Two hikers were rescued from an unintentional overnight stay on AB Mountain after straying from the trail after dark on Aug. 2.
Around 9 p.m., Alaska Wildlife Troopers were notified 30-year-old Wei Yang and 22-year-old Yun Zhu, both from Whitehorse, Yukon, were well overdue to return from their hike up the mountain.
The pair had alerted local emergency services around 9 p.m. after becoming concerned they could not find their way back to the trail and would be unable to descend from the mountain after nightfall.
“[They] were able to give us some coordinates off of their iPhone, and so we called them back and thankfully they were in cell reception range,” said Skagway Fire Chief Jeremy Simmons. “We got a general idea of where they were, and we mobilized a group of people to go out there and see if we could get to them.”
The rescue attempt was a joint effort led by the Skagway Fire Department and the Alaska State Troopers with the assistance of the Coast Guard.
When the hikers made their initial call for help, the current weather conditions permitted for rescue efforts to commence, but that did not last very long.
“The first team made it up as close to their location as they could, sometime around 2:30 or 3 in the morning,” Simmons said. “The Coast Guard was able to send a helicopter out, but unfortunately by the time they got here the [weather] conditions had changed.”
The search had to be called off for the night after the helicopter had to turn back due to the weather change and rescuers could not find the hikers according to the location given to them over the phone.
“GPS coordinates are not always 100 percent reliable, and you kind of get different readings on your cell phone, so we were kind of having issues where the coordinates they gave us could have been different by 100 yards or 100 feet in elevation difference,” Simmons said.
At first light, a second team went to search for the hikers and was able to locate the pair after bushwhacking their way off trail to their location.
“They were cold and they were wet, but they were okay,” Simmons said.
Simmons said that missions like this are not necessarily common, but can vary in frequency from year to year.
“It’s been especially busy this year. I think we’re on our 12th mission this year. Some years we only do one or two,” he said.
The fire department’s search and rescue team was called out again five days after their mission on AB Mountain to assist another hiker on Sunday, Aug. 7.
Thirty-four year old hiker Emily Breczinski of Skagway alerted the fire department around 3:20 p.m. that she was stuck on a ledge on the Lower Reid Falls trail and believed she would be unable to get down safely.
A response team quickly located Breczinski and was able to assist her with getting down from the cliff and back into town.
Simmons said preparing for the unexpected is extremely important when getting ready to hit the trail.
“I think that knowledge is key and being prepared for not just the conditions when you leave, but what they might become is important,” he said. “With the folks who got stranded up on A.B., they were not prepared for the conditions that were to come that night, and they went off in a place they weren’t supposed to, so when they did get lost, they weren’t ready for the consequences for it.”