FAIRBANKS -- Mitchell Stoutenberg and Lewis Allen passed a crucial test Sunday they don't suggest anyone else take.
The two snowmachiners got lost Saturday night and kept getting stuck in the snow in the mountainous expanse outside Cantwell. As night fell, the two settled in for the night, huddled around a smoky fire to wait out a windy 20-below night.
They parked their snowmachines facing each other to use the headlights to see. Then they soaked their helmet sheaths in gas and started a fire they kept fueled with a small thatch of willow.
Then they waited for a helicopter they hoped would come soon after daylight.
''At about 9:30 a.m., when it didn't come, it sucked the life out of us,'' Stoutenberg said.
The two set out on their SkiDoo Summits through 6-foot-deep snow. Stoutenberg estimated the two dug themselves out of the snow 80 times before their ordeal was over. However, they made it back to their trucks parked near 200 Mile Parks Highway just as searchers were headed out on snowmachines to look for them at 11:28 a.m. Sunday.
''We were able to get out on our own. That's a tremendous feeling,'' Stoutenberg said. ''It wasn't neat anytime during the ordeal, but it sure feels good on this side of it.''
The pair was the first of two overdue groups of snowmachiners who prompted Alaska State Troopers to initiate searches over the weekend. All emerged from the mountains unhurt.
Cantwell trooper Sgt. Dave DeCoeur is gearing up for what is typically a busy time for troopers now that temperatures are rising, making the Denali Highway area a snowmachiners' nirvana. He plans to distribute trip itinerary forms at area gas stations for travelers.
DeCoeur also said snowmachiners should bring everything needed for a wintertime camping trip. That includes such items as a first aid kit, fire-starting material and enough food for several days.
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