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25-year-old mountain climber Marc-André Leclerc and his climbing partner Ryan Johnson posted a series of summit photos on Instagram on March 5 and have not been heard from since.Paul McSorley

Marc-André Leclerc, who is presumed to have died during a climb in the Mendenhall Towers region west of Juneau, Alaska, was one of the most daring and skillful mountain climbers that Canada has ever produced.

Mr. Leclerc and his climbing partner Ryan Johnson posted a series of summit photos on Instagram on March 5 and have not been heard from since. The Juneau Mountain Rescue team began scouring the region two days later, but the searchers were hampered by bad weather. On March 13, they discovered ropes at the bottom of the climbers’ planned descent route, which suggests that the pair were swept to their deaths by either an avalanche or cornice collapse. On Facebook later that day, Mr. Leclerc’s father, Serge, wrote: “Marc-André was an amazing, loving man and he has touched many lives in so many ways. He will be remembered and loved forever.”

Mr. Leclerc’s final ascent was but one chapter in the frenetic career of this 25-year-old alpinist from Agassiz, B.C. He climbed hundreds of routes all the way from Baffin Island to Patagonia – often choosing perilous, previously unclimbed routes that he would ascend by himself.

Born on Oct. 10, 1992, in Nanaimo, B.C., Mr. Leclerc and his family moved to the Vancouver suburb of Pitt Meadows just before he turned four. At the age of nine, he was introduced to climbing at a Coquitlam shopping mall. His mother, Michelle Kuipers, recalls, “An outdoor store had a climbing wall that was open to the public to try for free. Marc-André loved it, and a store employee told me, ‘Your kid is pretty good at this.’” So for his 10th birthday, she enrolled him in a safe-climbing course at a nearby gym.

The boy progressed quickly, winning age-group competitions including the Canadian Nationals in 2005. By this time, the family had relocated to Agassiz, close to the towering Cascade Range peaks.

Remarkably, Mr. Leclerc mostly taught himself how to mountain climb. He would ride his bike out to the Harrison Bluffs and scurry to the top, often spending the night there by himself. At 15, he joined the British Columbia Mountaineering Club and participated in a trip to Mount Rexford, a moderately difficult peak. “Most of his fellow climbers were in their 40s and 50s. They were happy because he lead-climbed every pitch,” fellow climber Drew Brayshaw recalls.

His energetic ascents caught the eye of Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin, who wrote how Mr. Leclerc solo-climbed the daunting north face of B.C.’s Mount Cheam on the day of his high school graduation in 2009.

“I remember making a difficult and conscious decision to allow him to pursue climbing,” his mother says, “knowing it was well beyond my ability to participate and supervise and I had to give him the freedom to assess each new venture and use his own judgment.”

Liberated from academics, Mr. Leclerc focused on climbing full-time. He was known to couch surf with fellow climbers in Canmore and bivouacked under boulders tucked beneath the face of the massive Squamish Chief, whose Grand Wall he free-soloed in 2013.

Over the years, fellow climber and outdoor store owner Sam Waddington helped Mr. Leclerc by supplying gear that his sponsors didn’t cover. “It’s one thing to get a couple of free jackets and ropes and another to get an expense account to travel and climb. As Marc-André’s ambitions grew larger, he began writing and taking photographs to prove his worth to potential sponsors. To my knowledge, he never did make what you would call a proper salary.”

It was in Patagonia where Mr. Leclerc would burnish his reputation as one of the world’s top climbers. Located at the tip of South America on the border between Chile and Argentina, the granitic spires and columns of ice attract the best climbers in the world, such as Red Bull-sponsored athlete David Lama, who often travels with a film crew, and American Alex Honnold, whose free solo of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year was sponsored by National Geographic and made mainstream news headlines. (Upon learning of Mr. Leclerc’s death in Alaska, Mr. Honnold tweeted: “I couldn’t believe that he felt comfortable in such enormous mountains. But it seemed like he was just out having a good time.)

Mr. Leclerc soon proved that he belonged. On his first Patagonian foray, in 2014, he teamed up with fellow climbers Paul McSorley, Will Stanhope and Matthew Van Biene to make the first ascent of a route on the remote Cerro Mariposa. On a risky lead near the summit – one that none of his more-experienced partners wanted to take – Mr. Leclerc shifted his body weight onto a precariously placed piton. Mr. Stanhope wrote in the American Alpine Journal: “We all held our breath, but the youngster showed us his repertoire of skills and led us safely to the rim.”

Mr. Leclerc returned to the region in 2015 and solo-climbed the Corkscrew, which Patagonia guidebook/website writer Rolando Garibotti called “an ascent of earth-shifting proportions, by far the hardest route ever soloed on Cerro Torre.” During the antipodean winter of 2016, he was the only climber left in all of Patagonia as he solo-climbed three peaks in one concerted 21-hour solo push, the so-called Winter Link-Up.

On these stunningly exposed routes, which allow no margin for error, Mr. Leclerc would enter what climbers call the “flow state,” combining intense concentration and physical stamina. “Marc moved over rock like someone who was born to do it,” Mr. Stanhope says. “He was a big guy, but his footwork was impeccable – really smooth and in control.”

Mr. Leclerc once told Gripped magazine editor Brandon Pullan that he kept repeating, “I feel like a cat, I feel like a ninja, I feel like a ninja cat, an alpine ninja cat” as he climbed Mount Slesse – one of Canada’s most challenging peaks – via three different routes in a single day. Mr. Pullan says, “He was humble and unassuming and I would go so far to say that his climbs were more of a spiritual journey than an adrenalin rush. He was very focused on climbing and staying in the zone to accomplish what he did. At the end of the day, he always had a big smile.”

Mr. Leclerc articulated this sensation on his blog after successfully climbing a vertical kilometre up Mount Robson’s Emperor Face in 2016. He wrote: “I was deeply content that I had not carried a watch with me to keep time, as the obsession with time and speed is in fact one of the greatest detractors from the alpine experience. I was happy that my entire experience had been onsight [without prior knowledge of the route], on my first visit to the mountain, and that the route had been in completely virgin condition.”

After that he stopped blogging, devoting subsequent Instagram posts to praising the climbing prowess of his girlfriend, Brette Harrington. They climbed as equals in California, Baffin Island and on Mr. Leclerc’s beloved walls looming above his Fraser Valley hometown, including a frigid first ascent near Mount Slesse during a cold snap in February of this year.

Ms. Harrington told Alpinist magazine online editor Derek Franz, “Marc loved being in the mountains, but he especially loved being in the mountains with me. I feel so privileged to have had such an amazing, wonderful, gentle and truly inspiring person in my life for so long. He made a positive impact on everyone he met, giving them 100 per cent of his energy.”

Off the peaks and crags, Mr. Leclerc always made time for other climbers. Squamish-based climber/photographer Leigh McClurg recalls meeting him in a Canmore bagel shop.

“He gestured for me and my wife to sit down and then he started asking about some recent ice climbs we’d done nearby that he’d seen us post about on social media. Here, he’d just soloed three huge mixed routes on the Stanley Headwall [in the Rockies] and he wanted to talk about our routes. He then said that it’s all just perspective, and how the media would never hear about the preparation he did before starting his climbs. He only committed when he thought it was reasonable, just like we did for our climbs.”

As they departed, Mr. Leclerc told the McClurgs, “You’re climbing, having fun. So am I. It’s all the same.”

Marc-André Leclerc leaves his father, Serge; mother, Michelle Kuipers; brother, Elijah; and sister, Bridgid-Anne Dunning.

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