Alaska State Troopers warn of hiking danger citing recent death

 Hikers finish the Taiga trail in Denali National Park earlier this year. (John Dougherty/KTVF)
Hikers finish the Taiga trail in Denali National Park earlier this year. (John Dougherty/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 5:26 PM AKDT
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A recent death of a hiker in the Brooks Range has prompted Alaska State Troopers to remind the public about hiking safety.

According to Troopers, Douglas Mathews, 33, was hiking with some friends in the Brooks Range on Friday when he fell to his death. Sergeant Michael Potter, a Wildlife Trooper said that they were hiking on Sukakpak Mountain, 90-miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway, when the accident occurred.

"The party in general decided to turn back because the terrain was getting to, probably, risky for them,” Potter said. “He [Mathews] elected to go on his own further up mountain and appears to have fallen down some steep terrain which was fatal."

His friends called Troopers after he didn't come back and a BLM Ranger located Mathews body on Saturday. The body was then recovered on Sunday.

Potter said they have conducted multiple search and rescue operations in recent weeks to rescue hikers who had become stranded. Potter reminds hikers that while Alaska is beautiful and fun, it can be deadly.

One of the main things Potter said that gets people in trouble is going on a hike that is above their skill level. “Start small, work your way up to the big stuff, that seems to be largely what is getting people in trouble recently is just tackling trips that were a little bit in excess of their experience,” Potter said.

He also stressed the importance of having a hiking plan. He said hikers should let someone else know where they are going, when they are supposed to be back and what they are wearing on the trip. Doing this can ensure that Troopers know where to look for someone if they need rescued.

"That way we have a good idea of where to start looking and who to look for exactly,” said Potter. “One of the common problems we have is we are looking for somebody but we don't exactly know what their plan was, where they might be going specifically, which trail they are on. All those things which make it much easier to actually look for somebody."

On top of a hiking plan he recommends using a satellite-based messaging device to be able to send an exact location so searchers have a better chance of quickly locating someone who needs help.

Potter also said that no matter where someone is hiking, they should have enough equipment to comfortably spend the night. He said this includes a way to start a fire, and knowing how to start a fire even in wind or rain. He also said to have enough extra calories and a way to get water like a filter.

“Carrying those things with you will turn a survival event into a longer camping trip than you planned,” he said. “If you are comfortable and have all the things you need to survive you can definitely make yourself a whole lot safer.” Potter said that even if they do have to rescue you, having simple survival stuff can keep you alive while you wait.

The Alaska State Troopers have been working with federal and state park rangers as well as the volunteer Wilderness Search and Rescue Team and PAWS program.

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