Portage Glacier is a popular tourist attraction just 50 miles southeast of Anchorage. Most visitors take a drive-by approach viewing it from a boat. Maybe for good reason. An intrepid family of explorers recently found out just how dangerous it can be when one of them became trapped in an ice cave.
Jacob James, 21, was exploring a cave near the Portage Valley RV Park July 9 when a chunk of the ice wall broke free and struck him, pinning him inside the cave. The falling ice broke three of his ribs, broke his nose, and left him with scrapes and bruises, according to KTUU in Anchorage.
Luckily he had travel companions on hand, otherwise he just may have been left there forever. His girlfriend and his father, hiking nearby, managed to break up the ice and pull him to safety.
“The only thing I could think of was I needed to get out of that spot,” James told KTUU.
Alaska State Troopers and rescue personnel from the Girdwood Fire Department, a town about 30 miles away, were able to help James to walk out on his own. He was later taken to Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
The incident illustrates the very real dangers hikers face in the wilderness. The ice cave James was exploring was accessible and near a civilized area, but in the blink of an eye, everything went south. Especially in Alaska, the lure of instant adventure and a sense of invincibility can get even the most robust hikers in bad trouble.
Just a few miles from the Portage ice cave, there’s a two-mile-long tunnel that lets rail as well as automobile traffic get to the little port town of Whittier, on the far west edge of Prince William Sound. Hikers have died trying to walk the tunnel, which fills with carbon monoxide when trains pass through, effectively making it a gas chamber for anyone on foot.
That’s the lesson: Beware when the way seems easy. Of course, James did nothing wrong. He was simply out for a hike, but The Mountain had other plans. Keep that in mind the next time you’re outdoors. And most certainly be prepared for the worst, even if the afternoon appears to promise the best.