News

Tech nearly kills

yakushinA New York man rescued after a week in the Alaska wilderness in 2016 is now blaming the whole affair on his sat phone and suing Globalstar, the company that runs the satellite service, the New York Post reports.

Thirty-two-year-old, St. John’s University grad Vladimir Yakushin suggested to Post reporter Kathianne Boniello that the adventure almost drove him to suicide.

When an Alaska State Trooper came to rescue Yakushin – a service provided free by the state – she wrote that he “sobbed and pointed to his rifle and knife.

“There’s a rifle; please unload it. There’s a knife; please take it away,’ he told the trooper.”

“Busted phone leaves man in Alaskan nightmare — fending for life in Last Frontier,” the Post headlined the Saturday story. The story did not say what was wrong with the  Globalstar GSP 1700 phone other than that it didn’t work when Yakushin tried to call for help an hour into his Alaska sojourn.

The Yakushin rescue made front page news in the state after he talked to an Anchorage Daily News reporter and supplied the newspaper photographs of his adventure.

Some in Alaska might be old enough to remember when people who struggled in the 49th state’s wilderness rescued themselves and told no one.

Bad planning?

The Globalstar network with its low-altitude, mid-planet-based satellite system has long had a reputation for sometimes spotty service in Alaska.

Dirk Nickisch and Danielle Tirrell at Coyote Air Service in the tiny, Arctic community of Coldfoot go so far as to recommend backpackers and hunters headed into the Brooks Range avoid them and go with phones from Iridium, another satellite phone company.

“Globalstar is not designed to work everywhere,” Jon Hunt warned in a 2016 story in the winter issue of “Hunt Alaska” magazine. But he also described the phone as “a great option” that he found “occasionally frustrating. None-the-less, I understand the limitations of the product:

  • “Globalstar is not reliable north of Fairbanks.
  • “Globalstar needs a clear view to the South.
  • “Globalstar has more times each where calls are dropped or a satellite cannot be obtained.”

Yakushin’s adventure began near Lake Minchumina west of Fairbanks on the north side of the Alaska Range. The towering peaks of those mountains can interfere with the signal of satellites circling the globe at low elevations to the south.

That is the “clear view to the South” issue as Hunt described it.

Big-budget McCandless

An Anchorage air taxi dropped Yakushin the wilderness less than 100 miles almost due east of where the late, 24-year-old Chris McCandless would become famous for the few months he spent in an abandoned bus along the Stampede Trail.

Yakushin planned a better financed, somewhat better thought out adventure than McCandless’s fatal 1992 trek.

McCandless squatted in the bus until he died of starvation only to rise in infamy after Outside magazine writer John Krakauer concocted a story about the Alaska adventure of the delusional young man who called himself “Alexander Supertramp.” Krakauer later turned the story into a best-selling book titled “Into the Wild.”

The novel had long been a best seller before Yakushin started plotting his Alaska escapade.

Unlike McCandless, Yakushin paid $9,400 to buy a 5.5-acre parcel of land in a remote, Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) subdivision at Chleca Lake near the headwaters of the North Fork Kuskokwim River.

He stayed in the area for only a matter of days.

Back in the Lower 48 now, Yakushin told The Post that he was hoping to recreate an idyllic childhood on his grandparents’ farm before “getting lost in an Alaskan nightmare.”

He flew into Chleca Lake on June 23 with $10,000 in supplies and almost immediately decided he’d make a mistake if the Post story is to be believed.

“Frustrated and alone in the woods, Yakushin knew he had to leave. So within an hour of landing at his new property, he fired up his GSP 1700 phone,” the newspaper reported.

“Yakushin was surprised that his property was spongy, wet tundra, not farmland like his grandparents’ place near Siberia,” he told an ADN reporter shortly after his 2016 rescue. “The trees were black spruce, too spindly for building a cabin. Right off, it rained. He had no tent. He intended to make a temporary camp with tarps.”

One of several photographs Yakushin supplied the ADN at the time and photos still posted on his Facebook page contradict at least part of that story. The photos show a partially completed log cabin that another would-be Chleca resident had built and given Yakushin permission to use.

The cabin sits on buildable soils in an opening in the woods, and though built of small logs, the logs are clearly of adequate size to build a traditional Alaska trapper’s cabin.

There are also stands of white spruce in the area as the Alaska DNR noted in a land sale brochure still available online.

Yakushin told the ADN he spent a year researching the area only to arrive and find the area nothing like he had expected.

He’s sticking to that story still, though now telling the Post he spent 18 months – six months more than a year – prepping for his journey into the wild.

