A small, single-engine floatplane delivered 40-year-old Nathan Campbell deep into some of the wildest country in the heart of Alaska in May. He confessed to the pilot on the way that he was on a quest to find the lost pyramid of Alaska.
No one has seen Campbell since.
When National Park Service officials were finally notified he was missing in mid-September, they launched a search in the remote, northwest corner of Denali National Park and Preserve.
They found supplies Campbell had cached at Carey Lake, where the floatplane dropped him, and some miles away a collapsed tent. In the tent was a tattered diary that appeared to have been chewed on by rodents.
The diary provided little in the way of clues as to what had happened to the man who called Wasilla home. It generally recorded the average, day-to-day chores of life in camp, according to authorities.
The last entry in the journal recorded that Campbell left his tent to “get water,” Denali chief ranger Erica Jostad said today. Weeks after rangers found the diary, Alaska State Troopers slipped Campbell onto their register of those missing in Alaska.
The missing person bulletin added little to this mystery.
Sadly and unfortunately for Campbell’s friends and family, Jostad said, it is likely the adventurer died somewhere out there in the Alaska vastness, and his body is now buried beneath the snows blanketing the dense tangles of alder thickets that make for hiking hell in and near Carey Lake.
But Campbell’s disappearance and the backstory behind it has created some buzz in the small town of Talkeetna – best known as the jumping-off point for climbers headed for the summit of Mount Denali – because of the indication Campbell was searching for something far more elusive than the summit of North America’s tallest peak.
He was on the hunt for the lost pyramid of Alaska.
“He was a pretty quiet individual,” said Jason Sturgis, the charter pilot who flew Campbell to Carey Lake, but Campbell revealed his interest in the rumored pyramid as the plane approached its landing after a long flight across the Alaska Range from near Talkeetna.
“His ‘Indiana Jones adventure’ is what he called it,” Sturgis said.
If you have not yet heard of the lost pyramid of Alaska, it is understandable. News of the structure has not crept into the mainstream media, but if you type “Alaska pyramid” into Bing’s search engine you will find the fictional structure has attracted plenty of attention from alternative and fringe media.
“Traces of GIANT PYRAMID Beneath Alaska Uncovered by Journalist,” Russia’s, state-owned Sputnik News disclosed before going on to claim that “a nuclear blast that occurred in China nearly 30 years ago apparently led to a surprising discovery hundreds of kilometers away, in Alaska, where US government seismometers detected some peculiar geological anomalies, which in turn led a number of dedicated enthusiasts to pursue claims of a massive pyramid located far below the surface of the frozen peninsula.”
Sputnik cites as its source “the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens TV show journalist Linda Moulton Howe (who) was contacted by an ex-naval worker who told her on condition of anonymity that his father, an engineer, was able to see the pyramid while he was working on a top-secret government project.”
Miles from nowhere
There are no government projects – top secret or otherwise – within at least 50 miles of Carey Lake. If there were, someone would have noticed because government projects need access – roads, airports or at the very least a landing zone (LZ) for a helicopter or a clearing along a lake to offload supplies from a floatplane.
Any of these things stick out like sore thumbs in the undeveloped vastness of the wild Alaska backcountry. In the Sputnik story, it was reported that the Naval officer who allegedly revealed the pyramid “would go down to the base of a huge pyramid using the elevators.”
Building elevators to run hundreds of feet deep into the ground would require a significant construction effort sure to be plainly visible to any small plane that happened to fly by. And given that single-engine aircraft were long to Alaska what automobiles are to the Lower 48 states, a small plane could and can be expected to fly over almost anywhere at almost any time.
Per capita ownership of aircraft has fallen as the state has grown, but according to the Alaska Department of Transporation, Alaska remains home to six times as many private pilots and 16 times as many planes as the rest of the country on a per capita basis.
And the state’s undeveloped terrain makes it easier rather than harder to hide any sort of significant development activity from planes flying above. But fans of the hidden Alaska pyramid (or pyramids) flip this logic on its head.
Given that goodly parts of Alaska are “totally uninhabitable under their current climate conditions…and the government presence overall in the state is pretty overwhelming, with an Air-Force/Army joint base nearly the size of Anchorage right outside of the city itself,” Anthony Tyler wrote at The Last American Vagabond five years ago in an effort to buttress the argument for the secret, government discovery of a massive, still-hidden structure.
