Man found unharmed after walking nearly 50 miles in Interior Alaska

A man was found unharmed after walking nearly 50 miles from the Interior Alaska community of Birch Creek to Fort Yukon overnight Monday in subzero temperatures.

Lawrence James, 52, was located Tuesday morning just four miles from Fort Yukon. James had been walking for 16 hours. He had made it roughly 46 miles in temperatures lingering around -30 degrees.

The reason?

"I've been wanting to do this for a while, so I just made up my mind and did it," James said from Fort Yukon Wednesday. One of his cousins had made the trek a few years back, and since then, James had wanted to try it.

"It was a good walk," James said. "It was good exercise."

James, who grew up in Birch Creek, said he knew what he was doing when he set out on the trek. He brought a .22 rifle and a sled, which he stocked with water, tea, sandwiches, a bag of Jolly Ranchers and extra outerwear.

James said that he walked most of the night on established snowmachine trails connecting the two communities. He didn't stop because moving kept his feet warm, he said. He ate Jolly Ranchers continuously through the night.


He started walking at around 7 p.m. Monday. A family member called the village public safety officer in Fort Yukon around the same time because she was worried about the distance and temperatures, Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters wrote.

Temperatures in Fort Yukon dipped from minus 26 Monday night to minus 33 Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Cousin Weston Baalam said he went out in search of James at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"We were worried a little bit but we all live out here in the Bush; we're pretty survivalist," Baalam said. James had brought proper gear, Baalam said, so he figured James would be OK.

Baalam took a snowmachine out from Fort Yukon and located James within 40 minutes. James was tired and thirsty but otherwise in good condition, Baalam said.

He was spotted about 4 miles out of town, walking out of the Eagle Slough that connects to the Yukon River. James rode the rest of the way to Fort Yukon on Baalam's snowmachine.

When the search party met up with him, "He was still going," Fort Yukon police officer Michael Ivie said. "He was still coherent and walking. He was fine."

James said Wednesday that he should have waited until the morning to start the journey. But once he got started, "I felt like I could handle it so I just kept walking."

Ivie said James was wearing proper gear for the weather: A big parka. Bib overalls. Thick gloves. Layers underneath. A head lamp.

According to family members, James had had a couple of drinks before leaving on the journey Tuesday but wasn't drunk, Ivie said.

James was checked out at a medical clinic and was found to have no injuries.

"As a police officer I always assume the worst," Ivie said, so he was surprised that James had made the trek unharmed.

It's unusual to trek the 50 miles from one community to another on foot.

"We usually use snowmachine and dog team," Baalam said.

On Wednesday afternoon, James said he was "rested up" and would be taking a plane ride -- a mere 15 minutes or so -- back to Birch Creek on Friday.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.