Wednesday, May 04, 2016

"... body was found near the north end of the Savage River Loop Trail . . .Searchers believe he died Tuesday."

If the title quotes from the Alaska Dispatch are accurate, J and I hiked apparently right below Michael Purdy's body, "about 100 feet from the trail" when we hiked the Savage River Loop Trail on Wednesday morning.

100 feet.  That's about the distance across two average Anchorage residential lots.

It changes everything about our hike.  From a magnificent soul cleansing hike on a partly cloudy day, with the sun's glow following us from behind clouds to the east. . .  To?  I'm not sure what.  A much more sobering and poignant walk.  A reminder of how instantly everything can change.   If Michael died Tuesday night, there wouldn't have been anything we could have done for him, even if we had seen him.  This is pretty early in the season, and we didn't see other hikers Wednesday morning, though there were cars in the parking lot Monday evening and when we passed Tuesday, headed further into the park.  Savage River is far enough into the Park, that I couldn't get any cell service.

The maintained trail ends at the bridge.  We went on a little further.   A Park Service announcement says Michael Purdy's car was in the east parking lot.  So he probably took the trail on the east side.  We took the west side trail both ways because the east side had large patches of icy snow covering the trail.

If I had taken this picture with a wider angle lens, Michael Purdy's body might have been in the picture.  Or, more likely, it would have been hidden behind a rock or a ridge or bushes.  Obviously, we didn't see it.   I was looking up the slope, hoping to see Dall Sheep.  (I didn't, though we saw three bears along the river on the other side of the highway Tuesday evening.)  This is looking from past the end of the maintained trail, back to the south. You can see parts of the loop trail along both sides of the river.  (East on the left, west on the right.)  These pictures are all from Wednesday morning, April 27, 2016.
click to better focus any of the pictures

Here's J resting on the unmaintained trail beyond the bridge, which is below her hidden by the ridge.  And somewhere nearby was Michael Purdy.

There are lots of great rock outcroppings that just beg to be explored.  Our creaky old bones can more easily resist the call to climb.  But at 24, I would have been all over them.

These two outcroppings are a little beyond the bridge and the maintained trail.

The Park Service announcement says Michael was from Oregon and was scheduled to work at Denali for the summer, that he was an experienced hiker.

Some may think this post a little macabre.  But it seems that the timing requires me to share these pictures.

My brother died in a fall when he was 23, so I know how wrenching this is for Michael's family.  Forty years later, writing this,  I can't stop tears from forming.   I know that my mother wanted to go to the site of my brother's death and see every detail.  Perhaps these pictures may help some of his family members who can't get to this spot.  At least Michael took leave in a spectacularly beautiful place - which these pictures only hint at - doing what he apparently loved doing.  My condolences go out to Michael's family.  The memory of these days will never leave you, but it gets less painful.  I only wish we could have done something to help.    


  1. Yes, your story did feel unsettling, Steve. It's okay. You reminded me painful memory is a place we all visit and rarely recount with others.

    Thank you, and peace to you, your brother and Michael's family.

    It was and remains a beautiful day for a hike.

  2. Hi Steve, my Aunt came across this article and sent it out to my family. I'm Mike's younger sister Monica. This article is so beautiful, and we all would like to thank you. We found out the heart breaking news on Sunday, May 1st and all 13 of us were in Alaska by Wednesday. We went right up to the spot where they found him and spread some of his ashes along with writing our love on the rocks. If I could somehow contact you, I would love to share his story. It's incredible and inspiring. Mike was my best friend and best person that I will ever come across in this lifetime. I am so sorry for your loss at a young age as well. Thank you again, we all really appreciate this.

    1. Monica, thanks for letting me know what I wrote met with your family's approval. I know that three months is no time at all and that you probably even forget that he's gone sometimes. I'd love to hear more about Mike's life. My email is in the right hand column just above the blog archive.


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