Woman drowns trying to ford Teklanika River

HIKING: Visitor dies near bus where McCandless perished years ago.

August 16, 2010 

A Swiss woman who drowned Saturday was trying to ford the Teklanika River less than a mile from the famous bus where Chris McCandless died almost two decades ago.

On Saturday, Claire Ackermann, 29, from Switzerland, was backpacking the Stampede Trail in Denali National Park and Preserve with a partner from France, whose name has not been released but who was about the same age, said Alaska State Trooper Eric Jeffords. They attempted to ford the Teklanika River, just north of Healy. The famous bus was just on the other side of the river, though Jane's partner told troopers that is not where they were heading.

Here's what Jeffords was told happened before he got to the scene:

The pair had met traveling, and they had been in Alaska about two months. They were about 13 miles into their trip but were unfamiliar with the terrain.

Jeffords estimated they tried to ford the river around 4 p.m. To help brace themselves against the fast-moving water, each tied one end of a rope around their waists. They then tied their rope to another rope strung between two trees on opposite sides of the river. But that rope had too much slack.

The river was running high, and Jane and her partner were swept off their feet. Ackermann was unable to regain her footing. The rope between the two trees drooped into the water, keeping her rope under as well. She was stuck underwater.

Her partner was eventually able to cut his rope and let the river carry him to the bank. He then ran back up the bank, waded into the river and cut Jane's rope. The two were then swept about 300 yards downstream of the trail. Ackermann's partner attempted to give her CPR but was unsuccessful.

After he tried to revive her, he ran back up the trail and met another group of hikers, who relayed the message to a bicyclist who went for help.

Troopers were notified around 5:45 p.m. Saturday and got to the scene about 8:30 p.m. A National Park Service helicopter recovered her body.

Jeffords said people often get lost in that area while looking for the bus where McCandless died in 1992. The story was made famous by Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild," which was made into a movie in 2007.

Jeffords said there are at least five search and rescues there each summer.

"It's a pretty well-used trail but it gets pretty unpredictable around the river," Jeffords said. "Sometimes it might not be that big of a deal to cross it, and sometimes, if it rains a lot or there is a lot of snowmelt, that river can get pretty dangerous."

Find Kaylin Bettinger online at adn.com/contact/kbettinger or call her at 257-4349.

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