While hiking in the Talkeetna mts a backpacker fell down while crossing a large stream. It was a very scary place to take a tumble because the boulders in this particular river were massive and the water was raging because of the glacial melt-off from the warm weather. The backpacker managed to dump the backpack while being swept down stream and was actually rescued by a hiking partner. The backpack got stuck on a boulder a couple of hundred feet downstream and it was not retrievable in the high water. Fortunately no-one was hurt in the incident, but unfortunately his satellite phone, sleeping bag, jacket, rain gear, food and everything he carried was now stuck in a raging river. With no possible way to retrieve the bag, and food running thin, they decided to press on for the resupply point. After crossing one mountain they decided it was the better part of wisdom to wait for help.
Mean while back at the ranch, I was expecting the typical early morning sat-phone call to report weather at the pre-determined re-supply point, but no such call came in. The weather was not particularly favorable so I was reluctant to launch with-out a good visibility and cloud cover report. My impatience ran thin so I loaded the cub and headed for the re-supply point. I arrived over the strip 40 minutes later, but no-one was camped out waiting for us. I started to work my way back through the mountains checking out every valley and drainage along my route. I eventually stumbled across the backpackers nearly 15 miles from the re-supply point. They had been waiting for three days. Fortunately I was able to land near where they camped. They were awfully happy to have fresh food and my nice warm jacket, along with my emergency sleeping bag. It was a good story with a happy ending. But the backpack was still stuck.
I tried on several occasions to land near the stranded backpack and retrieve it. During the next several weeks every time I flew within 10 miles of the stranded backpack I would detour to the spot and try to land somewhere nearby. The only spot around was sketchy at best. It was virtually a “no-margins” landing. I had to get it right the first time or pay the price. I am really good at knowing my limits, so I turned around and flew home for a cup of coffee and some nachos. It is amazing how hard it is to discipline yourself to not take unnecessary risks. It was just a stupid backpack and it’s not worth bending metal. The cost is too great.
After the backpack had sat in the creek for nearly 6 weeks I finally found this spot on the glacier (almost 4 miles away) to land and retrieve the bag. When a bag has been sitting in a glacial creek for that length of time it is incredibly heavy. The bag that once weighed 65 pounds now weighed a solid 230 lbs because of the glacial silt imbedded in every fiber. Needles to say I was not strong enough to pack 230 lbs the 4 miles back up to the glacier where my plane was parked. So I took what was valuable and personal so that I could return it to the owner. The rest of the contents of the bag sit under a blanket of snow awaiting my return next summer. We will go back in and take out every last piece so no-one will stumble upon our garbage in the years to come.