The Last Frontier
Alaska is called the Last Frontier. If you have seen the movie Into the Wild by Sean Penn that features the fate of Christopher McCandless when trying to live alone in the wild of Alaska in a bus, you have a glimpse. Alaska is a front, a front at which one has to do everything to ensure a chance for survival.
There are not only creeks or rivers that over night due to snowmelt or rainfall may turn into wild waters that cut the way off and imprison you to your side of the river. Such a situation started the fate of McCandless that led to him eating poisonous plants and finally his death.
Besides hard to predict rivers there are bears, wolves, wolverines that are all carnivore. The biggest enemy, however, is the cold. Nearly every winter, a person gets missed. Nearly every breakup a body is found somewhere having been buried by snow or even swimming in the Chena river. Every winter, at least one person dies from hypothermia only in Fairbanks. Often alcohol is part of the game. Being drunk and getting tired a person lays down to sleep and never wakes up again.
However, even not being drunk you can become a victim of hypothermia. Imagine you travel a lonely road in winter and your car slips into the ditch. If you are injured and can’t get out of the car by yourself, even when a car passes by the driver may not see you, especially when it snows. Forget the cell phone! There is no cell phone contact once you are 30 miles away from a settlement.
Snow-machining is a big thing not only for fun, but also for travel in rural areas off the road system. Usually, frozen rivers and creeks serve as the travel paths. However, thin ice may occur even in deep winter and become a deadly trap. Even when you succeed to get back out of the water, it may not mean survival when you don’t get warmth fast.
Tell a friend
Thus, Alaskans always tell a trusted person (friend, family, neighbor) where they go, when they go, which way they go, and when they expect to be back. When the traveling person is overdue according to the given travel schedule and the traveling person has not reported a delay or change in the travel plans the trusted person initiates a search troop of friends for a wellness check. Some save lives. Some don’t. Some even don’t find a trace.
A couple of years ago, a woman traveled with a snow-machine to visit family. She never arrived. The wellness check didn’t find her nor her vehicle.
Some time ago, a young couple was on a snow-machine trip over the weekend. One of their snow-machines failed. They abandoned that snow-machine and continued with the other. It had snowed too much for the remaining snow-machine to bring them to the next cottage. They built a snow igloo to stay warm and became overdue. Their friends found the cabin empty, found the abandoned snow-machine and finally the couple halfway between the cabin and snow-machine and brought them back to safety.
Another example is a hunting party that got split. A misinterpretation of a landmark led to one part of the party going into another valley. The part of the party that made it back initiated the search for the part they did not meet up with as planned. The lost part was found after an extended air search.
Such air searches are also made by the Civil Air Patrol when an aircraft is overdue. Recall, Alaska is the US state with the most pilot licenses and small aircrafts.
There are many stories like these that document the necessity of having not only a plan B, but also plan C to Z in place to survive in Alaska’s wild. Caring means sharing. Let your friends know by tweeting this.
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You can find other posts related to the harsh life in Alaska like general support, fuel for Nome, and vaccine for Nome. Focus Alaska is a weekly series here on High Latitude Style. Get a subscription to High Latitude Style.
Photos: G. Kramm (2015)
Copyright 2013-2015 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved