Gene Paul Bryner, 07-10-06
Hiker dies on Flattop Mountain
Daily News staff, July 10, 2006
A hiker died on Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park about noon Monday.
The man, believed to be in his 70s, was with a friend when he fell. It was not known
whether he fell while hiking or suffered some other medical condition that caused
him to fall.
Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton said in early afternoon that the
man's name was not yet available. A helicopter was standing by to move his body
from the mountain.
Witnesses said the man's body was visible through binoculars from the parking lot
near Glen Alps.
Flattop, on the edge of Anchorage, is one of the most popular climbs in Alaska and
is often recommended to tourists as a way to experience wilderness adjacent to the
state's largest urban center. While the main path to the top is a walking trail,
portions are treacherous enough that the mountain has been the scene of winter and
summer fatalities and severe injuries over the years.
Hiker dies following tumble
QUESTIONS: Whether man slipped or suffered heart attack before
falling is uncertain.
By KYLE HOPKINS and CRAIG MEDRED
Anchorage Daily News, July 11, 2006
On a warm July day beneath a sky full of puffy white clouds, a 75-year-old Anchorage
man's hike to the top of Alaska's most-climbed peak took a deadly turn.
Authorities said Monday they didn't know if Gene Paul Bryner simply slipped while
following a heavily used trail up the northwest side of Flattop, the distinctive
peak in the front range of the Chugach Mountains, or if he might have had a heart
attack and lost his footing.
Bryner fell about noon near the top of the mountain, said Anchorage Fire Department
spokesman Tom Kempton. It was not immediately clear how far he tumbled. Another
hiker stopped the man from falling farther and called 911 on a cell phone.
Bryner retired from the Insurance Co. of North America in 1986 and would have celebrated
his 53rd anniversary with his wife, Florence, in August, according to an anniversary
announcement published in 2003.
Reached at Bryner's home Monday night, family members said they weren't ready to
Tim Moch, a tourist from North Dakota, was hiking the trail Monday too. Bryner had
zipped past other hikers on his way up, Moch said. "I guess he was just passing
everybody, no stops. He was going hard."
Moch's sister, Abby, is a medical student at the University of Minnesota and reached
the scene of the accident maybe 30 minutes after the fall, but Bryner was already
"There was really nothing to be done for him," she said. Capt. Rick Erickson of
the Anchorage Fire Department said the death is a reminder of how unforgiving the
mountains of Alaska can be. One slip in the wrong place and a pleasant day-hike
can turn into a disaster.
The Flattop trail is well-worn, especially near the beginning, but gets steeper
and rockier as you approach the peak. As a rescue crew climbed back down, it passed
a stream of hikers making their way up the popular path, young couples and tourists,
a girl walking a Chihuahua and a woman on a crutch.
About halfway up was Hugo Dietrich, of Anchorage, balancing on two ski poles as
he climbed. Dietrich said he's been mountaineering for roughly 50 years and didn't
consider Flattop a dangerous trail as long as you're cautious.
But Monday's incident wasn't the first summer fatality on the mountain. A 9-year-old
Anchorage boy died in a 300 foot fall in June 1991. The next June, a 20-year-old
man fell to his death while climbing a steep wall.
In 1997, two people died and six were injured in a slide down Ptarmigan Peak, which
rises behind Flattop.
Erickson and paramedic Leonard Krajkiewcz said that while it was impossible Monday
to tell whether Bryner might have suffered a heart attack, it was obvious that he'd
suffered traumatic injuries in his fall down the rocky face of the mountainside
along the trail.
An employee at the state medical examiner's office said no autopsy had been conducted
as of late Monday afternoon.
Erickson, Krajkiewcz and about a half-dozen Anchorage firefighters were among those
who rushed to the flat summit of the 3,550-foot peak hoping to stage a rescue, but
instead found themselves with the difficult task of body recovery.
On what would normally have been an ideal day for enjoying the mountains -- temperatures
were near 70, winds light -- they set up ropes, anchors and a z-pulley system so
they could hoist the man's body up to where a helicopter could land on top. They
tied their ropes off to a big rock just feet from a 4-foot by 4-foot post which
bears a small sign warning of the danger of descending the peak.
Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins can be reached at email@example.com. Outdoor editor
Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org