A little over a week ago, a reader in Fairbanks alerted us to a story about a local skier, Alan Kendall, who had quite a story to tell regarding a recent ski. We emailed Alan to get his first-hand account. Here is his story. An account this story also appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Anchorage Daily News
This past Saturday (Apr. 8, 2006) I was skate-skiing again down at Nenana on the Tanana River (I also skied up two Saturday's ago), heading upriver the 100k distance to Fairbanks. I was on the river by 6 a.m. I had to stop 3 times in the first 5k to walk over some windblown/melted/dirty spots in the trail, but then the snowmachine trail became a superhighway of good fast snow. I skied for the first hour in the light of dawn. Then the sun rose about 7 a.m., right above the river, so that I was skiing into the red ball of the morning sun. I went along for another hour and a half. All was well. The temperature was about +15 and warming up, glide was fast, the trail was wide and firm. About 2 1/2 hours into the ski I was rounding a bend in the river to the right, clipping along at a pretty good pace, when loping down the river trail TOWARD me appeared a pack of TEN WOLVES (eight large, two medium sized. There were two black/charcoal, three silver-grey, the others various shades of light tan/brown). I stopped. They didn't see me for about 30 seconds. During that 30 seconds I looked for an escape route. There was none. I couldn't go left or right, to either riverbank – the snow was generally too crusty/deep and the left bank was too far away. I didn't dare turn my back to them. Then the wolves froze as they spotted me. We stared at each other for a few minutes. I felt like a pork chop. They looked at me like I was a pork chop. I was alone. I had no weapon (!!!!). I know – I know… I've always read that wolves won't bother humans and that there's never been a substantiated case of North American wolves killing a human. However, I guarantee – when you're in the middle of a vast expanse of wind-swept ice-covered river, 35k from the nearest human, facing a pack of large wild beasts, and the only weapon you have is your wits – I guarantee the substantiation of stories becomes meaningless in your mind. My two ski poles felt like toothpicks.
I thought, “Wolves can take down an adult moose. I'm smaller than an adult moose. If I turn and ski back down the trail, I'm going to look like a FLEEING pork chop.” I decided to ski toward them as fast as I could, yelling at the top of my lungs. Immediately five of them took off – two to the left, three to the right – in long graceful powerful strides across the snowpack crust (they were VERY fast). They went into the woods on each side of the river. The remaining five wolves turned and bounded up the trail, staying just ahead of me – maybe 50 meters in front of me. They were clearly not afraid, but wary. The largest paw prints were at least 4 inches across. They kept moving. I kept skiing and yelling. Over the next 20 minutes they peeled off one by one and circled around and BEHIND me – to get my scent I assume, since the wind was coming down the river. As I slowly pulled ahead of them on the trail, 2 remained behind me – checking me out, but they eventually went off into the woods. I passed a bloody smear on the trail that was obviously a kill (hare) they had just eaten – nothing was left but blood all over the trail. I was concerned that the pack might regroup and follow me, so I skied hard for the next hour, continually looking back over my shoulder. But I never saw them again after the last two wolves went up the river bank and into the woods.
The remaining 4 hours of the ski were uneventful – a nice sunny day of skiing on the Tanana River up to Fairbanks…