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.

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 talk.

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 dead.

"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 Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at