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
"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
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)