edwards and Millar were last seen by a third climber in their party about 2 a.m. on April 14 as they were ascending the 9,077-foot peak on the Alaska-Canada border about 30 miles northeast of Petersburg.

They had taken about four to five days' food and gear on April 13 when they departed the team's base camp intending to complete the first ascent of the north face.

The third member of their team, Kai M. Hirvornen of Vancouver, British Columbia, remained in camp. Weather was poor in the days that followed, Umbs said. When the climbers did not return in time, Hirvornen skied out alone about 20 miles to summon help on Friday.

Searchers were hampered over the weekend and Monday by continuing poor weather, but a helicopter pilot with Hirvornen aboard managed to get through clouds occasionally to search the mountain.

They last searched for about four hours Monday evening, Umbs said. The search was indefinitely suspended at 10 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

Neither Hirvornen nor the pilot for Temsco helicopters, Stephen Obrocta, returned messages.

Edwards, Millar and Hirvornen are experienced climbers. Edwards has climbed successfully in major mountain ranges around the world, according to the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. In the mid-1990s, he skied 1,250 miles through the Coast Range from Vancouver to Skagway.