6/3/93 Hiker, Fall
Ice Yields Body; Likely Lost Climber's
By Peter Porco, ADN 2/20/98
The mystery of an able Welsh climber who disappeared in Juneau's mountains five years ago apparently was solved this week with the discovery of a body on Mendenhall Glacier.
Alaska State Troopers believe the body that melted out of the ice is that of Thomas Hargreaves, who left for a solo day hike on June 3, 1993, and never returned. He was 39.
The identification won't be confirmed until Hargreaves' dental records arrive from Wales, trooper Don Otis said Wednesday. The remains were sent to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage.
"We're reasonably certain who it is," he said.
A Juneau friend of Hargreaves, Michelle Ridgway, said the crampons, boots, bandana and shirt found with the body matched those of Hargreaves.
"I recognized them, especially his classic British wool plaid shirt," Ridgway said. She did not see the body.
Ridgway spoke to Hargreaves' parents in Wales. They never believed their son remained alive, and they treated this week's news as good news, Ridgway said.
"They wanted to know where their kid is at rest," she said. "They hope it's him. It would be a tremendous relief to know that their son's final fate has been confirmed. They want some final closure."
Hargreaves, who had recently gotten a master's degree in fisheries science, was spending his summers in Juneau as a commercial fisherman, said Ridgway, a marine biologist.
Ridgway was among the last to see Hargreaves. He stopped by her office the morning of June 3 and asked her to go climbing with him in the Mendenhall area, but she told him she had to work. He was to meet her and other friends for dinner that evening but never showed up.
His bicycle was found the next day chained to a traffic sign at the West Glacier trail head at Mendenhall Lake north of the city. In his room he had left behind credit cards, an international ID card and other personal effects.
Hargreaves' brother and best friend came over from the United Kingdom and joined the air and ground search, which lasted weeks but turned up no other clues.
On Monday, Doug Drexel of Juneau, a 34-year-old project leader for a youth organization, was hiking by himself on the glacier in early afternoon when he saw human remains on the ice less than a mile from the glacier's snout.
"For some reason, something caught the corner of my eve," Drexel said. Amid the white granite scattered in the ice was a rusty brown color 100 feet away.
It seemed like a backpack, like old rotting gear, he said.
"I got a little closer and I could make out a pair of boots. I thought, 'Oh, Lord - I hope that's not what I think it is.'"
The body rested in a wide bowl at the bottom of a steep slope of broken ice topped by an even steeper glacial cliff.
Drexel walked around the body at a distance of 10 yards. The clothes had fallen away in places, and what he could see was literally skin and bones.
"The body ... was kind of curled up, with the head down, the arms folded close to the chest, laying on its side."
Drexel returned Tuesday with Otis and an US Forest Service agent in a helicopter to remove the body.
Hargreaves was a superbly fit, tough and well-experienced adventurer, Ridgway said. He had spent time in the Andes Mountains of South America and in Antarctica, she said.
"He had climbed peaks named and unnamed in Alaska," she added. Ridgway and Otis believe Hargreaves may have slipped into a crevasse and remained hidden from view while rescuers - including her - flew over him. Then he melted out with the glacier's movement.
"My guess," Ridgway said, "is that he fell into some glacial pools - ice water at the bottom of a crevasse.... He was a very lean guy and probably couldn't withstand the cold water."
The body found on Mendenhall Glacier north of Juneau last week is that of Thomas Hargreaves, a 39-year-old Welsh climber who disappeared on a solo outing in June 1993, the state medical examiner said Friday. "It's a relief to everyone, definitely to his parents," said Michelle Ridgway of Juneau, a friend of Hargreaves. Ridgway said the medical examiner's office told her that Hargreaves' dental records matched the remains that another lone hiker found Monday less than a mile up the glacier. Hargreaves' body was to be cremated in Juneau where he lived summers and fished commercially.