FAIRBANKS — National Park Service rangers credited the Georgia hiker who was missing for three days in Denali National Park and Preserve with having a “a real survivor’s mindset.”
John MacGregor, 54, of Jasper, Ga., walked into the Toklat Road Camp at approximately 12:30 p.m. Wednesday as 70 searchers on the ground and in the air scoured a 100-square mile area for him.
“He rescued himself, which is great,” ranger John Leonard said. “He made a series of good choices that allowed it to be a happy ending.”
MacGregor was the subject of an intensive search effort that began on Monday after he was reported missing. He failed to show up for a meeting in Fairbanks. MacGregor was last seen Sunday morning heading up a trail to Thorofare Ridge from the Eielson Visitors Center at 66 Mile of the park road.
According to Leonard, who spoke briefly with MacGregor on Wednesday afternoon, the Georgia man was on top of Thorofare Ridge near Eielson Visitor Center when he was caught in a hail storm and became disoriented.
“He got turned around and tried to find a way off the mountain,” Leonard said.
MacGregor descended into the Little Stony Creek drainage. He followed the creek downstream, thinking it would lead him somewhere. It took him farther from the road.
“He went downstream quite a while and thought about it for a while and realized, ‘I need to go upstream,’” Leonard said.
MacGregor turned around. On Tuesday, he met two female hikers. They gave him some food, and he spent a night in their camp. The women pointed him toward the park road on Wednesday.
“They were a little leery of a guy coming out of the woods,” Leonard said of the two women, who were camping in the backcountry. “They helped him out, not exactly with open arms. They were cautiously helpful. They got him to the Toklat River and got him headed in the right direction. They gave him some oatmeal and some other food.”
MacGregor, who had wind pants and a wind shirt but little food, told rangers his first night out was difficult. Temperatures dipped into the mid-30s. But once he made it through that he realized, “OK, I can deal with this,” Leonard said.
MacGregor saw aircraft a few times while he was lost and knew people were looking for him, Leonard said. MacGregor didn’t compound his problems by panicking and putting himself in terrain where he might have been hurt, the ranger said.
“It was evident that he had a strong will to survive,” Leonard said.
MacGregor, an avid hiker, ate berries and drank from streams.
“He used to be a wrestler, and he said he hadn’t lost that much weight since he was wrestling,” Leonard said.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.