If you’re going to get lost in Alaska and you want to be found before you die, pick a popular national park for your northern adventure.
Within hours after a man disappeared in Denali National Park and Preserve on the weekend, the National Park Service was marshaling the first of the more than 50 people, two helicopters, and two search and rescue dogs teams destined to join the hunt for hiker Mukunda Egen,
The 42-year-old man had departed the park’s Teklanika Campground on a Friday afternoon to hike the Alaska Range foothills to the east with a friend. They lost contact with each other in fog that evening. Egen was reported missing in the wee hours the next morning.
The pair separated at about 11 p.m.when Egen, who had earlier complained of knee pain, chose a less steep route than his hiking companion,” a media release said. “Soon after, the pair lost sight of each other in the fog.
“Egen’s companion tried to retrace their route looking for Egen before reaching the campground at 4 a.m. She then contacted park rangers.”
By 9 a.m. that same day, the park service was launching an aggressive search that would continue into Sunday. A helicopter crew at 7:45 p.m. of that day found Egen in the headwaters of the Sanctuary River, southeast of the Teklanika campground and about six miles from where he had last been seen Friday night.
He was reported to be in good condition despite spending two nights out in rain and temperatures dropping down into the 40s. Such conditions are not unusual in Alaska in the summer. Neither are missing people in Denali.
The first national park established in Alaska, Denali now attracts more than 500,000 visitors per year, and the park service conducts aggressive search and rescue operations to make sure they get out alive.
Much is said by Alaskans about the activities of the federal government in the 49th state, but to give credit where credit is due, search and rescue is one thing the feds do well.
Egen is not the first to be rescued this year. Just weeks ago, two young men overdue on a hike from the Teklanika over the mountains to the Stampede Trail to the north were picked up by helicopter. The two been on a visit to an abandoned bus made famous by the decades old death of a young man named Chris McCandless.
McCandless became the posthumous star of the movie “Into the Wild.”
He starved to death in the bus, and people still debate what he was doing there and why he didn’t get out. His death 24 years ago came at a time when park-area rescue operations were limited and visitors to the park’s northern edge, along which McCandless died, were few.
There are more people going there now and more rescues. Hardly a year passes anymore without the park service getting called to help find someone in trouble along the trail. The park doesn’t track how many people have been saved on the route to the bus, but no one has died there since 2010 when a Swiss woman drowned while trying to cross the unbridged Teklinika River.
The death of 29-year-old Claire Ackermann led to some discussion about whether the bus has become a dangerous Alaska tourist attraction. There are other things that could be done with the bus, and a stand-in bus used in the McCandless movie is set up to accommodate visitors drawn to the McCandless myth of some sort of pilgrimage to the northern wilds. The bus is on display and open to visitors at 49th State Brewing in Healy.
No rescues are necessary there.