VIVACIOUS & INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: TEACHER, HIKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

Annie “Cricket” Mackovjak tells an amazing story.  She has lived through some great adventures, and has come out of them carrying only the benevolent scars of memory.  Read about this first part of her life journey and see if you don’t agree with me that she must be protected by a very competent guardian angel.

Annie’s story will appear in this blog in two parts.  This first part describes her adventures up to her marriage to Jim Mackovjak in December of 1978.  The second section lists the highlights of her life after moving to Gustavus.

Annie Osgood Mackovjak was born on December 5, 1948, in Lincoln, Maine.  The family home was in Prentiss, a town so small that some people in Maine didn’t know where to find it.  Annie grew up on Maple Grove Farm, a dairy and potato farm.  Annie’s brother tapped maple trees from their farm for Christmas gifts.  A neighboring family tapped the trees for syrup to make their living, using horses to provide labor, doing things the old-fashioned way.

In the 20s and 30s the family sold lots of apples, sending them by train to Boston.  They no longer harvested the orchard by the time Annie came along.  However, her mother still made lots of applesauce.  These days, her brother still lives on the farm, and the deer eat more of the apples than the humans do.

Annie has always loved being outside, and when she was young she was given the nickname of “Cricket,” as they chirped every night in the summer.  (This nickname actually came back to her twice later in her life.)  She earned the nickname from her mom, though she spent many hours outside with her dad, helping with feeding and milking the cattle, getting in the hay, and digging potatoes.  When she was six or seven she had a pony that she rode a great deal.  She didn’t have a bicycle until she reached eighth grade.  Very often after school her dad would have her pony saddled and waiting in the stable so she could ride.

When she was ten, her dad got a sleigh on skis.  They lived on a side road with little traffic, so she could take her brother on rides in the winter.

Annie drove the family tractor starting at about age nine.  She drove the fields to pick up rocks and she also helped with haying.  The family had approximately 600 acres, some in forest, but enough for cattle to graze and to raise oats for them to eat.  They also planted fields of potatoes.  Annie would ride her pony, accompanied by a border collie, to round up the cows and bring them in.  She loved to ride, and one time actually tried riding a pig.  However, she says horses are better.  The farm also had chickens.  One Sunday afternoon when she was outside, she heard a great deal of squawking coming from the chicken coop.  When she went to investigate, she discovered that a scrawny, hungry fox had broken into the pen.  Annie killed the fox.  She says she doesn’t remember what she hit him with, but it was something hard enough to do the job.  She also remembers seeing black bear sitting in the field of oats, raking in the grain.

Annie attended a one-room school from first through fourth grades.  Then a new school district was formed, and she was bused to school in Springfield, Maine.  Annie liked the new school as she could play sports, such as basketball, volleyball, and softball.

She attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Portland, Maine.  This academy was an all-girl Catholic boarding school.  (Now that school has been combined with another and a new school has been built called the Maine Girls’ Academy, but it is no longer a boarding school.)  At that school there were no sports offered, and physical education classes consisted of lessons in such athletic activities as swimming, tennis, or ballet.

When she was a high school freshman, her “big sister” was called Cricket, which reminded Annie that she had shared that name for a long time.  Every Sunday morning she would write home and sign her letter “Cricket.”

One time Annie’s grandfather came to visit and brought a big box of chocolates.  She was in “Seventh Heaven Dorm,” and after lights out, she and two of her friends gathered in the large bathroom and ate all the chocolates.  Of course, their transgression was discovered.  The next morning a nun met them to arrange punishments.  Annie’s was to attend a 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. class in Latin, and another from 9:00 to 10:00 at night, for one month.  Annie continued taking Latin as a class after she completed her month of punishment.  The extra classes paid off later, as Annie took the national Latin exam and got a 96%.

Annie’s aunt and uncle in California gave her a trip to California as a graduation present.  This trip took her further from home than she had ever been before.  She was there for six weeks, and then couldn’t get home because there was an airline strike.  She had to take the bus, which followed the old Route 66, from Los Angeles to Maine.  She made an interesting observation on this trip:  She says that after she crossed the Mississippi, people didn’t have much patience; jostled other passengers and were rude in general.  On the western side of the river, people seemed to be more helpful and accepting.