The Post story doesn’t say why he failed to make arrangements with the air taxi that flew him to Chleca Lake to come back and check on him, a common practice in wild Alaska.

The ADN story says only that “he hadn’t asked anyone to check on him.” It doesn’t say why. Yakushin – who the Post describes as a Brooklyn man but whose Facebook page reports to be living in Chapel Hill, N.C. – did not respond to a Facebook message.

Neither the ADN nor the Post story explain why he spent so little time at Chleca before deciding to attempt a more than 100-mile float down the North Fork to McGrath. It is also unclear how he arrived at that decision.

The Post story says it took Yakushin two days just to get to the river, although north Chleca Lake – where Yakushin had his property – is only about a mile away.

The ADN story reported Yakushin spent “maybe a couple of days” at the lake before he headed “through thick brush to the North Fork Kuskokwim River. In the trek, his fishing pole tumbled out and was lost.”

The Post story describes the same terrain as “spongy muck.”

The ADN description would be more characteristic of the area, but one could probably find “spongy muck” if he or she went looking for it.

“Yakushin spent a night at his encampment, knowing he couldn’t paddle upriver or walk the impassable terrain to Lake Minchumina,” the Post reported.

There is a small community on Lake Minchumina about 30 miles to the northeast of Chleca. Hiking there would have been difficult, but the terrain is not impassable.

The overland journey would have been easier than trying to float to McGrath as Yakushin was trying to when spotted by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game pilot who notified the trooper that came to the rescue on June 29.

He had been in the wild only six days.

“I was angry that the phone was not working,” he told the Post. “I was just so frustrated, thinking, ‘I have to get out of here, I have to keep going, and the only way is this river.’

“I started going crazy on this river. It just brings me back to tears, how . . . relieved I was and how happy I was that it’s hopefully going to come to an end.”

The Post claimed that Yakushin’s constant paddling on the river made his hands swell to “twice their normal size,” and that he suffered “a painful cyst in his rear from days of paddling, which made it tough to walk or sit.”

Despite the beating he took at the hands of the wilderness, he contends it wasn’t his fault.

“I was not stupid, like I’m sitting in Brooklyn on my couch watching TV and tomorrow I’m going there in my T-shirt and book bag,” he told the Post.

“I put so much time and effort and research [in],” he said. “If the phone would work, we would not be having this conversation. I would be a happy guy living in Alaska.”

Correction: An early version of this story had the direction from Fairbanks to Lake Minchumina wrong.

23 replies »

  1. Neither tarp nor tent? This guy seems to have panicked. He could have built a HELP rescue sign in burned brush, etc. Perhaps he was unstable when dropped off. Few people are accustomed to being alone in the wilderness.

  2. A Fairbanks musher/journalist friend of ours was lost during a race on the Kenai some years back. He was down to eating dog food containing lamb. I don’t know if he had a phone with him, it took 5 days to rescue him. We had a world-wide prayer circle going He was one of the lucky Times employees who got two hours’ notice that the paper was shutting down.

  3. Obviously, the satellite phone not working was just the “icing on the cake” for this greenhorn…
    $10,000 worth of supplies and NO tent in the mosquito invested interior of Alaska?
    The bush pilot who dropped him off must have got a belly chuckle…
    Luckily, he made it back to America without turning into bear bait.

    • I think I am going to call BS on this whole story. Think about it, $10,000 IN SUPPLIES AND WAS READY TO KILL HIMSELF AFTER A MERE WEEK!!! I assume he had more food then he could carry, MRE’s at the very least, yet his hands swelled and he had a cyst on his butt from paddling to escape certain “death”. I mean, come on. He could have had breakfast, paddled a few hours, ate some more, setup a makeshift camp, skipped some stones, took some nice pics of Denali, ate some more, rested, and did it again in the morning. This guy wasnt some plane crash survivor. Granted he was a New York Millennial (so, anything is possible) but, come on. Even a moron with $10,000 worth of supplies could have comfortably survived a week right?

      • Bryan,
        I have seen New Yorkers fly into the bush with “loafers” on their feet to go fishing.
        This is after landing with a Beaver on floats in the “Canyon” near Skwentna.
        Most bush pilots do not care a rat’s ass how these tourists do in Alaska.
        Whatever the motive behind this story, I can tell you it does not surprise me in the very least.
        Hell, I have watched longtime Alaskans fail at trying to build a cabin in the bush…one of the most difficult tasks that I have ever accomplished.
        Here is a list of what he said was with him…
        “On June 23, a chartered Regal Air taxi dropped him with a mound of gear at his Chleca Lakes property. Besides his gun and knife, Yakushin brought a fishing pole and chain saw, sleeping bag and tarps, canned meat and kasha, rice and beans. He had rope, tools and a portable wood stove, winter clothes and rain gear, a satellite phone, battery and solar charger…And he had a small raft for tooling around the lake.”

