Huddled on the frozen ground 312 miles up the Eagle Glacier Trail, five middle-school students spent three hours Saturday evening singing, telling jokes and thinking about what they were going to do when they were warm again.
"I was trying to be strong," said Ariel Lyon, 13, an eighth-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. "I was like, OK, I can't cry or anything because it will really worry the people who were already worried."
Six students and three adults set out to walk the one-mile loop trail at the perimeter of the Methodist camp at 27.5-mile Glacier Highway late Saturday afternoon. They were winding down from a church youth group overnight stay at the camp, said Joy Lyon, Ariel's mother, who was walking with the group.
About half a mile into the loop trail, five of the kids headed out on their own, planning to stick to the trail and re-join the adults at the end of the loop.
"We were going to go on the loop, but we read the map backwards and we turned the wrong way," said Ariel Lyon.
The wrong turn put them on the Eagle Glacier Trail, where they continued to walk for about an hour before they realized they were heading in the wrong direction.
"It got dark really fast," said Maya Pisel, 12, a seventh-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni "We didn't have any flashlights or anything like that. Monica's (one of the students) watch lit up, but none of us had coats or hats - we just had fleeces."
Temperatures at the National Weather Service office on Back Loop Road dropped to 21 degrees that evening, said Linnae Neyman, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. The temperature three miles up the Eagle Glacier trail likely was similar to that at the National Weather Service office, she said.
The kids, four girls and a boy who ranged in age from 11- to 14-years old, decided to stay put on the trail and wait for somebody to find them.
Meanwhile, the adults with the group had thoroughly searched the Methodist camp loop trail, Joy Lyon said. Boy Scouts who were camping in the Eagle Beach area also helped with the search.
When the search of the loop trail didn't yield anything, the adults called the parents of all the children and the Juneau Police Department.
The JPD and state troopers sent Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, SEADOGS, a nonprofit, volunteer-run group, to the trail at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, said Bruce Bowler, a volunteer with the group.
SEADOGS sent out four teams including four dogs and eight to 10 people, Bowler said. The first team found the kids around 7:30 p.m.
When they first heard the shouts of the rescuers, some of the girls, who had recently watched a video on hypothermia, thought they were imagining the noises, Pisel said.
"Then we heard shouting and it sounded kind of like 'Ariel,' so we just started yelling and yelling and yelling as hard as we could," Pisel said. "When we saw them it was really tempting to just give them one huge hug, and we didn't know any of them really."
The five children were able to walk the entire trail back to the camp and suffered only minor cuts and bruises, Bowler said.
"Everyone was cheering, all the parents cheered and the rescue people were so supportive," said Joy Lyon. "It wasn't the time to give lectures, obviously. There were just a lot of hugs and tears from the parents."
The rescue was made even more poignant by the fact that "The Night the Forest Cried," a play based on a true story about two boys who became lost on Mount Juneau in 1977, was playing at Northern Light Church Saturday night, Lyon said. That incident resulted in the death of one of the boys.
"It was definitely a really powerful experience," she said. "I learned things about being really clear about communicating exactly what we're going to do at all times. It was not anybody's one fault, it was just a series of small steps, small decisions that lead to it."
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