A hard-to-follow trail/Craig Medred photo

TWENTYMILE RIVER – Fear lives, sometimes inexplicably, in the human mind.

Dropping down the overgrown trail from Berry Pass at the top of Winner Creek over the weekend, the discussion turned to a group of backpacking rafters “rescued” in July from the banks of the river 1,700 feet below, and what would lead them to radio for a helicopter to come save them.

If they’d found the river too high and too fast to paddle, one of the crew observed, “why wouldn’t they just hike back?”

One of the rescued had already answered that on Facebook to which the group turned to explain their harrowing adventure, and how no one should paddle the Twentymile because the water was too high and dangerous.


Too high and too dangerous are relative terms. There are packrafters now paddling water that would make the Twentymile at its worst look tame.

As for the trail, that too is relative. The group that called for rescue – apparently never considering that when they did that they were subjecting rescuers to risks that range from tiny to great – explained the trail was hard to find.

For someone familiar with the well-marked trails of the near-road wilderness of the 49th state, that was arguable true. For those experienced in following wildlife trails through the state’s vast wilderness, it was a joke.

The latter would have little trouble finding the Berry Pass to Twentymile trail in the dark. In the spruce and hemlock forest, it is obviously obvious, and where it is grown over in the open with grass, nettles, blueberry bushes and other fast-growing vegetation encroaching, you could find it with your feet.

The trail is the only easily walkable surface beneath everything, and you know it as soon as you step off it. It was hard to imagine anyone thinking it too difficult to hike the 11.5 miles back to Girdwood.

Then again, it was harder to imagine anyone calling Alaska State Troopers for rescue in this situation, and harder still to believe they would post their story on Facebook after troopers were kind enough to keep it out of the news.

There was a time in Alaska that getting rescued was embarrassing enough that if it happened, you didn’t want anyone to know. In an earlier life as the outdoor editor of the Anchorage Daily News in a time when newspapers mattered, the rule in our house was that I was not missing until 48 hours beyond the designated contact date without contact.

In this case, well, let the trooper account say it all:

“July 25, 2020 at approximately 2001 hours (8:01 p.m.), Alaska State Troopers received a report of three overdue hikers.  The complainant advised three friends left to hike Winner Creek Trail to Berry Pass and were planning to packraft out 20 Mile River.  Girdwood Fire Department was unable to launch a boat that night, and Helo 3 began the search in the morning.  At approximately 1011 hours, Helo 3 located the three missing individuals. They needed assistance getting out of the field but did not need medical attention.”

For those unfamiliar with Alaska, there is not much night in the Anchorage area in July. On the 25th, the sun doesn’t set until almost 11 p.m., and civil midnight lasts until after 12 with civil twilight starting again at just after 4 a.m. 

That leaves about four hours of legally defined night, but in reality the time of real darkness is even less than that.

From the river to where the trail becomes impossible to miss below Berry Pass is only three or four miles. Even a slow-moving party should have been able to make the pass before sunset, bivouc there, and hike the very obvious trail back to Girdwood in the morning.

But fear.

The familiar

Coming down from the pass while contemplating the question of “why wouldn’t they just hike back,”  it was impossible to ignore how much experience changes one perception of danger.

The pack on my back contained a packraft, a paddle, a PFD, a drysuit and a layer of dry clothes to put on beneath it before it was pulled on, a couple energy bars, a collapsible water bottle with a purifying filter, and the waterproof survival kit that has been hung around my neck for years.

That was it.

The survival kits contained a good knife, matches and fire starting materials because fire, along with water, is one of those things that can become vital to survival. You can go weeks without food (been there; done that; no fun), but only days without water with your physiological capabilities fading hourly as you dehydrate.

There was a time when a more expansive survival kit was carried, mainly in case something happened to someone else, along with more clothes. But as the comfort with travel and the ability to improvise solutions to almost all problems increased, the gear kept diminishing.

“You pack your insecurities,” Roman Dail, a professor at Alaska Pacific University and a noted Alaska adventurer once observed, and he was right. Experience minimizes the insecurities for better or worse.

There are a lot of dead pilots in this state whose obituaries underline the danger of the worst. Fear exists for a reason. It protects people when it doesn’t disable them, and there is no doubt it can do either.

Fear is in the air across the country now thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is hard to avoid it given its dominance of the news cycle.

The fear of the virus and the disease it causes – COVID-19 – is reported to be driving a significant number of people nuts while others appear fearless in there willingness to ignore the risks the pathogen presents.

