Climber recalls grim wait for rescue

Posted: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

LAYTON, Utah - With his friend's body 50 yards away, Mike Anderson spent 72 hours in freezing weather, waiting to be rescued from the East Ridge of Devil's Thumb in Alaska.

"I was confident that I would be picked up, but you always have that doubt," he said. "I was worried that days would turn into weeks."

A rock avalanche on the mountain near Petersburg in southeast Alaska claimed the life of 30-year-old Marc Springer on July 26 as Anderson watched from a distance. Bad weather kept Anderson on the mountain another three days after Springer's death.

The avalanche happened about 9 p.m. when the rocks below Springer's feet fell from beneath him and rocks from above came down on top of him. Springer fell about 50 feet, along with tons of rocks, said Anderson, the sole witness to the accident.

"I watched the whole thing happen," Anderson, 25, said from his home in Layton a week after the accident.

Anderson said he ran to help, but could see the fall had been fatal for his friend, who was buried beneath a rock the size of a queen-sized mattress.

Springer and the Anderson brothers were part of a foursome hiking expedition that had been on the mountain of glacier and granite for nine days.

Anderson's twin, Mark Anderson, and fiancee, Janelle Jakulewicz, had been taken by helicopter to Petersburg just hours before the accident. The helicopter could hold only two hikers at a time and was not able to make the return trip because of weather.

Springer had climbed a 100-foot rock cliff to try to make a cell-phone call to see if the helicopter was coming back. His call did not get through. On his way back, the avalanche of falling granite swallowed him. Springer wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary, his companions said.

"It wasn't anything dumb," Jakulewicz said.

Mike Anderson looked after his friend's body, but knew it wasn't possible to get him. Instead he set up his tent for a long, lonely, sleepless night.

"I was just waiting for the morning," he said. "At this point nobody knew something was wrong except me."

Saturday morning, he called Steve O'Brocta, the helicopter pilot.

"I just said, 'I'm here by myself, and I can't (hike) down by myself, so I'm just here waiting for you,' " he said. "That's the last call I made."

In the next three days, 2 feet of snow fell. Anderson never returned to the spot where Springer's body lay, even though it was only 50 yards away.

Worried about his safety, the weather and conserving battery power for his cell phone, Mike hunkered down in his tent and waited, listening to a small radio that got one public station.

O'Brocta told Jakulewicz and Mark Anderson about Springer's death.

"It was a huge shock. The second reaction is you just want to get the other person down," Jakulewicz said. "Every minute turns into an hour."

But they were comforted that Mike was an experienced climber and had food and supplies to keep him fed and warm for a week.

Mike Anderson was picked up by O'Brocta when the weather cleared Monday afternoon. But authorities felt it was too risky to try to recover Springer's body.

"The memorial that God created for Marc is probably the most magnificent in the world. It's truly an eternal monument," said his father, Max Springer. "The Devil's Thumb will be designated the final resting place."

The Springer family plans to make a trip to see his final resting place, and have created a titanium sunflower memorial to be bolted to the mountain near the body.

The memorial is similar to one placed in Ogden Canyon where Springer's wife, Angela, died in a car accident three years ago.

There will also be a marker placed next to his wife's headstone in Lindquist's Memorial Park in South Ogden.

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