“…Not only could Alaska easily house secret facilities in otherwise uninhabitable government federal land, but in terms of theory, it would almost seem silly for the government to not utilize these tactical advantages. The first clear question is surely, ‘Why can’t people see this from the sky?’ This is where things start to get even more outlandish because the pyramid is supposedly located underground. Furthermore, it’s supposed to be four times the size of Giza,” he wrote.
“Although a radical theory to some scientists, the ability for an earthquake to subsequently collapse the pyramid in a sort of catacomb underneath the Earth’s surface would be theoretically possible if one took into account Charles Hapgood’s Earth crust Displacement Theory. Yet even this is a wild and unlikely truth. Rather, what the lore seems to behold, quite literally, is that this pyramid is thousands of years old, and simply ‘was not built by humans.'”
Tempted to death?
How Campbell, who turned 41 while he was in the Carey Lake area in June, decided to go off on a pyramid-hunting adventure on his own is unclear.
Sturgis admitted to feeling a little troubled about dropping the man off with no set pickup data, but Campbell assured the pilot he had a Garmin InReach satellite communication and GPS tracking device to stay in contact with his wife.
Campbell told Sturgis to expect a call from her if an early pickup was needed, but that otherwise he was prepared to stay until late August or early September.
Campbell, Sturgis said, took a couple “totes” of food with him and a “big backpack.” Park officials found fishing gear Campbell left at Carey Lake. He maintained contact with his wife on the InReach, which the Park Service found at the scene, into mid-June.
Sometime after that, Campbell’s wife called the air taxi to say she hadn’t heard from her husband.
“It was a Friday she called me,” Sturgis said Monday. “That was back in June.”
Sturgis asked for the latitude and longitude coordinates from Campbell’s InReach. The data put the pyramid hunter about five miles from the lake. Sturgis explained there was nowhere nearby that he could land his floatplane to check on Campbell.
He told Campbell’s wife she needed to call a company flying helicopters and get them to go check the site of Campbell’s last transmission. Then he forgot about the man at the lake.
“I just figured they did that,” Sturgis said, until he got a call in September asking him to go out and get Campbell. By then, the man had been reported to troopers as missing and both the state and the park service were marshaling efforts to find Campbell.
“It’s pretty bizarre,” said David Lee, another Talkeetna pilot who started to organize his own search mission for Campbell before the Park Service got airborne.
Lee believes someone should have organized a search for Campbell sooner than mid-September given the man had been out of contact for almost three months, but admits “I don’t know if it would have many any difference.”
Into the wild
Campbell is not the first to disappear into the wilderness on the north side of the park. About 50 miles to the east, a young man named Chris McCandless moved into an abandoned and deserted bus along an abandoned and overgrown road in April 1992.
The 24-year-old son of a comfortably well off East Coast family, McCandless fled into the wild for reasons that will never be known. Some have suggested he was struggling with mental illness.
Whatever the case, McCandless was found dead of starvation in the bus in the fall of the year, and four years later writer John Krakauer authored a book portraying McCandless as a young man on a search for the meaning of life who died tragically after accidentally eating poisoned seeds.
The book became a bestseller that turned the dead McCandless into a mythical figure. The idea McCandless accidentally poisoned himself was eventually debunked, but it didn’t matter.
The myth rolled on. Krakauer offered more poisoning theories. They, too, were debunked. But all of that was irrelevant because the myth of a young man fleeing the horrors of civilization only to die in the idyllic wilderness was too hard for many to let go.
How Campbell’s story plays out only time will tell, but his disappearance only adds to the outsize history of the Lake Minchumina area north of the park.
Carey Lake itself was named for legendary Alaska trapper and renaissance man Fabian Carey, who for years made his home at Michumina, 35 miles to the north, northeast. His son, Michael, spent a lot of his childhood there only to abandon the wilderness for civilization and become a well-known essayist for the Anchorage Daily News.
The younger Carey traveled a road opposite that of McCandless and much more successfully.
Both Careys were out of the country before the last American homesteader, Duane Ose, went in to build himself a retreat at what he called “Ose Mountain” near the 244-square-mile lake almost at the dead center of the state.
Over his years there, he authored four books about the Alaska wilderness (plus one about alien abductions), became a short-lived star of a reality TV show and vaulted into the news by trying to steal back the homestead he sold as part of the deal with the British TV.
Now comes Campbell’s disappearance to add to the Minchuminia area history in the already strange year of COVID-19.