Somewhere between those two, a happy medium has to be found. A society weighed down by fear cannot function. It fails when the rescuers can no longer support the load of all those wanting rescue.

And we have become a society wherein people on many levels now expect rescue. One can only wonder how this will end.

I came back from the Twentymile River to witness a woman at the Huffman Carrs supermarket screaming at a man about his face-covering failing to cover his nose.

God knows, the use of face coverings in the public fails to meet even the minimum standard for maintenance of a sterile environment.  But how much difference it makes is debatable.

As this was written, Our World in Data (a website maintained by the respected University of Oxford) was reporting a daily death rate in the widely-masked U.S. at 2.7 per million with the rate in little-masked Sweden at 0.01 per million.

Sweden has been much criticized for its approach to the pandemic. It asked Swedes to practice social distancing and refrain from large gatherings, especially indoors, but tried to maintain life as normal as much as possible.

The result was a daily eath rate that peaked at almost 10 people per million in mid-April. The U.S. rate peaked at 8.2 per million days later. Both then began falling.

The daily death rate in Sweden is still falling. The U.S. rate fell through early June and then began tracking upward.

The latest hope is that a vaccine can be developed to protect people. It is a wonderful hope, but it is increasingly looking like the world might be forced to live with this new virus as it has learned to live with the HIV virus that causes AIDS and others pathogens before that.

Where we find our comfort level between fear and some sort of acceptance of the new norm that it can’t kill us all only time will tell.

going down















31 replies »

  1. You guys should both investigate modality from a linguistics perspective unless you enjoy being hung up in the semantic weeds together without a paddle

  2. So in my mind- fear is an interesting thing. It has very little to do with knowledge of the subject. Yes more knowledge can reduce fear and less knowledge can increase fear but interestingly they can work in reverse as well. Sometimes knowing to much can be terrifying. What seems to control fear is the personal choice to do so . Self control. Put up a wall between feelings and facts or lack of facts . So Yes im sinking into this sand but does it benefit me to freak out . If it doesn’t benefit me what should i do ? What will prolong existence until circumstances change and im able to apply my skils in a beneficial manner? Ive seen many people with extreme skill choose not to do something risky for fear of disaster and also people who know little choosing the same or reverse. People with the ability to control fear are usually the people who can control their emotions at least “temporarily.” Some one who can make the choice not to feel . Feelings get in the way of rational decisions. It appears fear of covid has put people into fight or flight fear condition. Emotional decision making is masking rational scientific thoughts . Feelings caused the boaters not to walk back . That said ive also found emotionalism has its place . If you master it it can be used to drive self to a pinnacle of performance far beyond what a rational human can accomplish. Be it lifting something or working self beyond comprehension. Making only rational choices can also make for a dull life with little adventure. Emotionalism can drive a person to make sacrifices for their fellow man that are not rational. So it has its place . Balance and control.

  3. Federal & state governments continue to expand their over-reaching powers into all aspects of the private sector as we continue to move the pendulum closer towards Socialism in America.
    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, operating under the US Department of Health and Human Services, has asserted jurisdiction over private residential leases nationwide.
    It intends to curtail evictions until at least the end of the year, and in fact its new directive threatens federal criminal penalties against landlords who ignore tenant “declarations” made using CDC forms.”

  4. Duped..?? No I would say we have been scammed by the scamdemic. Liars figure and figures lie. Fear will leave U.S. crippled for months if not years. As FDR said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. We must return to normal ASAP.

  5. Yeah, then we have Vietnam (pop. 97M) a country with close to ten times the population of Sweden that has, as of today, all of 34 deaths and 11 cases per/M. Sweden has 5,813 deaths and 8,360 cases per/M. What exactly is the point of your silly pretenses of knowing something about all of this? Stick to ‘knowing the trail’ by using your feet because you get totally lost when in the other weeds; ya know, the ones that require using your head. You also know that Vietnam is likely the most ‘masked’ country in the world but wilfully chose not to use them as datum.

  6. Only 6 percent of US 180 000 pandemic deaths (roughly 10,000 which isn’t Jack shit for 7 months, considering 7,500 normally die on any given day) have been from Covid-19 itself. The origin was a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 94 percent of people killed by the new coronavirus in the US had comorbidities, or other health conditions contributing to their cause of death.

    Of course Democrats will rush in and make all kinds of excuses for the CDC. After all, we have any election to steal.