        https://www.adn.com/outdoors-adventure/2016/07/02/nothing-was-as-he-expected-trip-to-remote-interior-alaska-ends-in-river-rescue/?outputType=amp-type

      • Steve, tourists on a fishing trip is one thing. So is building a cabin. But, we are talking $10,000 (you listed $2500 max) in supplies, a year + of planning and prep. This poor sap panicked within the first 2hrs. He either left $7500 worth of supplies out on the tundra or something isn’t adding up. If this story is true, then how does a bozo like this survive in NYC?

      • Bryan,
        Not sure the last time you bought a rifle, but it is easy to drop $2,000 or more on that alone…fancy light weight wood stove could easily be another $500.00 or more.
        Stop being you and realize that not everyone has ulterior motives.
        This dude is a run of the mill average New Yorker.
        When I was a raft guide in PA, many New Yorkers thought that the rafts were connected to “tethering” to stay in the center of the river (no joke)…many decided to stay at camp when they learned how much paddling was required.
        This dude bought land and failed.
        End of story.
        Next nominee please…

  4. A sure sign of not being qualified for an Alaskan wilderness experience is having to research and plan a year for it.

  5. A quote I read comes to mind, “The Alaska wilderness is a good place to test yourself. The Alaska wilderness is a bad place to find yourself. Craig Medred, Alaskan Daily News”.

  6. Craig,

    Nit picking, I know, but Minchumina is southwest of Fairbanks, not east. Having spent quite a few years hiking and working in that country and other similar parts of Alaska, I can tell you that the country there is indeed a nightmare to move around in, and would certainly be a shock to anyone not familiar with the area. That said, your article does a good job portraying yet another hapless moron attempting to make his dream home in wilderness Alaska. As far as Globalstar sat phones, anyone who plans to use a sat phone north of the Alaska Range should never consider Globalstar. Iridium phones work consistently pretty much everywhere in Alaska. And, yes, I’ve used, or rather tried to use, Globalstar service up there. Gave up and used Iridium.

    But, if this dude had actually done as much prep as he claims, he could easily found out how poor Globalstar coverage is in that part of the world.

    Nevertheless, these kinds of folks show up occasionally, with their heads firmly planted, and nobody can deter them from their dreams. I’d have hoped that the air taxi who dropped him off would’ve let Troopers know of his location, but frankly, it’s not their responsibility.

    And, occasionally, they stick, and thrive. I know a few who’ve done well. But the majority of the “Back to the Earthers” are overwhelmed pretty quick and if lucky they get out.

    Hopefully, this gent has now had his Alaska adventure, and will stay away.

    • “Caveat emptor” comes to mind. I mean, to buy site unseen, travel by bush plane (which should have been a clue) with minimal provisions, take the wrong phone, leave the tent behind, all after taking over a year to prep and blame someone else? What crop grows in permfrost? Typical New Yorker… Should have went to PA or MD. His kind is welcomed with open arms there. Plus, more cropland to boot. On one hand, I want to sympathize with the guy. It is hard country. Actually, made for a good read until the “Ill sue you part”. On then on the other hand, I just want to say ST@U.

  7. Krakauer’s books are non-fiction, no part of his books are concocted. Into the Wild had many hours of friend and family interviews, and quotes Alexanders journals.

    • There are no “journals,” Elissa. McCandless left a 430-word record of his time in Alaska.

      About a quarter of the words appear to be nothing but McCandless listing the many animals he killed: “porcupine day,” “grey bird,” “ash bird,” “squirrel,” “gourmet duck,” “MOOSE!”

      The list would appear to indicate McCandless waged war on the local red squirrel population, which would be one of the more reliable food sources in the area, but even that is conjecture because there is no context – none whatsoever – to the 400-plus words:

      “Magic bus day.” “Weakness.” “Snowed in.” “Misery.” “Move bus.”

      We know McCandless didn’t actually move the bus, and it’s doubtful he planned to move the bus. It’s heavy. So one can guess “move bus” meant he planned to move in or move out or was at least thinking about one or the other.

      But it’s just a guess.

      For all anyone knows, he’d broken into the nearby National Park Service cabin (he’d broken into cabins before); decided he’d better get out before summer rangers showed up; and was there thinking “move (to) bus.”

      Who knows.

      About the only word of the 430 I’m confident of is “misery.” There is a lot of opportunity for misery in the Alaska wilderness: https://craigmedred.news/2018/04/30/misery/

      McCandless and Yakushun apparently shared that experience.

