Hunting Accident File > Safe Trapping?: > January 5,2005


Friday, November 14, 2003


After spending two nights camped out in the cold in wet Carhartts, Jim Orem isn't sure he could have made it another night.

"That's a question only God knows," Orem said Wednesday, two days after he and his trapping partner, Chad Marcy, were found by Alaska State Troopers in a valley about seven miles off the Steese Highway near Twelvemile Summit, approximately 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

"It was getting cold, I'm not going to lie," said the 39-year-old Orem, who is no stranger to cold after trapping in Alaska for almost 12 years. "Hypothermia was starting to set in."

What started out as a routine Saturday on the trapline turned into a 48-hour ordeal for Orem and Marcy after the two trappers were caught in a blizzard and couldn't drive their snowmachines out of a valley because of deep, drifting snow.

They spent two nights camped in a creek bottom waiting for someone to find them, subsisting only on two candy bars and water from the creek. With no matches or lighter and only the clothes on their backs to keep them warm, they built a shelter and beds with spruce boughs and started a fire by soaking a stick in gasoline and igniting it with a spark from the sparkplug on a snowmachine.

"First pull," Orem said, describing their fire starter. "That was ingenious."

It was Marcy, a 34-year-old mechanic on Eielson Air Force Base, who came up with that idea when the men realized they didn't have any matches or a lighter.

"It just popped in my head," said Marcy. "I've been a mechanic all my life; all we needed was a spark."

It was barely snowing when the two trappers set out from 86 Mile Steese Highway Saturday morning, Orem said. But a few hours later when they tried to climb out of a creek drainage they had descended to check some traps, they found themselves battling 6- and 7-foot drifts and whiteout conditions.

"It was just one of those things ... the weather changed on us and socked us right in," said Orem. "It dumped about 2 1/2 feet of snow and winds started blowing 40 or 50 mph."

The two men tried to get their snowmachines up the steep slope three times, twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, before giving up and deciding to wait for help. At one point on Saturday, they drove their snowmachines up the hill as far as they could and set out on foot. They made it about 300 yards before turning around and heading back to their camp.

"You'd hit them snowdrifts and it'd stop you in your tracks," said Marcy. "If you jumped in you'd be up to your waist. There was no way we could have walked out."

When they failed to return Saturday night as planned, Orem's wife, Ginger, reported the two men overdue at 5:30 a.m. Sunday. But troopers couldn't launch a helicopter or ground search to look for the men because of whiteout conditions in the area.

After failing to make it up the mountain on their third try Sunday, Marcy and Orem knew all they could do was sit and wait. By that time they were almost out of gas.

"We just hunkered down and hoped for the best," said Orem, a real estate agent in Fairbanks. "We built our fire up, stayed close to the fire and drank water to stay hydrated."

Orem was wearing only cotton long underwear beneath insulated Carhartt bib overalls and a Carhartt jacket. He had a beaver hat, beaver mitts and cotton work gloves and pack boots. Marcy was dressed similarly, but he had polypropylene long underwear, a Gene's Chrysler nylon parka shell and a lynx hat instead of beaver.

"The first night wasn't bad at all; the second night was a little cooler," Marcy said. "We were both pretty much soaked and sweaty from trying to make it up the mountain."

Fortunately, said Marcy, there was a lot of dead wood to keep the fire going. The only time they let their fire go out was when they tried to make it up the mountain. Each time they retreated to their camp and rekindled their fire to warm up. They weren't worried as much as they were anxious.

"Everybody knew where we were," said Orem, who had told another one of his trapping partners, Steve Zimmerman, where they were going. "They just had to get to us."

Troopers were in the process of launching a ground search for the two men on Monday when a break in the weather allowed pilot Dennis Roe with the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement to get a helicopter in the air for a quick look. Roe found Orem and Marcy at 11:30 a.m., less than an hour after taking off.

"They were hungry and happy," Roe said of the trappers' reaction to his arrival. "I gave them my (submarine) sandwich."



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