    • Bryan,

      I guess I am missing something here, the link you provided says there have been 164,280 deaths involving covid. It has been well established of this novel virus that comorbidities play an outsized role in deaths caused by this disease. Influenza is also largely not the singular cause of death with people who die of the flu, people who die from car crashes usually die from blunt force trauma, internal hemorrhage, head trauma and organ failure.

      I don’t doubt that politicians will try and use this pandemic to their advantage, denying basic facts is a part of that.

      • Steve, basically what I am trying to say, which I always have difficulty saying, is trillions of dollars leads to corruption, corruption leads to trillions of dollars, and Covid fear is the vehicle to get there..
        The numbers are purposely being skewed, we know this. Why? Why are schools closed throughout the country when those under age 20 make up such a small portion of desths and cases? Is it because schools are generally used for polling places? We know Democrats “never let a good crisis go to waste”.
        Anyhow, I could go on and on. Not saying there isn’t Covid. I am just saying so what. I have seen enough to realize there is more to this story than the virus which we have had many of in the past.

      • My point in a round about way. HYPOCRITE NANCY PELOSI – “It was a slap in the face that she went in, you know, that she feels that she can just go and get her stuff done while no one else can go in, and I can’t work,” Kious told Fox News, adding that she “can’t believe” the Speaker didn’t have a mask on. Pelosi reportedly got a wash and blowout, the latter of which Kious noted is a no-go, according to coronavirus safety guidelines for hair salons. A directive from the city’s department of health states that salons and barbershops should “consider temporarily eliminating services that require lengthy blow-drying” — one of the primary services Pelosi reportedly enjoyed.

      • Bryan,

        I think the numbers in Alaska show that somewhere around 15% of cases are in people 18 and under, that is before they are to be hearded into small classrooms for hours on end. If you’ve had children you know how well they follow directions and how they never put stuff in their mouths that they aren’t supposed to. Seeing how grown adults do not know how to wear a mask properly or wash their hands properly or social distance properly, how do you expect children to? They are shutting down college campuses across the country because supposedly grown adults are unable to control themselves and are busy catching and spreading covid.

        It’s unfortunate that so many are making this nonpolitican issue a political issue.

      • Looks like I was wrong on those numbers. 14% of those with covid in Alaska are between 0 and 9 years old, another 13.6% are between 10 and 19 years old, so 27.6% are under 20 years of age…more than 1 in 4. But the good news is, those youngsters probably don’t come in contact with any oldsters.

      • Sorry, got the numbers wrong again I was looking at percentage of population. It’s 4.7% for 0-9 and 10.6% for 10-19 so 15.3% under 20.

      • STEVE-O, and how many children have died or even have been hospitalized? How do these numbers compare to the flu, even with a flu shot available?
        And if what the CDC says is true, that 10,000 actually died of Covid, then this whole thing is an utter sham to control the masses, get over the “fear” hump and have an excuse to monitor, control, and track the masses as a whole.

      • Bryan,

        How many 0-19 year olds do you know who have no contact with anyone outside of their age range? The current stats are with the 0-19 age range not going to school, with schools going back to in person schooling across the nation cases are just starting to rise and with that schools are shutting down once again to try and contain the outbreaks that come from close contact in closed environments with poor air circulation.

      • Steve-O, the Wuhan Red Desth discriminates based on age. The flu does not. So, say 99% of a school gets Covid and have little to no symptoms. Do we shut the whole school down? If so why? Do we shut the school down when a class is exposed to the flu, which does kill children, even with a vaccine? Do we even mandate kids stay home? Other than politics destroying a large % of world economies, this whole Covid thing is turning out to be a nothing burger. A term I used here back in March. The problem is the goal post has been moved so much since February. Now we are trying to prevent any and everybody from testing positive whether the virus generally affects them or not. Purposely destroying the economy on the local and national level. An IMPOSSIBLE task and they know it.

  7. On the continuum from ignorance to knowledge, fear resides in the middle. If you’re ignorant, you aren’t afraid because you don’t know what the danger is. If you’re knowledgeable, you aren’t afraid because you understand the danger and prepare for it. If you’re afraid, it’s because you know there is a danger, but you’re unprepared to deal with it.

    (I think maybe I saw your group portaging your rafts on the Seward Highway Saturday afternoon. You all looked wet.)

