Two hikers rescued separately on same day off West Glacier Trail

The morning sunlight approaches Mendenhall Glacier across Mendenhall Lake, as seen from Mount McGinnis on Aug. 14, 2012. Many hikers get lost and stranded trying to reach the glacier's ice caves below.

The morning sunlight approaches Mendenhall Glacier across Mendenhall Lake, as seen from Mount McGinnis on Aug. 14, 2012. Many hikers get lost and stranded trying to reach the glacier’s ice caves below. (Creative Commons photo by Richard Deakins)

Authorities conducted two separate rescues for stranded hikers on Sunday in roughly the same area near the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves.

Capital City Fire/Rescue and Alaska State Troopers rescued Kenneth Weber, 50, in the afternoon, then were called again Sunday night to rescue Sarah Skrine, 46. Both are locals who were rescued off West Glacier Trail.

Assistant Chief Tod Chambers was on duty Sunday.

“Trooper (Branden) Forst and I were discussing it after we launched the boats, ‘Well, it’s less than last year,’” Chambers said. “I think we jinxed ourselves, and that’s how we ended up with the second one.”

Chambers didn’t have rescue numbers handy, but jinx notwithstanding, he does think West Glacier Trail rescues are trending down this year.

“I do feel like it’s down. I mean, it was becoming excessive. And we’ve had a few this year, I don’t know that you can get away from it. That attraction to the ice  caves is somewhat overwhelming,” Chamber said. “There’s a trail and people are going to go down the trail and it’s harder than it looks.”

Chambers said Sunday’s first rescue was for a man off the path who had slid down a scree slope and got stuck in a place where he couldn’t go up or down safely. A ropes team put him in a harness and belayed him down.

There was a second rescue about five hours later. Chambers said this hiker fell and hurt her knee, was disoriented in the dark, and thought she heard bears in the area. A ground crew helped hike her out.

Chambers said neither person required medical treatment.

Chambers has advice for hikers.

“People just need to take their time, use some caution. If at all possible, go with a guiding service so that you get in and out,” he said. “We’re here for the community. … It’s easier to justify for us if it’s a real emergency (than) if we’re just having to go across the lake because someone didn’t want to hike all the way out — that’s not what we’re here for.”

The last stretch of West Glacier Trail to the face of the Mendenhall Glacier isn’t maintained, and there are several different paths forward that many maps don’t convey well.

Blogs like Tents Trails + Cocktails and Tracy Travel Tips have published unofficial guides with plenty of photos of their routes.

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