Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve Warnings and Dangers

  • we never learned her fate
    we never learned her fate
    by zrim
  • nature can be very harsh
    nature can be very harsh
    by zrim
  • the Root Glacier
    the Root Glacier
    by zrim

Most Recent Warnings and Dangers in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve

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    A Tragedy? (part two)

    by zrim Written Sep 16, 2004

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    nature can be very harsh

    She couldn't get up. The guide and the husband tried to help her to her feet but she was adament that she could not move and needed to stay put. We looked on helplessly for a few minutes, not knowing what to do. Did the woman break a bone, was she having a heart attack? It was impossible to tell. Eventually we decided to head back to Kennecott and alert the ranger. Sveral times we looked back to see if she had gotten up--but even after twenty minutes we could see that she was still down through the binoculars.

    Finally, as we neared Kennecott the guide ran past us in an all out sprint. By the time we reached the ranger station a rescue party had been formed. But even if they were able to sprint all the way back down the trail, it would have been an hour and a half since the woman went down. And the only way to get her back to Kennecott was by a hand held stretcher.

    If she had a heart attack, she probably didn't make it. If she broke a bone, she certainly had a very uncomfortable trip back to Kennecott.

    I have never felt more helpless. We wanted to do something to help, but with no medical training, no equipment or supplies and no ability to race back up the trail at a run, there was not much we could do other than make our way back to the ranger station as quickly as we could (which wasn't all that fast).

    Alaska is truly splendid, but it is also truly unforgiving.

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  • zrim's Profile Photo

    A Tragedy? (part one)

    by zrim Written Sep 16, 2004

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    we never learned her fate

    Alaska can be a dangerous place even if you take all the proper precautions.

    There were precious few hikers on the Root Glacier Trail. We did not meet anyone coming in the opposite direction until we met this party at the wall of white ice at the Root Glacier. I was going to try to get a little closer and these folks were coming down off the icefield.

    They had a guide, they had equipment, it appeared that they were experienced hikers from Austria. Yet a very scary incident took place right in front of me. The path was narrow and I stepped off the trail to allow these folks to pass. The ice was slippery and the guide leapt across a small break in the ice and held out his hand to help his clients across. The man shrugged off the helping hand and leapt across the break easily. The woman was not so sure on her feet and she reached out for the guides hand for support--she never made it. Her feet went out from under her and she fell upon the ice and tumbled to my feet.

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  • zrim's Profile Photo

    Glaciers can be treacherous

    by zrim Updated Sep 16, 2004

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    the Root Glacier

    More than treacherous, they can be killers. It is extremely dangerous to hike or climb on a glacier without the proper equipment (ice axe, rope, crampons, extra clothing) and a knowledgable guide. Seriously, glaciers are nothing to fool with.

    In the Canadian Rockies there were plenty of signs and roped off areas to keep the unwary off of the dangerous ice. But in Wrangell and Alaska you are on your own. If you want to step foot on a glacier no one is going to stop you or even warn you.

    This photo shows the Root Glacier. A pleasant hike from Kennecott. It is easy to see that the white area in the distance is glacier, but does it surprise you that the black mound in the foreground is also part of the glacier? As glaciers advance and retreat they churn up the landscape. The toes of glaciers often look like dirty ice or in this case like topsoil.

    Just prior to snapping this photo, I was a little further down the trail, where the black portion of the glacier met the white portion. I could hear ice crackling and crunching across the chasm as the glacier continued its slow process of inching down the mountainside. I was glad not to be on the opposite side. But suddenly above me on the hillside I heard the trickle of falling water (and it was not raining). As I looked up the hill I noticed that a small hole had opened up in my side of the glacier about fifteen feet above me. I did not dare go any closer to see how big the hole underneath was because for all I knew there was a crevasse waiting to swallow me up.

    Every year people fall into crevasses and die in seemingly safe areas. Really, glaciers are not to be taken lightly. I probably advanced too far on the Root Glacier without an experienced guide and the proper equipment. There was no one to warn me off (except Becky) and no signs of warning. In Alaska it is expected that the hiker knows the risks. Not much coddling in that great state.

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Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve Warnings and Dangers

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