The tourist season hasn’t really begun yet in Alaska’s 6-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, but already the first search for a missing hiker is underway.
Park officials say 24-year-old Michael Purdy from Portland has not been seen since at least Tuesday. He was reported missing on Friday when he failed to show up at 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 is described an an adventerous and experienced back country hiker familiar with the 49th state’s best known wilderness park. He has in the past maintained regular communications with others when hiking. His last known contact was a cell phone call to his employer on Tuesday.
Both ground and aerial searches were underway Sunday. Efforts were 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. The lack of leaves should make it easier to spot Purdy, but the mountains rising above the Savage are steep and rocky. The river is generally free of ice, but some creeks draining into it from above remain frozen and slippery.
They can make footing treacherous. Purdy has been blessed with mild weather. 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.
The grizzly bears are out of hibernation, but no unusual bear activity has been reported.
This is a developing story.