      The guy who dropped McCandless off at the Stampede Trail, one of the few people actually known to have talked to McCandless in-state, says Krakauer took liberties with the truth.

      Krakauer’s “reporting,” if you can call it that, of what McCandless was doing on the north edge of Denali Park based on those few words McCandless put in writing doesn’t match with weather reports from the area at the time.

      And let’s not even get into Krakauer’s various theories – all eventually dismissed by actual science – as to how McCandless didn’t really starve to death but died as the result of accidentally poisoning himself.

      I can’t vouch for the Lower 48 portions of “Into the Wild,” (never spent the time to fact check that), but “concocted” is the kindest description for the Alaska part of the book.

      A concoction is “a mixture of various ingredients or elements.”

      As an author, there is a bit of Donald Trump in John Krakauer. But if you want to believe it is all true, believe away. It is a harmless belief as is the belief of others that there was some special meaning to McCandless’s life.

      There wasn’t. He was just another sad, naive young man killed looking for adventure in Alaska. There have been many of them.

      And now I’ve written about as many words, if not more, than McCandless left as his entire Alaska legacy.

      • Come on Craig…we all know how you feel about John, but relating him to a flat out liar like Don is not fair.
        John tried hard and was successful as an author…for that alone is quite the accomplishment for an old climbing bum/ carpenter.
        From my little experience attempting to understand literary “agents” it seems that the famous line from “Full Metal Jaket” stands out…the one about handling the truth.
        It seems Americans love the aseptic form of story telling and this is why Vogue magazine and Fox news are so popular among our culture…they speak to the masses in a fashion that “takes the edge” of off the Truth.

      • Come on Steve, you lump FOX in with Vogue while leaving out CNN or MSDNC? Is that because they have no “masses” to speak of?

    • Elissa-Just saw this and sorry to be late to the party. Krakauer has a long and colorful history of stretching the truth and outright fabrication.Check out the Russian rebutal to “Into Thin Air”. Pretty simple- somebody is lying. Who had the motive?

    • Elissa,
      The book was part fact and part fiction. We really do not know what actually happened, except that a young naive man, went into the Alaskan wilderness and did not survive.
      I was a commercial fisher on the Copper River Delta since 1977, amazing and the grace of God, I survived.
      I hunted deer all over PWS, and even though I got lost a couple times hunting, I always made it back to the beach and boat. I cannot even imagine hiking in the Alaska interior by myself. The couple, from lower 48, made it about a mile and a half, before drowning last year. So many people do not make it, due not knowing what the situation is.
      To quote a famous Dirty Harry line (Clint Eastwood), “a man has got to know his limitations”.
      Words of wisdom in the great Alaskan outdoors.

  8. I left my Sirius radio on from Wasilla to Chena hot springs down to Valdez and back to Wasilla. A signal came through only for a few minutes in Valdez and once more in a driveway in Wasilla.

  9. About 35 years ago there was an incident on Mt. Hood in Oregon. A group of climbers planning to summit the mountain disappeared in a serious snow storm. Searchers began looking and for five days had no luck. On the sixth day the “lost” climbers emerged from a snow cave in a peculiar spot and announced they’d been saved by the lord. The searchers, all veterans of climbing in the Northwest, noticed that the group was strangley outfitted. Not for a summit attempt, but rather for an extended bivouac. They’d cooked the whole thing up as a stunt to preach. The search and rescue people held a press conference and suggested perhaps it would be better if there was to be no search and rescue, that self reliance and responsibility should be the way to stay safe. It’s been discussed ever since. Increasingly Alaska sees more clueless jerks like this guy or the one described by Steve-O here in the comments. The wilderness experience will be more intense and more rewarding if the rescuers ain’t coming.

  10. I’m not sure why a working sat phone would have made this guy just another “happy guy living in Alaska”?

    Anyways, this story made me think of this recent police report:

    On June 10 at 6:01 p.m., Alaska State Troopers was contacted by Alisa Fauble, 25, of Seward, and her hiking companion, requesting assistance on Mount Marathon for Fauble, who had injured her ankle. Fauble stated she could not hike out and requested Lifemed. After Lifemed helicopter launched with a 35-minute estimated time of arrival, Fauble contacted Dispatch, stating that she wouldn’t wait 35 minutes for Lifemed and was hiking out. Fauble hiked out and was contacted by troopers at the Jeep Trail. Fauble declined emergency medical services or transportation to the emergency room and said she was going to walk. Fauble was issued a citation for making a false report of an emergency.

    Some times having a non-functioning sat phone is a good thing.

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