Nelson remembered for love of outdoors

30-year-old's body recovered near Yakutat

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Southeast Alaska is emptier this week without Mike Nelson around to teach people about the outdoors, a friend and business partner said Tuesday.

Sean Janes, president of Above & Beyond Alaska, was pulling together the things Nelson had in the office at 3767 David Street in Douglas to send it to Nelson's family in the Provo, Utah, area. About 80 people came to the business Monday night to remember Nelson's life, which ended Saturday in a lake east of Yakutat.

"There was a lot of laughter, a lot of hugs," he said wistfully.

Alaska State Troopers reported Tuesday afternoon that Nelson's body was recovered from Harlequin Lake. Divers were flown up from Juneau in the morning.

Troopers said Nelson fell through the ice Saturday while skiing across the lake during a trek from Yakutat to Haines Junction.

The 30-year old glacier-wilderness guide had been coming to Juneau for six years, Janes said. Supervising activities such as overnight glacier camping, he led tours for the more adventurous traveler, "and a lot of locals, too," Janes said.

"He was an incredible physical specimen," Janes said.

Nelson stood 6 feet 6 inches tall with a thin frame and took two strides for every one Janes took.

Nelson was one of six co-owners of Above & Beyond Alaska, which was going into its third season of operation. This winter, he decided to make Juneau his year-round home, Janes said. He previously worked for Gastineau Guiding Company and Northstar Trekking.

Janes said he wasn't at Harlequin Lake when Nelson fell through the ice. It wasn't the sort of trip Nelson would have taken with paying customers. But he knows Nelson was prepared for the danger. "This guy was calculating and intelligent."

Nelson spent most of the winter planning the trip with his friend, Mike Miller, Janes said. It involved hiking, skiing and glacier bicycling.

They had taken three weeks of food and were equipped with a satellite telephone in the event they found themselves in trouble.

Janes said Nelson knew not to press too far into dangerous situations. He recalled their trip to Nepal. They attempted to climb a mountain near Mount Everest but decided not to pursue the summit because of the weather.

Hiking 400 miles with Nelson - from India into Katmandu - was an overwhelming experience, Janes said. They carried their own supplies.

"It is a loss to the community," Janes said of Nelson's death. "He educated people to the outdoors."

On top of his skills as an outdoorsman, Nelson was an excellent photographer, Janes said. Some of his work can be seen around Juneau.

Nelson's love of glaciers comes out on the company's Web site, which notes his belief that "experiences on the glacier enlighten."

"Light governs all things," the site quotes Nelson. "The glacier illuminates light more powerful than any other body in nature."

"He was also a heck of a mandolin player and a heck of a guitar player," Janes said. "We played together once a week in the evening.

"I know I'll miss him."

So will some Above & Beyond Alaska clients, Janes said. Some had already booked Nelson for their tours this season.

"I'm just going to tell them Mike was out doing what he loved," Janes said. "He was probably at his happiest."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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