The coldest summer night

On July 21, Jeremy Coleman, Lily Grbavach and Vanessa Gibson hiked up to a forest service cabin in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska.

That night, they would become a triad of lifesavers for Frank Gerjevic, his son Will Terrall and their dog, Ginger.

A 2005 graduate of Skaneateles High School, Coleman spent this summer working at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where Grbavach and Gibson, from California and Michigan respectively, were summer interns working with the animals and hosting tours of the conservation center. Coleman worked in the gift shop and at the ticket booth.

Coleman said the hike the three took to the forest service cabin was up Crow Pass in Girdwood, approximately 35 miles south of Anchorage, and an easy hike by Alaskan standards, which was three miles on a steady climb up to the cabin.

In Alaska, emergency preparedness included first aid material, rain gear, extra food and dry clothes. Oh, and don't forget the bear spray. The group soon found all of those items came in handy.

"The weather that day was heavy rain with hurricane force winds during the evening," Coleman said. "It was cold around 45 degrees. While walking up on the marked trail the wind was blowing us over at times."

Despite the summer month, when Coleman, Grbavach and Gibson arrived at the cabin around 6 p.m. July 21, they found themselves without a wood stove, fire or anything that made heat on a very cold and wet night.

"We had dinner and chatted about the summer. The storm got worse. The outhouse door was ripped apart due to the high winds. The roof of the cabin started peeling part. The wind sound like a freight train hitting the cabin," Coleman said. "Around 10 that evening we started to fall asleep. A half hour later Vanessa woke me up saying a bear was outside."

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