The plan was to do a day hike. We settled on Granite Tors located at mile 39.5 on Chena Hot Springs road. The hike is a 15-mile loop and estimates 5-8 hours to complete.
The trip was just the two of us. Myself and my mother-in-law. We were in high spirits as we loaded our car and headed out for a nice hike.
“Granite Tors provides access to unusual rock outcroppings called tors, alpine tundra and views of the Alaska Range and the Chena River Valley. The tors formed millions of years ago when molten rock pushed upward and cooled before it reached the earth’s surface. The surrounding earth slowly eroded, exposing the less erodible rock pinnacles.” Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
The loop features a trek along boardwalks and ascension through a black spruce forest out into the timberline. The area uses “Cairns” (rock piles) to mark the trail.
We set off. The trail was beautiful. Two women hiking through the Alaska wilderness sharing stories and laughs. The hike was going well but hours in we realized we were off the trail. It ebbed in slowly. Neither of us wanting to admit what the other already knew. We had lost the trail. The area burned in 2004 making everything look the same. We spent hours looking for a trail to no avail. Our spirits still high we decided to follow the river but that proved difficult as the underbrush became impossible to navigate.
Our compasses spun with no direction. As day ebbed to night it was clear that we weren’t going to find our way out. Luckily between the two of us, we had packed a tent, sleeping blankets and a ton of food. We also carried a can of bear spray each…just in case.
The night was riddled with sounds. Grunting and twigs snapping ensured an impossibility for a deep sleep. Undaunted we woke early, covered in mosquito bites and again attempted to find a trail or any sign of human beings. But alas after searching until nightfall a trail or sight of others was not found.
Our compasses still spinning we settled down for another long night. Day three and still not totally panicking for today surely, we would find a trail. Instead we were spotted by a rescue team in a helicopter. Relief and anger flooded me as I saw we had been spotted. Relief because I knew my family was worried but anger because I didn’t get myself out, I had to be rescued.
That anger subsided though when I rode in that helicopter back to Fairbanks. The trip was beautiful and the chopper was cool.
Our time lost brought many emotions. From tears to laughter yet through it all we never wavered in our trust of each other. Forever solidifying my relationship with my mother-in-law who braved the Alaska wilds with me.
A month later I returned to Granite Tors and did the 15-mile trail in its entirety with no incidents. Vindicated!