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On Tuesday, September 5, a wet-looking hiker entered the frame of a game camera on Dumpling Mountain in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. As a handful of viewers watched on the live stream, he mouthed what appeared to be the word “help.”
Viewers of the Explore.org camera quickly jumped into action and started posting comments about the man in distress. The comments soon caught the attention of the stream’s moderator.
“Katmai Law Enforcement Rangers are going to head up the Mountain to check on this visitor,” posted a moderator going by the handle GABear. “Hike can take a couple hours at least.”
Bear Cam saves a hikers life! Today dedicated bear cam fans alerted us to a man in distress on Dumpling Mountain. The heroic rangers @KatmaiNPS sprung into action and mounted a search saving the man. – more details to come. pic.twitter.com/JzgfApK371
— explore.org (@exploreorg) September 6, 2023
“Explore staff immediately alerted the national park that there might be a man in distress on the mountain,” Candice Rusch, the Director of New Media for Explore.org told Backpacker. “We then pulled clips of the incident from our live stream to send to the park for review.”
In a statement, Explore.org said that while moderators cut the public live feed after becoming aware of the situation, they kept monitoring it and sharing updates with the NPS.
“The weather on the mountain that day was poor with extremely limited visibility, strong wind, and rain,” the statement read. “The person looked into the camera lens and gave a thumbs down signal. A few minutes later, the person returned to the camera and audibly asked for help.”
Explore.org is better known for its live cameras in the park’s Brooks Falls area, home to the popular Fat Bear Week competition every year. The organization placed the camera on Dumpling Mountain partially to give viewers visual access to the park’s grizzly bear population, some of which hibernate near Dumpling Mountain. No one imagined that it could save a life.
“Our cameras focus on nature and wildlife,” Rusch said. “This is the first time our cameras have been used in a search and rescue operation.”
The part of the mountain where the man was located is known for its strenuous character. From the nearby campground, the trail to the overlook is 1.5 miles long and it climbs 800 feet in elevation. On the day of the rescue, weather conditions were also less than ideal, featuring 50 feet of visibility, cold and wet conditions. Cell service is not available on the mountain.
“Dumpling Mountain is in a remote section of Katmai and this is the first rescue that I’ve heard of in that area,” Peter Christian, public information officer for Katmai, said.
A quick response from Explore.org and Katmai National Park officials resulted in a successful rescue, Rusch said, with park officials dispatching a search party just minutes after finding out about the distressed hiker. Within a few hours of his on-camera appearance, the still unidentified hiker was on his way back to safety.