Gone viral

The now famous yet unidentified Alaska hiker


A lost hiker, a camera and an internet sensation

A neophyte hiker did what no neophyte hiker should do in Alaska and went off trail.

He ended up lost atop barren Dumpling Mountain in Katmai National Park and Preserve in far Southwest Alaska after clouds moved to block the view of the popular Brooks River camp only a couple miles below the 2,440-foot plateau.

Luckily, he soon found one of the two, sizeable radio repeater stations placed not far off the trail by the National Park Service and so they could lifestream footage of Brooks River brown bears around the world.

Little could the hiker know that he was about to become a news sensation in today’s internet-connected world as the man who would have died if not for that webcam and the eyes of the internet.

“‘Bear cam’ viewers save stranded hiker in Alaska” headlined the BBC, one of hundreds of news organizations around the world to pick up on his “rescue,” for lack of a better word. It was the sort of rescue that happens regularly in Alaska in the summer; someone in officialdom, or simply other hikers, finds a lost visitor and guide him or her back to a trailhead.

The Park Service, which has to this point refused to identify the scraggly-faced hiker, has made it impossible to interview the man to find out exactly what he was thinking up there on Dumpling, but he obviously couldn’t have been thinking about becoming an internet sensation given he had no way of knowing what sort of internet explosion would occur after he looked into the camera and asked for help.

All that is clear from the webcam video is that he knew he was wet, chilly and separated from the trail to lead him back to Brooks Camp.

Dumpling Mountain radio repeater complex/


For him, in the moment, there was, however, the comfort of having found one of two manmade communications stations placed atop the mountain after a winter storm with winds gusting over 100 mph destroyed an old radio repeater connecting Brooks Camp to the world in the winter of 2013/2014.

Theoretically, these facilities shouldn’t been on the mountain at all given that Dumpling is located within a nationally designated wilderness area, but the Park Service managed to get an exemption from Wilderness Act rules for two stated reasons.

“Within the Brooks Camp area, employees and volunteers occasionally need to relocate their position in order to effectively communicate using the radio communications station on Dumpling Mountain due to terrain, vegetative cover, and weather,” a park prepared environmental assessment (EA) argued in 2008. “Employees and volunteers also communicate to others outside of Brooks Camp via email over the internet using a commercial satellite system. The satellite system does not provide enough bandwidth for multiple simultaneous Internet connections or the transmission of existing and future video and audio communications.”

One should not have to endure such hardships while working in the wilderness, even in Alaska. But the second reason for the upgrade might have been even more important.

“The project would provide a remote link to an NPS partnership that is willing to fund high-definition, color video transmission of bears feeding at the Brooks Falls area,” the EA said. “The partnership consists of the NPS, Pratt Museum, RealNetworks, and National Geographic Society.

“For the past two years, the National Geographic Magazine’s WildCam Grizzlies project has been sited at the (Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s) McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. However, increasing costs for air charters and difficult access make a McNeil-based camera too expensive to install and maintain.

“Since remote bear viewing has proven to be extremely popular with visitors to the Pratt Museum in Homer and the WildCam Grizzlies website, moving the remote camera to Brooks Falls in KATM would allow the partners to continue offering a unique virtual
bear viewing experience.”

The Park Service does like to keep its supporters happy, and given that it limits access to the Brooks River, what better way than livestreaming the action there to the masses?

Dozens of bears gather at the Brooks in the summer to feast on a return of sockeye salmon. The fish made the river a tourist attraction long, long ago. Brooks Lodge was built not far from the mouth of the river in 1950 mainly as a fishing operation, but it eventually became an even bigger attraction for bear viewers. 

“The world-famous bear viewing at Brooks Falls is only a short walk from the Lodge,” the business now advertises. “As many as fifty bears live along the mile and a half long Brooks River during the height of the salmon season. Many visitors see bears within minutes of arrival….”

Brooks Falls and its bears/Katmailand

The bear-viewing and the fishing make the Brooks area a busy place in the summer.

The beach at the mouth of the river on Naknek Lake is only about a 20-minute hop in a floatplane from the King Salmon airport served by Alaska Airlines’ Boeing 737 jets, and small floatplanes regularly fly in from surrounding lodges in the area and from Anchorage, the state’s largest city about 275 miles to the northeast, so people can watch the bears.

On a clear day, the hubbub around the lodge about three miles below Dumpling Mountain is even harder to miss than the Brooks River obviously draining out of Brooks Lake into much larger Naknek Lake.

The view from Dumpling Mountain on a clear day with the Brooks Camp area visible to the left where the Brooks River drains from Brooks Lake (center) into Naknek Lake (left)/


But when you are lost atop a cloud-shrouded mountain, it is impossible to see what might be below, and if you are lost, it is at best troubling, for those experienced in the wilderness, and terrifying, for those not.

That said, it is also obvious in this day and age that if you find a remote communications station, you aren’t really that lost. Put it out of operation, for instance, and someone will arrive pretty quick to fix it, and you will be lost no more.

