Hiker dies of hypothermia after losing way in Talkeetna Mountains

Posted: Wednesday, July 06, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A Wasilla man died after he and a cousin lost their way in the Talkeetna Mountains and spent two nights without shelter, authorities said.

The man who died was identified Tuesday as Hezekiah Kelley, 20. The surviving cousin is 19-year-old Richard Kelley, according to Alaska State Troopers who helped recover the body.

The two were last seen going northwest over a ridge leading from Archangel Valley.

Hezekiah Kelley died of hypothermia, said Ulla Stice, an ambulance chief.

"It was obvious exposure," Stice said.

The cousins were part of a party of four people, three men and a woman, who hiked to the Lane Hut at the head of Archangel Valley in the Hatcher Pass area Saturday, said Dennis Heikes, the Mat-Su Area superintendent for state parks.

The cousins decided they would climb a mountain, Heikes said. The others watched them reach a skyline ridge. But the cousins did not return when expected.

The two others left. Later Saturday, the woman returned to the hut. Still the cousins had not returned, Heikes said. The woman stayed until the early hours Sunday, then hiked out.

Troopers said they were notified that the men were missing about 24 hours after they became overdue.

"They delayed calling troopers until 6 p.m. Sunday," Heikes said.

Richard Kelley told searchers that he and his cousin had lost their orientation in the mountains and walked down a slope in the wrong direction, according to Heikes.

They wound up in Peters Creek heading toward Willow, he said.

"It was a completely different direction than what they thought," Heikes said.

They pair spent Saturday night huddled in a small cave formed by jumbled boulders. Richard Kelley spent a second night in the cave. The two were not dressed for the cold and rain.

Richard Kelley walked out of the drainage on Monday when he was spotted by Alaska State Troopers in a helicopter five miles down the Peters Creek valley. Besides troopers and state parks rangers, searchers included the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, Alaska Search-and-Rescue Dogs and the wildlife troopers.

"They took him back to where his cousin was, and that's where they found the body," trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

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