From 1966 to 1970, Annie went to college at St. Joseph’s in Maine.  She had a full tuition scholarship.  Her degree was in English with a minor in history.  She got a teaching certificate.  During college, she protested the Vietnam war.  Once she was one of the front two in a march, so got her picture in the paper.

She graduated in 1970, and that August she married Marc Bourassa, who worked as an illustrator in the Air Force.  One of his paintings was later chosen for a Smithsonian show of Alaskan art.  Marc was stationed in Anchorage, where he helped design floats for the Fur Rondy parade.  After they married, Annie moved to Anchorage, but she was too late to find a teaching job.  She didn’t have a car and there were no buses at that time, and, as she would have to interview at individual schools, she decided to take a job in a bookstore instead.  She worked at “The Book Cache,” where she mostly did book orders.

Annie and her husband split up in 1974, though they remained close friends.  Marc was later killed in a car accident.

After Annie quit work in 1974, she attended the Nuchalawoyy Celebration in Tanana, near the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers.  This biennial  event lasted three days, bringing friends and relatives together to honor the historical significance of the traditional gathering.  Taking place close to the solstice, it featured food, contests, music and dancing.  Contests included beaver skinning, building a fire, making tea from river water, games, music, and her first potlatch.

While Annie and her friend, Mary, were in Tanana, two of Mary’s friends came down the Yukon in a 14-foot boat.  Annie jumped in and rode with them for a way.  At a big bend in the river some miles below Tanana, they were surrounded by high earthen cliffs, eroding away.  Elders called the spot the “boneyards,” and, indeed, the three in the boat could see the bones sticking out of the high banks.  The two fellows found what they thought were mastodon bones.  Because of the small size of their boat, they decided on taking only two bones each.  Annie chose a skull and a small piece of tusk.  When they reached Galena, Annie left the boat.  She was met by Jimmy Huntington, who wrote On the Edge of Nowhere,” about his mother’s thousand-mile trek across Alaska in winter to reunite with her family.  Jimmy showed her where to camp.  She later took the bones she’d found to the University of Alaska museum in Fairbanks, where they identified the pieces as a super bison skull and a piece of mammoth tusk.

She had to get back to meet friends and go to Dawson City to canoe the Yukon River to Circle.  Once on the water, the canoes would often raft up so the friends could talk, read, or sing.  They camped safely every night except one.  That night they were at the confluence with the Kandik River, and it poured rain all night.  The Kandik swelled so much that some of the campers awoke in the early morning to lying on a water mattress while two of the canoes floated away.  The campers made mad dashes and luckly retrieved the canoes before they became history.  Annie remembers returning to civilization to find out Richard Nixon resigned due to probable impeachment.

In the summer of 1975, she traveled around Southeast Alaska.  A dear friend of hers was in Hoonah surveying, so she went to visit.  Next, she went by ferry to Sitka and Petersburg.  As she walked down the street in Petersburg with her large backpack, a truck stopped and Ray Wood, owner of Petersburg Processors, asked her where she was going.  She told him she was looking for a place to camp.  He said, “It’s 14 miles out of town.  However, you can camp in my yard across the street if you come work for me today in the cannery.”  There had been a very large delivery of fish, and the cannery needed extra help.  The next morning, a fellow cannery worker said, “Let’s walk downtown.”

At the boat harbor, they met Jim Mackovjak, who had a small double-ender and was long-lining halibut.  He took the two for a ride in Wrangell Narrows.  He said he needed  1/2 a person to help him, so she went out with him for four to five days, fishing halibut.  When they got back and were walking through town, Jim pointed to a picture of a ptarmigan on the cover of Alaska Magazine in a shop window, saying, “I took that picture.”  Jim said, “The most money I ever made at that time from photography came from some pictures I took of the cannery in Seward.  They were on the desk at Alaska magazine, and someone knocked them into the trash can and they got thrown away.”  The magazine paid him for the pictures anyway, so Jim made his big photography bonanza.

