"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A race incomplete

“The mountain always has the final say,” said a Junior Mt. Marathon runner in an interview with a reporter after he finished the boys’ race on July 4.  He should know.  He’s climbed many of them, summer and winter, and studied their dangers.

At the time, he was referring to the awful trail conditions the racers had faced, not about events later in the day that reminded us about the dangers inherent in Alaskan mountains.  Days of rain, compounded with last-minute training runs, had turned parts of the trail into mud.

Mt. Marathon on a much nicer day.  The racers go through the trees on the left side then up the center to the top.

No, the young man couldn’t have known how prescient his remark would become later in the day.  After all, it was still morning when he spoke those words.  The women’s race would start soon, then the Fourth of July parade, and at 3 o'clock 350 men would charge up the main street of Seward, 30 feet above sea level, scramble their way through alders and mud to the halfway point and then loose gravel and scree and rock to the peak at 3200 feet.

They still have to get off the mountain, the most injury-prone part of the race, and run those last few blocks into town, down the gauntlet of cheers and applause to the finish line.  Some would accomplish all that in less than an hour.  For most, their time would be around an hour and a half.

Racers ascending past the half way point in last year's race.  Spectators line the course.
Once the racers break out of the lower vegetation on the way up, they’re visible to everyone in town until they once again plunge into the alders and rock and cliffs and waterfalls on the downhill trail.  What could go wrong, other than a few injuries, none of them life-threatening?

This year, something has gone horribly wrong.  There’s one racer still out there.  He went up the mountain and was seen 200 feet from the top by a descending race official.  It was already three hours into the race.  It was the man's first race and he was determined to reach the top, said the official.

That was the last time anyone saw him.  Searches were launched that evening.

Making matters worse, a stubborn low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska has temperatures ten degrees below normal with winds and rain.  New snow fell on higher elevations, though not on Mt. Marathon, the point being it's darned cold out there for someone dressed to run up a mountain. The missing man is 66 years old, wearing only a tee shirt, shorts, and running shoes.  He wasn’t even wearing his glasses, and his family says he has poor vision.

Low clouds and mist have hampered searches.
Search dogs, trained mountain rescue teams, a Pave Hawk helicopter from the Alaska Air National Guard, and volunteers searchers have found no trace of the missing man.  They combed the face of the mountain, then started searching more distant areas, guessing he’d gotten himself turned around in the clouds and mist.  They’ve found poor visibility, mud, rockfalls, and bears.

Had the weather been decent these past few days, even someone with poor vision could have seen Resurrection Bay from the mountain and known to head in that direction.

He’s now been missing three days.  Miracles have happened before in Alaska.  People have walked out of the brush after searchers had given up.  Others still haven’t been found.  Right now, all hopes are for a good resolution, and thoughts and prayers are with the family as the search continues.

And the mountain will have the final say, as a wise young man said.  One way or the other.

Sign at base of mountain.

This link is to a photo gallery of race photos which will show the conditions of the mountain race on July 4, showing it isn't a stroll in the park.


(Update, Sunday July 8:  Alaska State Troopers have cancelled the exhaustive search for the missing man, citing four days of searching using various teams and methods, including high-tech gear, have turned up no sign of the man.  The Seward Fire Department and volunteers say they will continue to look.)

1 comment:

  1. So sorry to hear about this sad turn of events in the midst of celebration.