Rescue raises questions about 'guided' mushing trip

March 22, 2012 

Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner presents a very detailed account of a mushing vacation gone badly awry for a 43-year-old Atlanta chiropractor and his fiancee. Their excursion into the White Mountains National Recreation Area ended with two dog teams refusing to run, rescuers said, the fiancee possibly near death from exposure and longtime Fairbanks musher Peggy Billingsley also needing rescue.

Billingsley and Todd Surloff had agreed on a price of $3,200 for a four-day trip into the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Surloff and his fiancee arrived in Fairbanks after almost three years of planning to find that Billingsley and her husband, Darrell Harpham, were claiming to be ill.

While he was concerned after spending thousands of dollars to get to Alaska, Surloff figured Billingsley had a backup plan and would line them up with another outfitter if she and Harpham were too sick to take them out.

On Thursday, the day they were supposed to leave on their trip, Billingsley sent Surloff another text saying she was too sick to travel and offered a list of tourist attractions for them to visit, including the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, the Yukon Quest office and the Santa Claus House.

Surloff was not happy.

"I didn't come to Alaska to go to the Santa Claus House," he said.

Billingsley and Harpham finally agreed to a shorter overnight trip to the White Mountains, but "the trip was a disaster almost from the start," Surloff told the News-Miner. He accuses Billingsley and Harpham of negligence, but they blame the whole mess on Surloff's incompetence. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is also investigating whether the mushing couple were operating a commercial enterprise in a national recreation area without a permit.

Read more at the News-Miner.

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