Later that summer, Annie was in Anchorage working briefly at a bookstore when she met Ray Genet.  He was a Swiss mountain climber who had migrated first to Canada, then to Alaska.  A member of the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley, his adventure was documented in the book Minus 148 Degrees, as the temperature with wind chill fell to -148 degrees.  On that climb, a French member of the expedition, Jacques “Farine” Batkin, fell into a crevasse and died.  In the 70s, Genet started selling expeditions to Mount McKinley and asked Annie to come work with him for a month before he left for Europe.  He said, “You’re not an Ann, you’re a Cricket.”  Thus no one in Talkeetna other than the postmaster knew her name was Ann!

In early November, 1975, Jim flew north and they went camping.  They went to Kenai, and first stayed at Lower Russian Lake, where it was 20 below.  Jim put a candle in their tent for light and a bit of warmth.  The candle flared up and burned the top out of the tent.  Annie says it was a very cold night, especially with the top of the tent missing.  The next night they went to Upper Russian Lake, where there was a Forest Service cabin.

Pirate Lake cabin

Genet returned in December and Cricket continued working with him to plan expeditions on Denali, living with him in a small log cabin on the banks of the Susitna River with a world-class view of the Alaska Range.  She also spent time in a remote cabin at Pirate Lake, where she received messages from the outside world via the bush pipeline (personal messages broadcast by radio at a set time of day.)  One day Genet flew out with a National Geographic photographer doing a book on Alaska.  Also, a surgeon that Genet knew flew from Anchorage and landed on the lake.  They all ended up spending the night because a storm came up.  In the morning, they went out with snowshoes to make runways for the planes so both could leave.

In May, 1976, Cricket flew in to the  Kahiltna Glacier with Genet as he helped retrieve the bodies of three  Japanese climbers who died descending Mt. Foraker, frozen in the position in which they died.  They seemed more like store mannequins than humans.  One was totally outstretched, hard to maneuver, and had to be strapped to the basket of the helicoptor.  One had assumed a fetal position before he died.

Annie putting on crampons

Some of their gear

Cricket’s first climb happened in the summer of 1976, a bicentennial year.  Annie was around the 1000th person to climb McKinley.  She was with the expedition that summited by the end of May.  They climbed by the West Buttress route, which was the most common.  They were dropped on Kahiltna Glacier, then started their ascent.  (One fellow got off the plane on the glacier, panicked, and got back on the plane.)  They had to make a lot of relays to move all the gear, both personal and camping supplies, including all their food.  They carried one stuff sack for each meal, for 12 to 14 people.  They made three trips from their base.  All supply relays had to be completed by the time they reached 14,000 feet.  Up to 10,000 feet, they did at least two relays, and at least one from 10,000 to 14,000 feet.  They traveled on snowshoes up to 14,000 feet; then switched to crampons.

At 11,000 feet in the middle of the night it was still light.  Annie heard something ominous and unexplained.  From deep down underneath them came sounds like the opening of a crevasse, and they expected to fall at any time into the center of the earth.  Fortunately, the opening never occurred.

Luckily for Annie, the altitude did not bother her.  Her only altitude problem:  she had a hard time sleeping.  She never got headaches.

The conqueror!

It was 35 below at the summit, with no wind.  There was light, even though it was midnight.  For the last lap of the climb to the summit, they only took half their gear.  They did have to stop about 4:00 in the morning to camp.  They slept four people in a tent.  One of the men in Annie’s tent took off his socks and hung them from the tent poles, and they stunk!  Annie shared a bag with a guy who was so big that she couldn’t move, and the sleeping bag only came about half-way up her body.  Needless to say, she didn’t sleep, and she said it was one of the coldest times of her life.