  8. “Only one thing could have broken our movement: if the adversary had understood its principle and from the first day had smashed with extreme brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”
    – Adolf Hitler

    • Sorry, you’re spreading fake news.

      1. White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed on Tuesday that more than 180,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19.

      2. Fauci’s comments come after some have claimed a new CDC update indicates only 6% of the nation’s total reported Covid-19 deaths were actually from the virus, and the remaining percent died of “other serious illnesses.”

      3. At least 183,600 people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S. as of Tuesday, accounting for just over 21% of the globe’s total reported deaths.

      • Sierra, Fauchi is a liar and so are the Covid death numbers. So, hospitals getting $20,000+ more for treating a Covid patient compared to a flu or a pneumonia patient wouldn’t obviously inflate numbers? How is that there have been NUMEROUS cases of vehicle accident, heart attack deaths, etc.. all “misdiagnosed” as Covid “desths”? So much so Colorado revised their numbers down by almost 400 because of these bogus deaths.
        Numbers for the gullible.

      • Sierra, approx +/- 10,000 have died of Covid. That is the REAL number. NOT THE FAKE 180,000 NUMBER. Now compare the 10K to the flu deaths. Id say you have been duped, wouldnt YOU?

      • Rather than quote a MSLSD website, go directly to the CDC website and peruse their figures……

      • Steve-O, the word “could” isn’t very reassuring. That is a typical phrase used in the “Global Warming” argument. Kind of like the definition of “is” is.

      • Bryan,

        No doubt “could” is one of those loaded words that “might” not mean much given the context. However in this case “could” seems to imply that if it weren’t for Covid the remaining 94% wouldn’t have died at that point in time. Seeing as none of us know what the future holds, in this context “could have lived on for many years” is a much better outcome than the alternative and permanent outcome of those who died…or possibly in some cases it “could” have been a better outcome than living on for many years.

      • Bryan,

        Another way to think about it is that the 94% “might”, “could”, “possibly” be alive if they didn’t have comorbidities to go along with the covid, but they are definitely dead with covid and their comorbidities.

      • Steve-O, considering the majority (I am just generalizing here for a point) of the dead are over 80yo, one “could” or “should” assume they had multiple life threatening illnesses and “would” have died anyway. The rest most likely “would” or “could” have been those with AIDS/HIV, COPD, severe asthmatics, etc.. A segment of the population this virus purposely and specifically targeted. “Could” the virus have mutated to catch others, of course.

      • Bottom line is the 10,000 number aren’t the only people who have died from covid. The remaining 94% also died from covid but had comorbidities that contributed to their deaths along with covid. This has been a well known part of this disease for months, almost since the beginning of this outbreak. Why some have only just become aware of this is actually a scary thought.

        Conspiracy theorists have latched on to a misunderstanding of the data in an effort to quell their FEARS of this disease and their FEARS of what the political class is attempting to do to further their agenda using this novel virus and global pandemic.

      • Steve, I enjoy your writing and agree with you most of the time. Me, on the other hand am a terrible writer and using a cellphone to do it sure as hell doesn’t help. My points always seem to get lost.
        Let me try this – say you are in the wilderness. In your shelter there are an aging grandma and grandpa, several women, some pregnant, along with several children, some with weakend immune systems. The men are young, strong, and sturdy hunters. There are hungry wolves and bears in the forest. Food and water are running low. #1- Do we allow the healthy, strong, sturdy men hunters to hunt with risk or #2- Do we say it is too risky, they may get eaten and decide it is safer for everybody to shelter in place?
        #3- Do we allow the hunters to hunt and the woman and children to gather with the understanding life has its challenges and do the best you can to mitigate those challenges?
        Because America just went through and is going through #2.
        Ok, crappy analogy, but you get my point, I think ha

      • I mean, we can make up any numbers we want right? Where I become a skeptic is when the powers to be have to fabricate causes of deaths to achieve numbers. Now, we do know these sources quoted here lie all the time. So, it is easy to take these numbers with a chuckle.

        The U.S. has counted more than 186,000 coronavirus-related deaths. By the end of the year, it might count 224,000 more, according to an updated model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, reports the Washington Post.

        The 410,451 deaths by Jan. 1 are expected under the most likely scenario offered by the model, which assumes current restrictions remain the same.

        Under a worst-case scenario, in which mask usage stays at current rates but social distancing requirements continue to be relaxed in favor of herd immunity, U.S. deaths could top 620,000, per USA Today and CNN.

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