Denali search ends tragically


Denali Park Road/National Park Service photo

A Denali National Park search for 24-year-old Michael Purdy from Portland has ended tragically with his body found near the  Savage River.

National Park Service officials reported Sunday afternoon that a ground team found Purdy dead near the north end of the Savage River Loop Trail. It appeared, they said, that Purdy left the main trail to do some scrambling on higher terrain, fell and suffered a fatal head injury.

A search for Purdy had begun Saturday evening after his employer notified park rangers that Purdy had missed  work on Friday and Saturday. Given that he had last checked in with his boss by cell phone on Tuesday, it is believed the fall happened not long after.

An experienced Denali hiker, Purdy was known to check in regularly by phone.

The tourist season has only just begun  in Alaska’s 6-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve.

Purdy had come north from Portland to work for his second season of summer employment at Denali ATV Tours in Healy, a community just outside the park entrance about 240 miles north of Anchorage.

According to park spokeswoman Maureen Gaultieri, Purdy’s vehicle was located in the Savage East parking lot at mile 15 of the Denali Park Road. Park staff and others said it had been there since at least Tuesday.

Purdy reportedly told his employer he planned to drive into the park to enjoy several day hikes away from the road. Camping and what appeared to be overnight backpacking gear were found in his vehicle along with food and other supplies, Gaultieri reported.

Purdy was described as an adventurous and experienced back country hiker familiar with the 49th state’s best known wilderness park.

Both ground and aerial searches were launched Sunday. Efforts focused along the Savage River, on Healy Ridge and around Mount Margaret. The park service reported 15 searchers in five ground teams plus one search and rescue dog were combining the countryside. Other park personnel were scanning the surrounding terrain with spotting scopes.

Winter is only just ending in Denali with the leaves on the trees just starting to emerge. The Savage River is generally free of ice, but some creeks draining into it from above remain frozen and slippery.

They can make footing treacherous, but it is unclear at this time if that contributed to Purdy’s death. The weather in the park has been nice. Gualtieri reported there has been some precipitation, but not much, and daytime temperature have been climbing into the 50s. It is, however, still dropping below freezing at night.

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