Once they had made the summit, the group split, and six of them returned the way they had come up, retracing their route very quickly.  The other six, Annie included, started from 17,000 feet and did a traverse (means going down another side.)  They returned by climbing down the north side of the mountain, via Harper’s Glacier, Karstens Ridge and the jumbled and crevassed Muldrow Glacier, through McGonagal Pass and then fording the McKinley River, which they did early in the morning.  Glacier rivers are at their lowest early before the sun hits the ice and causes melting and more water.  They used ice axes and teamed up with a couple of others for support  They had descended over 18,000 feet, considered “one of the biggest vertical descents on the planet.”  The transition from the white world of snow and ice to a world of color with the green tundra vegetation was exhilarating.

They hiked out to the park road by the end of May.  There was no traffic.  They had no prearranged plans for someone to pick them up.  Though Annie had called her mother through a radio patch at 17,000 feet, they had no other communication.  After a couple of hours a truck came along, driving through the park with feed for horses.  They had gone to Kantishna and were on the return trip, so the group loaded all their gear and themselves into the back of the truck and got a ride out to catch the train somewhere outside the park, to go to Talkeetna.

On that trip, they didn’t have many problems:  no sickness; no edema; no accidents.  It was important to keep people going.  They drank a lot of water and sucked on lemon drops.  They reminded each other to drink a lot of liquid.  They were told, “If you see yellow snow, you are not drinking enough.”

Back in Talkeetna and hungry for some real home-cooked food, the group stopped at the Talkeetna Road House, run by Carroll and Verna Close.  Carroll was there 365 days a year, and baked 35 loaves of bread at a time.  They only cooked one dinner meal, served promptly at 6:00 p.m.  When the climbers came off the mountain, they were served all they could eat of fried chicken, vegetables, dessert, and lots of home-made bread.

Carroll and Verna Close ran perhaps the most famous roadhouse, owning the business from 1951 until they retired in 1978.  During their time at the Roadhouse, it became famous for heaping plates of no-nonsense, home-cooked food.  You could order your eggs “any way you want” but they’d come out scrambled every time.   They did the cooking on a big wood cook stove, and served family -style.

In September, 1976, Ray Genet and Cricket flew into Hyder at the end of Portland Canal in the very southeast corner of Alaska.  Mining claims for the company there were on a steep slope, so they needed climbers to survey and mark the claims.  A helicopter would stay at the lodge, while the climbers camped at about 3,000 feet on a plateau.  The helicopter would pick them up when they needed to leave.  After Genet left, Annie stayed in a wall tent there for a few more days.  She played poker for the first time, and won about $50 to $60.  She also accepted a challenge.  The workers had raised a kitty of $130 for whomever would jump in a nearby pond and completely submerge themselves.  “I’ll do it,” says our intrepid Annie.  Thin ice on the surface had to be broken first.  Annie jumped in, and someone poured Joy soap in her hair.  She says her neck burned for the next three days from the soap, but she won the $130.  Now she had enough money to pay for her train travel across Canada and then on to Maine.  She was able to change trains and get one that went very close to her family home, so she could see her mother.

After a brief visit, Annie flew to Iceland for three days; then on to Luxembourg.  Genet met her in a Mercedes loaned to him, as he guided hunts for some Mercedes executives.  They went to Germany and visited a friend of Ray’s, Martin Schliesser, a documentary filmmaker living in Baden Baden.  At his home/studio in Baden Baden, Annie watched two of his employees make cartoons by sequence of frames.

They hiked a lot in the Alps while they were there.  They also traveled around Europe to meet family members.  Then Annie got a Eurail pass and traveled on her own.  In France, she visited the Louvre, marveling at seeing the Mona Lisa; amazed at how small the painting really is.  She went to Wuppertal, Germany, where a college friend, Debbie, performed as an opera singer.  Annie went to see “Othello” for her 28th birthday. Debbie sang in the chorus.

The Christmas of 1976, Annie flew back to see her family in Maine.  Jim flew to Maine from Ohio to share the holiday.  He made Annie promise to come to Gustavus.  She promised to be there by Easter, 1977.  On Easter day of that year, she chartered a LAB plane, arriving right on schedule.  ( LAB, the name of the airline, stood for the owner’s name, Leighton A. Bennett.)

