A 53-year-old Australian cyclist survived four nights in the howling cold of the Alaskan wilderness after getting lost and falling into a stream.
Yair Kellner built snow caves to block the chilling wind and
hunkered down in his sleeping bag once he dried himself off and
warmed up after crashing through the ice.
Rescuers on snowmobiles carried Kellner to safety Saturday after
he was spotted by a pilot.
"I didn't feel psychologically broken down, I knew what I was
doing was the best I could be doing," he told the Anchorage Daily
Kellner was last seen by another competitor in the 350-mile
Iditarod Trail Invitational from Knik to McGrath at the Finger Lake
checkpoint about 130 miles in.
Exhausted after 40 hours of pushing through deep snow with
little sleep, he went down a wrong trail and into Red Creek Canyon.
Kellner said he had started to turn his bike around when the
snowy ice under him suddenly gave way and he found himself in the
creek. He tried to pull himself out, but "it kept collapsing," he
"It was scary enough that I wasn't scared," he said. "I
didn't have time to be scared. The adrenaline kicked in."
He thought about ditching his bike but it had all his gear and
he knew he'd be in worse trouble if he walked out with only wet
clothes on his back. He eventually made it to solid ground with his
From mountaineering experience, he knew he was in serious danger
of hypothermia. The National Weather Service estimated temperatures
last week of zero to 25 degrees. With 30 mph winds, though, the
temperatures felt colder.
"I stripped down to nothing and wrung out the clothing one
piece at time," he said.
No matter what he wrung out, the clothes still grew icicles.
He lit his stove to melt snow to drink and spent the first night
trying to dry his clothes, one piece at a time, with his body heat.
The next day, he decided to backtrack, which meant climbing a
steep hill. Using the serrated pedals on his bike to wedge his way
along, it took him three hours to zigzag up about 500 yards, he
At the top of the canyon, he looked for his tracks but the wind
had swept them clean, leaving him without a trail.
Moving kept his body warm, but he didn't know where he was going
- the batteries in his global positioning system unit were dead.
For the next two days, he divided his few slices of cheese and
four energy bars into squares and fed himself every few hours. He
poured orange Gatorade on the snow to mark his location in case
someone came by, and propped his bike at the entrance to the snow
cave, hoping the bike's reflectors would catch the attention of
someone flying overhead.
To stay alert and to make sure he wasn't succumbing to
hypothermia, he sang songs.
"I tried to think of more obscure songs, where I had to
remember the words," he said.
Organizers Friday alerted Alaska State Troopers but a trooper
helicopter found no sign of Kellner that night.
On Saturday, Michael Schroder and Ken Peterson flew over Kellner
about five miles north of the trail.
They dropped the cyclist a note on the back of a flight chart,
weighted down by a pack of batteries. The message said, "Stay put,
we'll come get you."
Back in Anchorage and in good condition Saturday night, Kellner
described his rescuers as "fantastic."
"People here did exactly what people back in Australia would
have done if someone was in trouble," he said.
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