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Fruitless search for dad on Mount Marathon ends with heartfelt engraving

Craig Medred
Courtesy TSS Photography / Davis Stewart

MaryAnne LeMaitre has gone home to Moab, Utah, at last -- the long, futile search for her missing father over. Before leaving, though, she left a memorial of sorts for Michael at Race Point near the top of Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska. MaryAnne reported on her Facebook page that on the last of dozens of treks up the Mount Marathon course, she took a Dremel tool to a rock.

"I had limited battery life on it,'' she wrote. "So I had to engrave something simple. I decided on the first thing that came to mind....'I LOVE YOU DAD.'" 

MaryAnne has been searching for her 66-year-old father almost since the day of his mysterious July 4 disappearance during the celebrated Independence Day race. Michael was the last of hundreds of racers in the annual race up and down a 3,022-foot peak at the head of Resurrection Bay on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska.

The second-oldest footrace in North America, Mount Marathon has been going on since the early 1900s, and no one had ever disappeared until this year. Much of the race trail is clearly visible from the community of Seward, normally with a population of 2,733, but more than twice that on race day. No one saw Michael reach the top of the trail this year, however, because the weather was rainy and cold on race day. 

The top of the mountain was obscured by clouds. The last people to see the 66-year-old, first-time Mount Marathon runner were in a team of race timers heading back to town after a long day high on the mountain. Only a couple hundred feet below the race turnaround, they passed Michael, judged him to be doing fine, and went on down, saying they'd see him later in town.

He was never seen again. Everyone in Alaska long ago accepted that he was dead. A search organized by the Alaska State Troopers lasted only a few days. People cannot survive any longer in rainy, 40-degree weather dressed in only shorts and a T-shirt. The LeMaitre family held a memorial service for Michael a month ago. Friends and family tried to move on in their own ways.

And MaryAnne began a long search for her father's body. She detailed it all on Facebook in posts that document a hunt for her father's spirit as much as for his body.

"I am at peace with the mountain," she wrote at the end of one of the last. "I also realized, in hindsight, that I wasn't alone. I had the mountain and my dad right there with me every step of the way. There's a prayer I keep repeating over and over in my head even now: 'Dear Lord, please keep my father safe from harm, keep him warm, and keep him alive. Help us find him as soon as possible. Amen.' I know he's probably not alive, but I'm going to continue with that prayer until we do find him. I know I'm not the only one looking, and I appreciate how much everyone cares about wanting to find him.

"Thank you to everyone for your kindness, prayers and sincerity. I am forever grateful."

Michael, an adventurous guy known for working to help others, may be gone, but his spirit lives on in his daughter.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com