Jim and Annie fished together that summer.  They started longlining halibut in Petersburg.  They brought the boat up the coast to Juneau, and bought supplies for Gustavus. Once there, they learned that coho fishing was hot and the price good.  Jim quickly set up the boat for trolling.  Once while fishing in the passes, Annie broke the trolling pole, and said she would replace it.  They found another pole, cut it, and Annie removed the bark.  Jim did all the steering and Annie cleaned all the fish, mostly halibut and cohoes.  She loved gaffing fish, even though she didn’t like killing anything.

Talkeetna cabin

In November of 1977, Jim’s father died and he returned to Ohio.  Alone, Annie skied and read and worked on expedition paperwork.  Then, out of the blue, pilot Buddy Woods picked Annie up in Gustavus in his Hughes 500 helicopter.  She didn’t have a chance to let anyone know she was leaving.  Annie says, “If they came by, they must have thought a UFO picked me up and carried me away.”  Crossing Glacier Bay, they saw orcas, a sea lion rookery on the outer coast, and moose near Yakutat.  Near Cordova, they encountered a huge fog bank, but snuck in to a road camp about 27 miles outside town, low on fuel.   The next day the weather cleared and they flew over the mountains to Palmer, then on to Talkeetna.  Here, Annie worked on paperwork and got food and gear organized and packed for their trip to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.  Here is Annie’s account of that adventure:

Guanaco skeletin

“Finally, I flew to Miami, met Genet and another guide and traveled on to Mendoza, Argentina.  Some Argentinians befriended us and we spent Christmas at their family’s home in the country.  We bought the last of our food, met the expedition members and took a bus to an army outpost near the start of our climb on the Polish Route.  At the army station, I saw three climbers being sent back to Chile.  Argentinian soldiers had caught them on the wrong side of the border in the Andes, and one soldier had been shot twice.  The Alaska-Aconcagua Expedition started New Year’s Eve.  By the time we reached the summit, we figured we had hiked far enough to cross Switzerland at least twice!  Climbing the Polish Route, the expedition was alone on the mountain.  The group made a long trek in through arid mountainous terrain, seeing the occasional skeleton of a guanaco and experiencing some swift-moving river crossings. Past 16,000 feet we wove our way through “nieves penitents,” or snow fingers, like snow and ice stalagmites rising up from the ground due to the latitude and angle of the sun.  Many of them were taller than I was.”

Further up, at about 18,000 feet, the climbers hit a blizzard.  They had to camp on the edge of ice shelves at over 20,500 feet.  They set up camp on two shelves, one above the other, and with just enough space to put up their tents.  One of the men had edema (water accumulating in the body.  Edema often occurs at high altitudes.)  Water accumulated in his lungs, and to try to remove this extra fluid, he was given diuretics.  These caused him to pee a lot.  As they were camped on a shelf, they didn’t leave the tent at night if they could help it, as they could fall off the small flat spot in the dark.  The poor man ended up peeing in all his water bottles that night.  Annie had a different challenge…she had an Austrian fellow’s feet in her armpits to try to warm them up.

Jim spent time on the Amazon River while Annie was on Aconcagua.  When she came off the mountain, he met her in Mendoza to begin a three-month journey.  The two flew to Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes, where they stayed at refugios (hostels) and hiked in the mountains.  They got a ride with a long-haul truck to the eastern side of the country, sleeping on top of the load at night and riding in the cab during the day.  They swam with penguins at Punta Valdez and watched lumbering elephant seals sleep on the beaches, sometimes rising up with breath like smoke to battle with another elephant seal.  While these enormous creatures slept, male sea lions stood on their backs to guard their harems.

