Once more a massive search is underway for a man gone missing for days on a known wilderness trail not far from Alaska’s largest city.
Texan Bradford Broach has not been seen since Tuesday when he set out on the popular Winner Creek Trail near Girdwood. Over the weekend, the trailhead just feet from the Alyeska Resort ski tram was swarming with more than 100 people involved in a growing search for the 46-year-old tourist.
Broach signed in on a registration sheet at the trailhead Tuesday evening. He never signed out. He missed a flight home on Thursday. His wife contacted Alaska State Troopers when he failed to show. Troopers that same day found his rental car and personal belongings at the Alyeska Prince Hotel where he had been staying.
A search ramped up quickly. Expectations were that Broach would be found.
The Winner Creek Trail is a well-maintained, popular and regularly traveled route in a valley that bustles with tourists in the summer. A favorite walk of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska icon, good parts of the trail to the junction with the Upper and Lower Winner Creek trails is on boardwalk.
It is an easy trail to follow as are the Upper and Lower branches. If Broach was on one of these trails, he would have been easy to find, but a hasty search found no sign of him on any trail.
As the search expanded over the weekend, troopers told KTUU.com that searchers had found “footprints, cough-drop wrappers, and food packaging” along the trail. But litter, sadly, is not unusual along any Alaska trail, and neither it nor the footprints could be linked to Broach.
Tough place to search
He is now missing in a search area that is large and not easily penetrated other than by trail. Much of the valley is covered with leafy, jungle-like alder thickets. Off trail, depending on which direction Broach went and if he went off trail, there are steep cliffs and gullies.
Those who tried to follow an old horse trail up the valley before the Upper Winner Creek Trail was completed in the mid-2000s described the conditions as “arduous alder-bashing.” It was sometimes so bad people chose to wade up the creek itself.
The upper trail now climbs along the south side of the valley to Berry Pass about nine miles distant before dropping down to a dead-end near the Twentymile River. The route is mainly used by packrafters who bushwack to the Twentymile from the deadend and then float the river back to the Seward Highway near the old Portage townsite.
The left branch of the trail is popular with day hikers. It goes to a hand tram across the scenic Winner Creek Gorge and then on to the edge of the historic Crow Creek Mine. Near the mine, the trail connects to a segment of the historic Iditarod Trail, which can be followed back to Girdwood to complete a nine or 10 mile loop.
It is unclear what route Broach took. Backpackers sometimes take the upper trail to the pass to camp near the scenic lakes there and then return to Girdwood. But it does not appear Broach was planning to spend nights out on the trail.
“He was wearing short pants , a light blue long sleeve shirt, and a blue Broach Heaters ball hat,” his brother Brian posted on Facebook. “He has been missing since Tuesday afternoon Aug 2 , 2016. His cell is dead and will not ping. If you have any information or good ideas, please message me.”
Brad’s outdoor skills and general fitness are unclear. Family member contacted by craigmedred.news said they didn’t want to talk about Brad, but full of worry, many of them were actively posting on Facebook and asking for help in finding him.
“This was the last photo taken of my dad before he went missing. Dad please be okay. Please,” one of his three daughters posted.
A happy Alaska visitor
The photo is a selfie taken somewhere above the Girdwood Valley on Tuesday. Brad is smiling broadly and sporting a scruffy growth of beard. He is wearing the hat that says “BROACH.” He appears to be carrying a day pack. He looks to be enjoying the perfect Alaska holiday.
He was to have traveled to Fairbanks the next day and from there flown home, but he never made it.
For the families of those with loved ones missing in Alaska, there are always fears because of the notorious history of disappearance in thr 49th state. Just this February, National Guardsmen Nephi Soper disappeared on a hike from a popular trailhead above Anchorage over the Chugach Mountains to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Authorities searched for Soper for a week. Weather brought in new snow, and they could not find him. His body wasn’t discovered until spring when it was found floating on a sheet of ice on a Chugach mountain lake.
Michael LeMaitre has never been found. He was last seen nearing the top of Seward’s Mount Marathon on July 4, 2012. An entrant in a hugely popular race up and down the seaside mountain, he was last seen by race officials only about 200 feet from the race’s turnaround.
The officials were heading down the mountain after a day spent out in cold, rainy weather. They told the lightly dressed, 65-year-old LeMaitre to make the turn and follow them down. He was never seen again.
A massive search followed. No sign of LeMaitre was found. The search was called off. His daughter MaryAnne continued the search for more than a month more. She found no sign of her father. Others have occasionally looked since. LeMaitre remains missing.
A difficult place to search
Alaska is a place it is too easy to disappear. Searchers have a lot of ground to cover, and there are often obstacles. In Soper’s case, it was blowing and drifting snow. In LeMaitre’s case, it was that damn alder that grows thicker than dog hair on the flanks of Mount Marathon.
The searchers looking for Broach now face a similar problem. But they have brought in search dogs, and they still have hope. The weather has been often rainy, but temperatures have remained in the 50s.
And many are praying.