2 Tennessee hikers survived 8 days lost in the woods east of Fairbanks

a couple in a truck
Jonas Bare and Cynthia Hovsepian after 8 days lost in the woods near Chena Hot Springs. (Courtesy of Jonas Bare)

Jonas Bare and longtime friend and travel partner Cynthia Hovsepian set out for a day hike from Chena Hot Springs Resort, east of Fairbanks, on Aug. 10.

“By simple bad choices, a three-hour hike that lead to an eight-day survival,” Bare said.  

The pair from Tennessee ended up missing their return flight, prompting a missing persons report and a large-scale search by local police, troopers and family who flew to Alaska to help look for them.

Bare said when they set out on their hike, they followed a loop trail that took them into a burn area, where they lost the path and got disoriented.

“You can’t tell between the burn marks and the actual trail,” Bare said.

They ended up hiking through jumbles of fallen trees and marshy tussocks that Bare compared to giant pillows. 

“As soon as you step in, you have to take all your energy just to pull your foot back out and step up again,” he said. It’s exhausting.”  

They ate the few snacks they carried by Aug. 12, and they were cautious about eating wild berries. But the main issue was thirst.

“Food was never an issue. We never thought about it. We never dealt with it. We never felt the hunger,” Bare said. “We just wanted to keep moving, but water was so — we just seemed like we could not drink enough water. We were so thirsty all the time.” 

Bare said they mostly stayed along a creek for access to water, but they made forays away from it to look for a way out. He said they built fires to warm up and get dry after the frequent rains.

“We made camp over those eight days, four different places,” he said. “We ran across a couple bears — nothing that was really scary for us, but we were very vigilant about our surroundings all through the night. You can’t sleep. You have to keep the fire going. You just take little breaks here and there and you just keep pushing.”    

Bare regrets not bringing their cellphones or some other communication or signaling device. He calculates that they were no more than about 6 miles from the resort at any time, and they saw search aircraft. 

“They were just miles away in another range, and there was no way we could ever get to them. We made a smog fire to try to smoke them out, nothing would seem to work,” he said.        

By the night of Aug. 17, Bare said they were weak and becoming hypothermic.

“We knew that if we didn’t get out of there on their own accord, we were dead,” he said.

He said Hovsepian, who is visually impaired, was faring worse.

“She’s physically done. She can’t see. She can’t climb,” he said. “So I made her a huge safe area with firewood backup, and I said I’ll be back in five hours.” 

That was Aug. 18. Bare said he hiked north.

“We had a general idea it has to be this way because we eliminated all other options at this point,” he said.

Bare said he eventually found a trail, ran into two people walking and made it back to the hot springs.

“There was all these people here. My dad was there from Ohio,” he said. “He didn’t even recognize me, and that’s probably the picture a lot of people have seen in the media.”

Bare said he guided searchers, who used a helicopter and ATV to find and bring Hovsepian back to the Chena Hot Springs. He thanks everyone who participated in the week-long search effort.

“There were so many people, and you’ve got to understand we were dazed and confused Friday night. I could not interact with everyone enough to get everybody’s names and all that, and faces, but these people have to be recognized,” he said. 

Bare and Hovsepian spent the weekend recovering before flying home to Tennessee. He said Alaska is the 50th state they’ve visited together. Getting lost kept them from seeing some other parts of the state, so he says they plan to come back.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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