Some of you have watched a TV series, “Survival Alaska.” This scary competition places teams against the elements of the extreme wilderness of Alaska. I watched once and realized that I have stories from my first trip to Alaska in 1966 that easily trump TV’s.
After graduation from High School I headed to Alaska with a close friend. We took a small camper trailer and a Chevy II station wagon with a canoe strapped to the top. It was a 3,600-mile trip. However, in ’66 the Yukon was not paved as were many of Alaska’s roads. We drove with great excitement and confidence into the Yukon Territory. We have photos to show as we reached the Alaska State line that we had suffered 12 tire blow-outs, a suspension spring breaking, the windshield blown out twice and the front of the trailer ripped up. We tied a ½ inch plywood board to the front to keep the stones on the road from breaking through into the camper.
The fishing was a highlight of the trip, catching Artic Grayling and Rainbows in streams and rivers along the way. We tried for a summit lake on a 2000-foot climb up a mountain. The trail ran along “Dead Man’s Creek.” The snow began to fall on this blustery late June morning. The stream was in runoff and crossing was treacherous. I took a sturdy branch for help, but alas the mossy rocks caused me to go down and be swept toward a waterfall. My friend Owen’s quick thinking rescued me with a branch he was able to reach out before the fall.
We found a fly-in service to take us out into the wilderness of the Yukon. We were flow to lakes that were ice-covered looking for a fishing venue for the General Motors Board meeting later in the summer. Unbelievably good Lake Trout fishing on the surface, casting Daredevils from the pontoons of the plane while resting on a snow covered island we found in an open strip of water. Then we were flown into a remote lake to hunt for a moose to outfit the guests. We were flown in and left for three days out of communication. On the second day, after unbelievably good Northern Pike fishing, where we caught a lunker in excess of 15 pounds on every cast, we tried for moose. Owen shot a cow, which we dragged to an island in the lake for dressing and to set a camp. In the night, the wolves on shore began to howl. They could smell the fresh blood and began to swim toward the island. We fired shots at them to turn them away, spending the night guarding our meat cache and watching the golden eyes of the intrepid intruders.
One of our goals was to get to Talkeetna and Mount McKinley. We wanted to fish in the lake at its base. We flew out of Lake Talkeetna with a supercub overloaded with gear. Over the tundra we were fine but only 100 feet above the ground. As we neared the lake, the ground dropped off 1000 feet down into the lake. As we circled a snowstorm and squall came up. The pilot could not descend easily, but we circled downward. The waves were now whitecaps and we could not land. We could not see either in the blizzard. Compass and altimeter took us back. Not knowing where or how to land the pilot cut the engine and we plunged, engine first into the lake from which we had taken off. The planes tail snapped off as we dove. The pilot was knocked unconscious as we swam toward the surface and returned to pull him ashore. We revived him in front of the fireplace in a nearby lodge feeling blessed to be alive. God had been watching over us again, even if I didn’t recognize Him by faith at the time.
Ps 34:4 “And He delivered me from my fears.”
We didn’t make it to McKinley, so we tried again through Outfitter “Frenchy” Larimore. We flew to one of his hunting outfitter’s cabins some 25 miles from McKinley, but in clear view of the mountain. Here we were hired to build a dock, a meat cache and cut firewood in preparation for a bear and caribou hunt. On the first day, while splitting logs, I put a double bladed axe deep into my calf bone. We stopped the bleeding, but there was no way out. We wrapped up the wound and covered it with bear grease.
I thought perhaps I would try something safer, like fishing. In the small tundra trout stream I struck it rich. Incredible and hungry graying on every cast to a Royal Coachman fly. Blueberries grew everywhere. Denali was clearly looming in front of me. Behind me the wilderness and moving upstream, outside of my view, a giant Grizzly Bear. Only a strange feeling caused me to turn around. There 20 feet away was a grizzly that would have stood better than 12 feet. He was foraging on blueberries and could care less about me as I began to slowly move backward with trembling in every muscle. A grizzly can run over 30 miles an hour, the same speed as a deer over short distances. I was dead in my tracks, except for the berries, praise God!
The Doll Sheep and caribou were delicious, but it was the rocky mountain oysters from mountain goat that was most intriguing. More so was the trip back to home base in Anchorage and safety until our next adventure.
It didn’t take long for us to find trouble on our way back down the highway after our northern adventures of hunting, fishing and contracting out our unskilled labor. On the Alaska Highway in the Yukon’s Trutch Mountains outside Whitehorse we ran into construction. Bulldozers were pushing giant boulders off the gravel-strewn path. Mountain to the left and cliff to the right we waited. A 20-ton trailer with construction shovel load lumbered down the mountain road behind us. Little did we know, the driver was drunk, unlicensed and the truck had no brakes. It was a runaway with nowhere to go except death. We heard the horn blast as it made the last turn a few hundred yards above us. Through the side view mirrors we could see it coming, but had no idea the story unfolding. The truck hit us at 60 miles per hour. The trailer and car leapt in the air, the camper receiving the blow and collapsing in accordion-like folds absorbing the blow. We stopped up against the boulders with the truck cab in our back seat. We were alive. The Rocky Mountain Canadian Policeman with red jacket and “Smokey” hat said he couldn’t believe that we had lived. The camper was a total wreck so we pushed down the embankment to make room to get out. We used crowbars to bend out the side of the car so we could drive after changing the blown tires. We crammed the car full of what was salvageable and drove toward Wisconsin. We kissed the ground when we saw the State sign.
God had saved us for another day. It would be many years until I could tell the story knowing who had saved us and protected us.