They were honored guests at “Concurso Tiburones” (a shark festival) in Puerto Deseado.  Then, they rode with an Argentinian family in the back of a pickup to southern  Patagonia,  zigzagging the country to see whatever sights there were and stopping every midmorning to make yerba matte by the side of the road.  They changed several flat tires and used a compass when they came to a fork in the road with no place names, so they would know in which direction to travel.  In southern Patagonia they parted company with the family, and Annie and Jim made their way to the Perito Moreno Glacier.  They watched it calve as they sat by the roadway less than 100 feet away.  (They believe this glacier has to be one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.)  They tried to get a ride on a weekly government mail/supply truck from nearby El Calefate, a town on the shore of Lake Argentino, to see two world-famous granite spires in Los Glaciares National Park.  The first, 11,289 foot Fitz Roy has been called “the most beautiful and impressive mountain of the Patagonian Andes,” and the second, 10,262 foot Cerro Torre, known for its rocky steepness, foul weather, and treacherous ice-covered summit, was not climbed successfully until the 1970s.  The mail truck was not going for three more days, so they began hitchhiking, finally being picked up by a Frenchman in a rental car who already had two people from the Seattle Mountaineers with him.  It was a long dirt road, broken by waiting overnight for a barge to get them across a river.  At the “Parque Nationale,” a gaucho gave them a hind quarter of lamb, which they shouldered, and ate later that night as shish kebabs over a campfire.

Now back out of the national park, they went south to the town of Rio Gallegos.  There were only three travelers in the town that day, and Annie was amazed to meet a man in the bookstore there that she had met on a bus ride from Keflavik to Reykjavik in Iceland three years before.

They stayed in this town for one night, then crossed into Tierra del Fuego by ferry.  They hitched to Ushuaia, the southern-most city in Argentina, and learned that a lot of Europeans went to Argentina.  One German gave them a tour of his sawmill, as Jim had always been interested in timber.  They camped in a pasture outside town, with some cattle for fellow-campers.  The Antarctic research vessel, the M/V Hero, lay on the beach.  Annie says the town reminded her of Sitka.

They stayed in Ushuaia for two or three days, then took a boat to Chile.  They stayed in a hostel at Punta Arenas.  A bride and groom arrived on their honeymoon, and Jim and Annie had to give up their room for the night and move into a dormitory situation.

They wanted to get to Puerto Montt, but couldn’t get a boat.  A military plane flew there, but only once a week.  It was due to depart the next day.  To get a seat, they were told to go to the air force office and plead their case, so they did.  They were told, “No, you can’t get a seat.” The next morning, they hitched a ride to the airport in a truck full of sheep.  They pretended they were supposed to be on the flight, and luckily the airport attendant sold them a ticket for the more than 800-mile trip for $18.  The plane was a Lockheed Constellation, the kind with three tail rudders, originally built for TWA in the late 40s, but now a military transport.  It was a bare-bones flight and 90% of the passengers were military.  Off they flew to Puerto Montt.

In Puerto Montt, they picked blackberries as they walked to town from the airport.  They visited nearby islands and watched men in hard hats and wearing wool clothing to keep warm, diving for abalone and all manner of sea creatures.  For this job, it is a good idea to pay the deckhand well, so he keeps the compressor running smoothly.  They could go to the local market and find many varieties of slimy sea creatures for sale.  Jim sampled many of these raw.

They then went to Santiago by train.  While they were in the city, someone stole Annie’s passport from her daypack as she was getting off the bus.  The thief took her money and threw her passport in a garbage can in front of a big hotel.  Luckily, it was found by a hotel worker and returned through the embassy.  They saw the Moneda, which houses the seat of the President.  This palace was strafed when Pinochet took over the government in a military coup in 1973.  Bullet holes  in the walls were still visible.

From Santiago, they traveled about 600 miles through the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, averaging less than 1/2 inch of rain a year.  They would travel at night, be given a breakfast of coffee and croissants on the bus in the morning, then get out and spend the day.  They would walk around town or go to the beach, and get back on the bus that night.  The largest city Annie remembers is Antofagasta, where there was mining, particularly for copper.  During this period of travel, the couple ended up in Arequippa, Peru, during Holy Week and watched religious processions which depicted very realistically Christ carrying the cross.  They then went to Puno and Lake Titicaca, just over 12,500 feet elevation, and out to some of the Uros islands, floating islands the natives have made of totora reeds.  People build thatched huts and boats out of these reeds, which are also beaten down to form the island itself.  These floating islands are then anchored with some logs pushed into the lake’s bottom.  Reeds are added often to the surface of the islands as the water begins to come through.

