When spring storm traps riders, they combine forces to prevail
Any day out riding in Alaska’s backcountry is a good day – or so Travis Temple thought as his crew loaded up their sleds for a day trip into Lost Lake on March 27, 2016. Many Kenai Peninsula residents skip the long drive to Seward to access the pristine powder that Lost Lake boasts and instead use the alternative route through Snug Harbor Road in Cooper Landing. Most don’t even bother to haul the 17 miles into Lost Lake; instead they take advantage of the excellent terrain the Snug side has to offer. Riders often don’t want to waste their fuel and daylight making the full trek to Lost Lake.
Travis and his crew of five friends, Jeremy and Anna Love, Cole Krandle, and Cole’s friend Brady decided to take the journey toward the Primrose Campground, an access point to the Lost Lake Trail. Every snowmachiner lives for bluebird skies, but in all reality those clear days are fewer and farther between than we like to admit, so they settled for some patchy clouds and hit the trails.
The first few hours, once the crew hit the lake, were filled with riding, snow showers blowing in and out as they rode. They had stashed some spare fuel on the Primrose side so they decided to refuel both their sleds and themselves and stopped for a lunch break. While they were enjoying some refreshments Travis noticed menacing clouds in the distance, a storm pushing toward them. He decided it was in the group’s best interest to head back across the lake and down to the parking lot.
However, Mother Nature was in a hurry, and before the group even made it across the lake, they were so socked in by clouds that they couldn’t even see their hands in front of their faces.
Safe navigation proved impossible. Travis was in the lead when he hit a creek, throwing him over his handlbars and into the water. It was then that the crew decided the hunker down and let the storm pass – if they continued on their mission back to the parking lot someone would likely get hurt, or worse, killed.
They found a cluster of trees and made camp. Anna, Brady and Cole went to work shoveling out the snow while Jeremey and Travis cut down timber for a windbreak and firewood. They were extremely thankful for their shovels with built-in saws in the handles. Despite their predicament, everyone was in good spirits. The group nestled in for the long night ahead, none of them getting much sleep and all of them hoping for a change in weather come first light.
When morning broke it brought the bad news that the weather had decided to hang around, like an unwelcomed guest to a party. The group’s good spirits began to wane. Travis volunteered to scout out the trail and see if visibility had improved, but the weather pushed him back in defeat. By 2 p.m. March 28, they realized they were staring down at another night hunkered in their makeshift snow fort with their food supply severely diminished. It was difficult not to panic.
In their desperation, Travis made the split-second decision for them all to make a run for it. Travis did some re-delegation of the fuel. He took all the fuel from Cole’s sled and put it into his sled, then all the gas out of Brady’s sled and put it into Jeremy’s sled. Leaving the empty sleds behind, they doubled up and began the slow and steady journey out.
Visibility was poor, and at times Travis would walk up to a mile ahead at a time with his friends following behind. Eventually they found some fresh tracks, a welcomed sight for the weary travelers. Travis got back on his sled and they followed the tracks back to the lake, and the Primrose trailhead, where a rescue group was waiting. They were greeted with warm drinks and big hugs from friends and family. A group was escorted back to the parking lot on the Snug Harbor Road side, while Travis took two of the rescue team members to retrieve the sleds they had abandoned. When they were towing out the sleds they ran into nearly 100 people, all who had heard about their predicament and were coming to help.
The community support was overwhelming.
It’s important that you let people know when and where you are going – the huge community outreach was due to the families and friends who noticed right away when the group was overdue. As word of their disappearance spread on Facebook, search parties mobilized like wildfire. It also stoked the fire that the Peninsula is in need of a protocol for events such as these. State entities are now in communication on putting together specialized teams to help make search and rescues such as these a well-oiled machine, funneling all that community zeal into productive and safe teams.
Travis’s gear bag and preparedness was put to the ultimate test. One of the things that was missing that would have been an incredible help was a SPOT satellite tracker or even a GPS. Thankfully they all had packed extra dry clothes and gear, food, water and fire starter. For the inconvenience of staying out all night in Alaska’s brutal backcountry, it could have a been a lot worse had this group not been prepared.
Thanks to an amazing sled community, and the group’s sheer fortitude to press on, this story has a happy ending.
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