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Troopers say missing Palmer hiker has been found alive. She had been missing since early Tuesday

‘I would just have to say that she is a remarkable lady that’s in very good shape and is very capable of taking care of herself.’
An Alaska Army National Guard helicopter is staged at the Palmer Airport on Wednesday, June 16,...
An Alaska Army National Guard helicopter is staged at the Palmer Airport on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 as the search for a missing hiker continues in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.(Nick Swann/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 3:50 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 8:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska State Troopers say a Palmer woman who had been missing from a hiking trail since early Tuesday has been found alive.

According to an online dispatch updated at 6:05 p.m., 55-year-old Palmer resident Fina Kiefer was reported to have walked out of the woods as a volunteer search and rescue member was driving by on Knik River Road, about a mile from the Pioneer Ridge Trail trailhead.

“They were departing the search area in their vehicle,” AST Public Information Officer Austin McDaniel said of the volunteer. “and they came across Fina Kiefer and she walked out of the woods.”

Troopers wrote she was hurt and emergency crews took her to a Matanuska-Susitna Borough area hospital for evaluation. Her injuries are not from a bear and are related to making her way back down to the road, according to Bill Laxson, a member of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group who was coordinating the search.

Kiefer had been missing since early Tuesday when she reported a bear encounter while hiking the Pioneer Ridge Trail near Palmer in the Mat-Su.

Stephen Dunphy is the volunteer who spotted Kiefer as she came out of the woods. He’s a support member of the Alaska Solstice Search Dogs, who were helping look for her.

Dunphy said in a Wednesday night interview that he spent the better part of the day helping to search the area. He then returned to the basecamp before heading home.

“And she was standing on the side of the road,” he said of Kiefer. “She self-rescued. She was really cold when I picked her up.”

Dunphy said he gaver Kiefer the food he had in his lunch box and took her back to the basecamp, where she was met by emergency personnel.

“I’m glad that she’s safe, and I’d do it again,” Dunphy said. “I will do it again, I’m sure.”

Alaska State Trooper Zac Johnson told Alaska’s News Source earlier on Wednesday that Kiefer was hiking alone, had bear spray but no firearm and, although she is described as an active hiker, had never been on the 6-mile trail that leads to Pioneer Peak near Palmer.

Her husband reported her missing early Tuesday morning after he received a text message saying she’d been charged by bears and had discharged her bear spray. That was the last communication anyone had from her until she was found Wednesday.

Multiple entities are conducting a search and rescue operation for a hiker in the...
Multiple entities are conducting a search and rescue operation for a hiker in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough after she reported encountering bears along the trail early Tuesday morning.(KTUU)

Cell phone analysis gave searchers a rough idea of where she was at the time. Laxson with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group said the area is very challenging. He said the trail itself had been searched “from top to bottom” on foot and from the air. He was convinced she was no longer on the trail, so the search moved off-trail to look for clues.

Volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, the Anchorage Nordic Ski Patrol, the Alaska Solstice Search Dogs and MAT+SAR Search & Rescue conducted a ground search for Kiefer until late Tuesday night, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch report. Then, the Alaska Air National Guard searched from the air throughout the night.

Both Army and Air National Guard helicopters were taking searchers to high points on the mountain to look. Laxson said there had been bear sightings from the air.

Searchers planned to look late into the evening on Wednesday, but troopers wrote early Wednesday evening that search efforts were suspended “due to deteriorating weather in the area.”

Kiefer was found just an hour after that call was made.

“We know from two days of searching up there that there are lots of bears on the area,” Laxson said in a Wednesday night interview.

That information came from reports from locals and from the sightings from helicopters during the search.

Laxson relayed details from Kiefer about her experience.

“She ran into many of these bears on or near the trail that were, I don’t want to say aggressive, but threatening,” he said.

The bears continually pushed Kiefer off the trail, Laxson said. It was during one of these encounters that Kiefer was not able to find her way back onto the trail. At that point, Laxson said, the only way out was to move downhill.

“And she spent two days wading through brush,” he said.

Kiefer’s injuries when she was found were not due to any encounter with a bear, Laxson said, but rather as a result of making her way through rough terrain off-trail.

During the night she spent outside, Laxson said Kiefer was able to build a fire and find fuel for it.

“I would just have to say that she is a remarkable lady that’s in very good shape and is very capable of taking care of herself,” Laxson said.

McDaniel said this was a great outcome for everyone involved.

“Here as we wound down operations on our second full day of searching, she came walking out the woods on her own, and was located by one of our search team members as they were leaving,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article has updated with new information and quotes.

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