FAIRBANKS — The second blizzard to hit Fairbanks in less than a week produced a second round of rescues in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks on Saturday and Monday.
A Fairbanks man stranded in a cabin in the White Mountains National Recreation Area was rescued by Alaska State Troopers on Saturday. Randy Robertson was flown out in a helicopter by Sgt. Scott Quist after family members reported him overdue.
Robertson was staying at Eleazar’s Cabin, 12 miles from the Wickersham Dome trailhead on the Steese Highway.
“He went in on Tuesday and was supposed to come out on Thursday,” Quist said. “The family hadn’t heard from him as of Saturday and they called us.”
On Monday, meanwhile, trailbreakers from the Bureau of Land Management broke open 20 miles of drifted trail to free three snowmachiners who were trapped by deep snow at Borealis LeFevre Cabin, about 10 miles past Eleazar’s Cabin.
The snowmachiners contacted BLM officials on Friday by using a satellite phone, ranger John Priday said. Because they had enough food and firewood to last them until Monday, BLM officials told them to remain at the cabin until trailbreakers reached them.
It was the fourth search and rescue by troopers in less than a week in the White Mountains after two storms dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the Interior. The heavy snow was accompanied by strong winds that caused “massive” drifting on the 250-mile trail system about 50 miles north of Fairbanks, according to Priday.
Troopers rescued three couples in three separate incidents in the White Mountains on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In the Saturday rescue, troopers on snowmachines tried to reach Robertson but didn’t make it far from the trailhead before getting bogged down in deep, drifted snow, the result of a Friday blizzard that produced 6 inches of fresh snow and 50 mph wind gusts in Fairbanks.
“They immediately ran into problems,” Quist said of the troopers on snowmachines. “The trail was completely drifted in.”
Quist landed a helicopter at the cabin despite flying conditions he described as “butt ugly.” After “a strong request” from Quist, Robertson left his snowmachine at the cabin and accepted a ride back to the trailhead in the helicopter.
Robertson had tried to leave the cabin on Friday and made it a short distance before getting “horribly stuck” in the deep, drifted snow, Quist said. Robertson retreated to the cabin to wait for help.
“Fortunately he didn’t try to go any further, which was a smart move on his part,” Quist said. “The trail was just absolutely gone. There were 6-foot drifts in the trail.”
The heavy snow and strong winds were uncharacteristic of the Interior and obviously caught travelers off guard, Quist said.
“This was more typical of Western Alaska type weather,” the trooper said. “We just don’t get that in Fairbanks. People aren’t used to it.”
Conditions on the lengthy White Mountains trail system, which features a dozen public-use cabins people can rent, were “pretty wild” following Friday’s storm, Priday said. Trails were basically impassable.
“The big thing was the huge drifting snow,” he said. “It looked like waves in the ocean.
“Folks that didn’t have wide-track or super wide-track snowmachines, or the snowmachine skills to deal with the weather were getting stuck,” he said.
Trails in the White Mountains are prone to drifting because most of the trail system is exposed to the wind, Priday said.
“If you get a little bit of wind up there, the trail system is shot until we get the groomers up there,” he said.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.