Fortunately, this lost hiker didn’t have to resort to such an act because when the new repeater atop Dumpling was installed, a remote camera was mounted on it so people around the world could look for bears on the mountain as well as at the Brooks Falls.

Maybe all towers in remote areas of Alaska should be so equipped from now on in case anyone else gets lost.

The hiker on spotted the camera, gave it a thumbs down and walked past. What the thumbs down meant is unknown. It could have been a sign he was in trouble or an expression of his opinion on 21st Century communications equipment being placed in wilderness areas.

Whatever it was, the hiker later returned to the camera, looked into it and mouthed the words “Lost” and “Help.” This was witnessed by people who were viewing the live cam in the moment.

“Webcam viewers were still watching it, to my surprise, actually, and they were paying attention, which was doubly surprising,” Mike Fitz, a former ranger who started Katmai’s promotional “Fat Bear Week” before becoming the “resident naturalist” for told USA Today.

A webcam viewer with the handle Call_Me_Maeby was the first to spot the hiker on Sept. 5 and post on the webcam chat that “there is someone distressed on the camera 3:30 – 3:43 p.m.”

Not long after, an Explore moderator reported Katmai officials had been notified, and rangers were soon on their way up the trail to contact the hiker and walk him back down.

Recognizing the public relations potential with the hiker safely back down, the next day Tweeted (or is that now Xed) the news that “Bear Cam saves hikers [sic] life! Today dedicated bear cam fans alerted us to a man in distress on Dumpling Mountain. The heroic rangers @KatmaiNPS sprung into action and mounted a search saving the man.”

When The Washington Post picked up the story, the rangers became a “search and rescue team” and as the story spun around the globe the rangers grew into a “mountain rescue team.”

Katmai has no mountain rescue team because there is little need for one in the park, which is not a major Alaska climbing destination. And there really is no search and rescue team as such. A pair of “law enforcement” rangers, the policeman of the park, were the ones dispatched to fetch the hiker.

But in the Age of the Internet, someone getting even temporarily lost in the wilderness, gets magnified and can be easily blown up into a near-death event. The Guardian quickly attached its imprimatur to the Explore Tweet with a headline proclaiming “Fans watching bear camera help save Alaska hiker’s life.”

Would the hiker have died without rangers showing up to guide him off the mountain? Nobody knows. Anything is possible. But the webcam indicates the skies cleared the next day.

And weather records for Katmai indicate the overnight temperature never dipped below 47 degrees. 

It would have been a cold night on the mountain, and the man could have died if a brown bear wandered by and decided he looked like a tasty morsel. But the bears have yet to enter the state of hyperphagia which is likely what led to “amateur-expert” bear man Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend being killed and eaten by a Katmai bear 20 years ago, and the temperatures were not particularly deadly.

And if the man had been even halfway coherent by sunrise at 7:30 the next morning, the trail would not have been all that difficult to find.

The Dumpling Mountain Trail looked east toward Brooks Lodge area (center)/NPS


Thus it is probable the hiker would have survived until it became possible to see enough to find the trail and stumble back to the campground below. But a hiker being saved by a camera, as Explore trumpeted on X (formerly Twitter) makes a better story.

And a story the media – mainstream and not – cannot resist running with these days because the media doesn’t so much cover the news as it gets fed the news by various government agencies and PR operations.

Thus a no-risk rescue – some rangers walking what appears to be a healthy hiker off a mountain in Alaska – becomes news around the world while the exploits of the Alaska National Guard’s (ANG) 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons, whose members have been known to put their own lives at risk to save people in Alaska, go unnoticed because Explore has a better PR operation than the ANG.

Give Explore credit for nicely packaging and pedaling the claim that one of its cameras saved someone’s life, and thus the four words “camera saves Katmai hiker” are good for about zillion hits in a Google search today.



5 replies »

  1. Reminds me of a Sat, middle of Sept, silver season on the Copper. My niece flew down from Anc to fish a week, on the flats. We had weekend off, weather was a little rainy/SE 10-15 wind, when we started a 1/2 day hike on the “Heney Ridge Trail”. Arrived at the top overlookin Egg Island, wow what a view! On way down, the wind picked up & it starting raining sideways. Even though we were geared up, we were also wet, cold & tired by time we got back to car. Alaska & the N Gulf Coast can be relentless and unforgiving at the same time.

    • Many of us have been there. I remember a miserable bivy in a soaking wet snowstorm with my ex-wife on a five-mile Christmas hike into the Young Lake cabin on Admiralty Island long ago. We got dropped on the beach late in the day with a snowstorm just starting. We ended up wallowing through a couple feet of snow in the dark on a not easy to follow trail three-quarters of the way to the cabin and finally said F-it; let’s just shutdown and wait until we can see. Thank God for snythetic sleeping bags. It was a wet night, but warm enough. Lugging saturated bags to the cabin the next day was probably the biggest pain, but the cabin – as cabins have been so many times in Alaska – was much appreciated.

  2. I am sure these cameras will continue to pop up in the wilderness until an Ed Abbey personality arrives to remove the trash.

Leave a Reply