Musher guides charged after client left behind on trail

Associated PressJuly 28, 2012 

FAIRBANKS -- Two dog musher guides face criminal charges after police say they left one of their clients unconscious and barely breathing on a trail during a March excursion that went awry.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports 49-year-old Darrell E. Harpham and 47-year-old Peggy Billingsley face charges of reckless endangerment.

They were guiding a couple from Georgia back from a 20-mile overnight trip in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks when female client Chonticha Tanapornsakul fell behind.

Harpham went ahead with Tanapornsakul, while Billingsley suffered an injury and sent Tanapornsakul's husband, Todd Surloff, ahead on a snowmobile.

Tanapornsakul's dog team became tangled several times, leading her to request a ride back on Harpham's snowmobile. He declined, urging her to finish the trip on her sled.

She told the News-Miner in interviews that Harpham continued without her. After the last, failed attempt to get mush the dogs back to the trail, she said she curled up in her sled bag, wearing only a parka.

Police found her suffering from hypothermia and frostbite 5 miles from the trailhead.

Harpham found an injured Billingsley camped on the trail about 15 miles from the trailhead. She had a fire going and wasn't in danger so he returned to the trailhead. Surloff arrived at the trailhead, where he found Harpham, but no sign of his wife.

The two guides blamed the inexperience of the two clients for the problems in interviews with the News-Miner this past winter. The clients hadn't mushed dogs before coming to Alaska for a trip with the guides.

Troopers said Harpham and Billingsley weren't prepared and didn't provide the two novice mushers with the proper survival gear.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is also considering citations for Harpham and Billingsley, as they lacked proper permits to operate tours in the White Mountains.

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