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The missing in Alaska

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Brad Broach in a selfi taken above the Alyeska Resort shortly before he disappeared.

A GoFundMe account has been opened for the family of Texan Brad Broach, who has joined the missing in Alaska.

Three weeks ago, the 46-year-married father of three walked away from the Alyeska Resort for  a hike along the popular Winner Creek Trail. He has not been seen since.

In the two weeks immediately after his disappearance, a small army of people scoured the rain-forest-covered mountainsides around the resort of community of Girdwood, but they found nothing.

A few people continue to search, but no one at this point expects to find Broach alive. There is only hope of closure for the family, hope that a loved one can be brought home for the last time.

These things sometimes take time in the wilderness of the north.

The body of Nephi Soper, who went missing in the Chugach Mountains above Anchorage in February, was found on an iceberg in Taniana Lake in June. That same month, the body of Dr. Liam Walsh was found in Hatcher Pass, about 50 miles north of the state’s largest city. He’d disappeared on a ski outing in November.

Most who disappear in the 49th state are eventually found.

Two years after 68-year-old Paul Schoch from Brule, Wisconsin disappeared  in 4,500-foot Skolai Pass in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, hikers discovered his remains about 12 miles from where park rangers had earlier found his campsite.

Schoch had a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. Rangers investigating the case said it appeared he went for a hike, sat down on a rock – possibly to rest – suffered a heart attack and died.

Hikers in Denali National Park and Preserve earlier this year found the remains of 22-year-old Etienne Terrell from Atlanta who disappeared in July 2015. The body of 51-year-old Bartlett Barnes of Wasilla, who disappeared in the fall of 2012 while trying to cross Butte Creek in the Talkeetna Mountains on a four-wheeler, was found a year later along the banks of the Susitna River.

Often, it just takes time.

Seventy-one-year-old Jerry Warner from Missouri was missing for more than a year before his body was found along Willow Creek just upstream from the busy George Parks Highway.

More than two years passed before 32-year-old Clifford Greist came home for the last time to be buried. He disappeared during a May 2013 snowmachine trip in remote Northwest Alaska and was not found until September. 2015.

Thirty-two-year-old French adventurer Francois Guenot paddled his kayak out of Kamishak Bay on the Gulf of Alaska coast in June 2014 and disappeared along the north shore of Shelikof Strait. His patched together boat was found on a beach at Cape Douglas.  It was thought he might join the missing forever.

But in November of that year, a beach clean-up crew working on Shuyak Island on the south side of the strait found human remains. They turned out to be those of Guenot. It was a lucky discovery that brought closure for the family.

But there are a few never found.

Forever missing

Not a hint German adventurer Thomas Seibold has been discovered since he disappeared in November 2012. An experienced wilderness traveler, the 31-year-old man left a cabin on the Ambler River in Northwest Alaska in November 2012 to hike 30 miles across the Brooks Range Mountains to meet a plane in the tiny village of Kobuk for a flight home to his young wife in Wisconsin. He never made it.

No one has ever been able to figure out what happened to him.

So, too, for Richard Lyman Griffis, a continent roaming inventor who lived in Spokane, Washington, Oregon, California, New York and Florida before heading north. He came to Alaska in the fall of 2006 to test a “survival cocoon” he’d invented.

He disappeared into the northern edge of the Wrangell park. It would be almost a year before he was reported missing and even then it was unclear where he’d gone. Investigators finally tracked him to a lodge along the White River in the Yukon Territory, Canada, where he’d left some gear and told the proprietor he planned to travel upriver through the Wrangells to the Alaska community of McCarthy on the south side of the park.

He never showed up there, and there was never much more than a cursory search for him. Still, some expected the “survival cocoon” or some part of it would one day be found in one of the big river valleys that offer the easist travel through the uninhabited region. It never did. Griffis remaining missing.

The same for 60-year-old John Wipert who in 2009 disappared not far from where Griffis vanished. Wipert was the caretaker for the remote Ptarmigan Lake Lodge on an in-holding in the Wrangell Park. In June, he left a note at the lodge saying he planned to go check on a nearby cabin.

“He left bacon in the sink thawing out,” Striker Overly, a hunting guide from Tok, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner at the time. “It was like he was planning on coming back.”

Wipert appeared to have taken a couple of horses with him when he left. Searchers scoured the known routes for horses for 35 miles west to the deserted mining camp of Chisana and 35 miles east to the tiny community of Beaver Creek in Yukon.

They never found any sign of Wipert or the animals. He remains missing.

There are others. The legendary Japanese climber Naomi Uemera who disappeared on the descent of the first successful winter climb of North America’s tallest peak leads a list of mountianeers who have gone into the Alaska Range or the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains never to be seen again.

Valerie Sifsof , 43, from Anchorage walked away from the Granite Creek Campground along the Seward Higwhay in the summer of 2013 and simply vanished. Thirty-six-year-old Joseph Balderas from Nome faded away into the hills along the Nome-Council Highway while hiking in July. And Gerald Deberry, 53, was a Fairbanks man who joined a search for a woman missing in the White Mounains 70 miles north of that community in 2011 only to disappear forever himself. The missing woman was found.

But probably the best known missing person case in wild Alaska involves 66-year-old Michael LeMaitre of Anchorage who went up Mount Marathon on July 4, 2012 and never came down. Mount Marathon towers over the community of Seward at the head of Resurrection Bay about 125 miles south of Anchorage.

It is home to a footrace – the Seward Mount Marathon – that rivals the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as the best known sporting event in the 49th state. LeMaitre was the final, back-of-the-pack competitor in that race.

He was last seen near 3,000 feet on the mountain towering above the bay. He was then about 200 feet shy of Race Point, the outcrop below the mountain’s summit that marks the turn that ends the race uphill and starts the race downhill.

It was a rainy and cold July day. The Race Point timers, who’d been high on the mountain in inclement weather for more than three hours, were headed down to warm up when they passed LeMaitre. They thought he looked fine.

They told him to make the turn and follow them down. What happened next remains an enduring Alaska mystery. LeMaitre disappeared into the rain and cold and swirling clouds. A big search followed. It found no sign of him and was eventually called off.

His 41-year-old daughter, MaryAnne, came north from Utah to search some more. She enlisted the help of other volunteers. They looked for another month and found nothing. She eventually had to go home.  There have been random searches for Michael almost ever since by people who come to the mountain with their own guesses as to where he might have gone.

No sign of him has ever been found. Not a shoe. Not a shred of clothing. Not a bone. Nothing.

It has been tough for the LeMaitre family. It is hard the family and friends of all of the missing who live with never knowing. One can only hope the Broaches find closure.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on Dec. 22, 2016 to include the discovery of the remains of Francois Guenot.  That information was missing from the original story.
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5 replies »

  1. and don’t forget about Nick Begich and co, and all the rest, though they were in flight and not just off on a trailhead somewhere…

    Like

  2. How about the guy from Anchorage – married man with 2kids I believe? who went missing from Anchorage last year about this time, or September? They found his truck someplace at a pull off on Tunragain – did they ever find him?

    Liked by 1 person

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