Denali rangers seek missing hikers |

Denali rangers seek missing hikers

Dan Joling
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ANCHORAGE, Alaska ” The National Park Service has launched a search for two women missing on what was supposed to be a short backpacking trip in Denali National Park.

Abby Flantz, 25, of Gaylord, Minn., and Erica Nelson, 23, of Las Vegas, were last seen Thursday at the Savage River check station. The women had picked up a wilderness permit earlier that day and planned to return Friday.

They were reported overdue Saturday when they did not report to work at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a hotel outside the park.

A search Sunday was suspended for the evening and the Park Service planned to resume Monday.

Searchers focused on the Savage River drainage north of the Denali Park Road. Park officials said that was route the women likely would have taken to reach the Mount Healy wilderness unit, the area for which they had a permit.

Savage River is just 15 miles from park headquarters. Visitors can drive that far but beyond Savage River, visitors must use park or concessionaire buses, so traffic is limited on the road.

Searchers found evidence of moose kills by grizzly bears in the search area, but bears were not the highest concern for the missing women, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said Sunday.

“Most of our concerns are the other types of environmental hazards,” she said.

River crossings can be especially dangerous and the women had been advised to cross the Savage River downstream where it breaks into shallow braids, she said.

Steep terrain without a trail is also a hazard for spraining an ankle, she said. But park personnel would have expected to find some sign of the women on such a short trip.

“Our concern with these young women is, they were only going to go in for one night,” Fister said. “They wouldn’t have gone in that far.”

The women spoke to rangers Thursday and expressed concern about crossing the Savage River. A Park Service staffer reported that water was high Thursday and it’s possible the women chose not to cross the river.

Searchers have focused on camping areas and other travel routes on Mount Healy and in the adjacent Primrose Ridge backcountry unit.

An air search Saturday used two helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft. Three teams of ground searchers Sunday checked heavily wooded and vegetated sections that could not be searched effectively from the air.

About 40 people assisted with the search Sunday.

The two women are experienced trail hikers but had limited experience with Alaska backcountry conditions, she said.

Temperatures have been mostly typical of the season, with daytime highs in the 60s and nighttime lows in the 40s.