Rafting trip becomes ordeal for Iron County brothers
By Kelsey Keener
Three brothers from Iron County recently returned home safely after being stranded in Alaska when a river-rafting trip did not go as planned.
Anthony, Robert and Samuel Cooke traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska to visit their older brother, Roland Cooke Jr., who is also from southern Utah and working in the state as a goldminer for part of the year.
The brothers planned to take a river-rafting trip down Birch Creek, which they believed would take between three and four days and cover approximately 80 miles. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the trip required significantly more time and the brothers’ safety became threatened by cold weather, hunger and dehydration.
They packed food and supplies to last into four days, but the river was very shallow because of the time of year and the trip was much longer than anticipated due to many turns and curves that were not detailed on a map. They ended up being on the river for seven days.
On the fourth day, they ran out of food and fresh water and began to encounter bad weather conditions. With constant rain and clouds, their supplies and clothes were constantly wet and the temperature dropped. In order to make any progress on the river they had to be rowing constantly, which, coupled with a lack of food, created difficulty in maintaining their body temperatures.
Anthony Cooke said choosing to wear life vests saved their lives because it was the only thing that kept their core body temperatures up. He also said their situation became one of such seriousness because they were underprepared.
“If we would’ve realized that it was going to be that long and we would’ve had the supplies to make it down the river and we had it planned out to be that long, it wouldn’t have been a problem at all,” he said. “The problem came with us underestimating everything by at least half and being extremely unprepared for what it was going to be like.”
They were able to find wild berries to eat and shoot a few ducks with a shotgun after the food they packed ran out, but were unable to fish or hunt other game. The brothers had intended to raft down to the river to a bridge and be picked up, but realized they did not know how far away their pick-up point actually was.
Robert Cooke said they underestimated the harshness of their environment.
“With Alaska, when you land it’s a beautiful place – it looks beautiful, it looks tamed,” he said. “Alaska is not at all ashamed of saying it is America’s last frontier, and there is a respect due to that, that people should have if they’re going to go there, that we had to learn the hard way.”
During their seventh day on the river, they found a trail that had been marked for them which led to a road. They hiked to the road and were able to flag down a man named Steve Carlson who gave them food and a ride back to the mining camp where Roland Cooke Jr. works.
Anthony Cooke said he hopes that others learn from their mistake by doing more research for trips involving the outdoors and having a plan for emergencies by letting someone else know where the trip is planned and when to send help.
Photo: Anthony, Robert, Sam and Roland Cooke near the beginning of their trip.