By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News
April 08, 2008
The group, which included a 10-year-old boy, got more than it bargained for during a trip to Mount McKinley that was supposed to end a week earlier.
Strong winds and a blizzard turned the weeklong stay into a two-week adventure that ended when Hudson Air made four trips to the glacier to retrieve a dozen people -- the 10 tourists plus two guides -- from the snowy 5,500-foot camp.
"I learned a lot of Japanese," said Amy Beaudoin, 32, an Alaska Mountaineering School instructor who served as a guide for the group. "And they learned a lot of English. It was mutual."
The adventurers were mostly college-age and teenage members of the Aurora Club, which has made early spring trips to McKinley for years, Beaudoin said. The club honors Japan's Michio Hoshino, a famed nature photographer who lived in Alaska and led a number of children on trips to Ruth Glacier before he was killed by a bear in Russia in 1996.
The group had plenty of fuel and enough food to survive an extended stay, though the food was about to run out, Beaudoin said.
"It was perfect timing," she said.
By the end of last week, the supply of food had dwindled and the Japanese raided an emergency food bucket at the Don Sheldon Mountain House above the glacier.
"A bunch of it was food they'd never eaten before, like instant oatmeal. It was pretty funny. They tried to make a cookie out of each packet," Beaudoin said. "They were definitely the most positive group I've ever worked with. They were like, OK, let's make the best of it."
Beaudoin said stormy weather arrived March 29, two days before the group was due to leave the mountain.
For a full week, each day brought snow or high winds that made visibility too poor for air traffic. On Friday morning alone, more than two feet of snow fell, Beaudoin said.
The group packed down snow on the airstrip every day, she said. It kept busy by climbing Michio's Point, which is named after Hoshino; by drawing and writing; and by playing a guitar left by other Aurora Club members during a 1998 trip to the mountain.
"No one knew how to play the guitar at all," Beaudoin said. "We'd pass it around and play really off-key, bad music and just laugh about it. We were able to entertain ourselves pretty well."
The skies finally cleared Saturday night, allowing for a spectacular show of northern lights -- one of the things the Japanese had come to the mountain to see.
"They were so positive about stuff," Beaudoin said. "Last night when we saw the aurora it was really exciting. It was clear and we could see the stars. They were all saying, 'We're going home tomorrow!' They were up at 7 (Sunday) morning, really eager."
A satellite phone allowed the group to call family members and friends in Japan to let them know they were socked in by bad weather, Beaudoin said. The tourists missed their flights home to Japan, but they were booking new itineraries, she said.
As for the emergency food bucket, the first Hudson Air flight that landed Sunday brought a week's worth of food. The group left it behind for the next group of stranded or hungry adventurers.
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Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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