Missing hunter returns after night on N. Douglas

Man tried to signal searchers with gunshots, but terrain interfered

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2002

A pair of gloves meant to keep deer hunter Glenn Powell Jr. warm instead helped lead to a long, cold night in the snow of Douglas Island.

Powell, 30, headed out for a day hunt at 7:30 a.m. Friday at the end of North Douglas near Peterson Creek. He spent the night curled up in a porcupine hole while rescue workers scoured hills and scanned beaches. He made it back to safety Saturday morning.

If he hadn't had magnets in his mittens, Powell said, the day might have turned out quite differently. When snow began to fall heavily Friday morning, obscuring the trail, Powell pulled out his compass to take a reading - and realized the compass wasn't reading accurately.

The problem, Powell said, was his gloves, which contained a magnet to hold insulating flaps back from his fingers. He didn't realize they were distorting his compass readings until he stripped them off later in an attempt to build a fire. By that time, it was already dark.

With snow falling heavily, Powell began trying to find shelter. Nature was on his side, he said. He found a large porcupine's den - about 2 feet wide, 6 feet long and 18 inches high.

"I didn't have to dig anything out - it was big," Powell said. "I was lucky I had my insulated coveralls in my backpack. My clothes were soaking wet."

He tried to build a fire, without success.

"I burned everything I had, except for my tissue paper," said Powell, who moved to Juneau from Texas 18 months ago. "It's like trying to start an ice cube on fire out there."

His dry, insulated coveralls kept him fairly warm during the night, but his lightweight leather boots - long since soaked through - proved problematic. Powell said he was able to get some sleep, but kept having to wake and warm his feet.

"I cut the sleeves off my thermal underwear and wrapped them around my feet because they were dry," Powell said. "It was a learning experience."

Bruce Bowler, team manager for Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, coordinated the search for Powell with Alaska State Trooper Chris Umbs. They received a call from the Juneau Police Department on Friday evening, Bowler said, and set up a SEADOGs mobile command post on North Douglas around 9 p.m.

Weather and location made the search a difficult one, Bowler said.

"You had underbrush that was in many cases impenetrable and real heavy snow that was falling down the backs of everybody's necks," Bowler said. Additionally, "The area that we were searching is a sound sink. You can't hear things in there."

The Army National Guard, Juneau Mountain Rescue and the Coast Guard joined SEADOGs and the troopers in the search, Bowler said. On Saturday morning, Powell saw a helicopter go overhead and followed its flight direction, confident help was on its way.

"The helicopter flew over me twice," Powell said. "They powdered me with snow off the trees. I figured my mom had called whoever she need to call and I knew when I heard the helicopter."

He fired off his gun, but searchers heard only three of six shots and Powell didn't hear the shots they fired in reply. Similarly, whistle blasts, flares, horns and sirens were swallowed in the sound sink, Bowler said.

Undaunted, Powell followed creeks and trails until he located fresh tracks. The search team had briefed hunters who went into the woods, and Powell ran into two groups whose members pointed him in the right direction and loaned him a cell phone to call his mother.

After reaching the road Saturday morning, he told the search team about his experience and went to change into warm clothes at Waste Management, where he works. Powell said he plans to take survival training in the future, but has no qualms about heading back into the woods.

"Gotta get back on the horse," Powell said with a laugh.

Bowler said Powell "did a lot of things right.

"He maintained a very positive outlook," Bowler said. "He told me that he panicked as the sun was going down and he knew he was lost, but once he got that under control he made up his mind he was going to survive. That's when he started working on a shelter and conserving his energy."

• Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at nrclerk@juneauempire.com.

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