From Puno, they headed to the old Inca capitol.  The roads were so treacherous that they saw no cars, only buses and trucks.  Their bus got stuck near a mountain village at 5:00 a.m.  People from the village came and threw rocks in the mud to give the bus some traction.  It took five hours to get them out.  The villagers brought out food and drinks to sell while they waited.

They finally arrived in Cuzco.  Streets were made of stone and both the Incan and Spanish influence could be felt.  Women were sitting on their blankets in the market selling fruit, woven goods, and knit sweaters as they chewed coca leaves.  They took the train from Cuzco for about 60 miles, to the beginning of the Old Inca Trail near old village ruins.  Fewer people walked the trail then, and on the three-day hike they only met two other people.

From the Inca ruins they continued onward, through one village, over passes, and down, walking through a bamboo forest.  Annie wore shorts, hiking boots, and socks.  A snake bit her on the right leg.  She didn’t know what to do. Finally, she just started walking, thinking she would keel over and die.  Nothing happened, though this Vilcabamba area was once known for its dense forests and poisonous snakes.

The last evening found them at the Sun Gate, where they could look down at Machu Picchu below them, and they camped there for the night.  The next morning they had the place to themselves for an hour.  Most people came by train to Agua Calientes and then bussed up the switchback road, arriving later in the morning.  Machu Picchu is situated on a raised plateau above the Urubamba River, which circles around the site far below.  The land is terraced and stone buildings, both houses and temples, have withstood centuries of weathering.  The granite was fitted so tightly in some places that not even a knife could be inserted.  However, all the buildings are roofless, as it did not take long for the thatched roofs to disappear.  Llamas wander the area.

Next, they headed for Equador.  They took a train to cross from the Peruvian side to the Ecuadorian side.  At the border, a customs official got on and they all had to pay something for el queso (the cheese.)  As they neared their stop in Equador, people suddenly started taking off layers of clothing and when they uncovered their arms, they were taped full of watches and jewelry; even their legs had their own attachments.  They  paid money at the border so customs would turn a blind eye to their smuggling items to sell.

In Quito, because of a huge protest over increased bus fares, they were locked in a shop for two to three hours while troops came with tear gas and a tank to disburse protesters, who were rocking the buses.

They flew back to Miami with only $26 between them, so they hitchhiked to Ohio to visit Jim’s family.  In Ohio, they found a check waiting and a car that needed to be driven to Boston.  Next, they went to Maine to visit Annie’s family.  There, they bought a truck for $400, which they drove back to Alaska.  They loaded six treadle sewing machines in the back and headed for Gustavus.  On the way, they visited the Badlands and Yellowstone, as well as Banff and Jasper. They sold the sewing machines in Gustavus.

In the summer of 1978, Annie helped Genet in Talkeetna with expedition planning.  Jim was coming up to go to the Brooks Range.  Having been delayed going onto McKinley due to weather, Genet needed someone to go up the mountain with him to meet his ongoing expedition.  When Jim arrived in Anchorage, Genet asked him if he would like to climb McKinley.  “When?” asked Jim.  “Tomorrow,” replied Genet.  So, Jim, Annie, Genet, and one other person climbed the West Buttress together.  Genet’s expedition that they were trying to catch had already summited, but they continued on.  At 17,000 feet they met a couple more climbers.  One fellow from Spokane had climbed the North face of Eiger and went on to become a world-class climber.  They all headed toward the summit, but weather moved in and they had to camp at 18,000 feet at Denali Pass.  That night they slept with four people in the tent and two guys in a snow cave. Early the next morning, one of the two from the snow cave came to the tent door.  He believed his snow cave had collapsed and he didn’t know where his partner was. Jim and Genet crawled out of the tent to help.  When they got to the snow cave, the other fellow  was calmly sitting , making tea. Only a small part of the cave had collapsed, but the fellow had panicked.

After the climb, Annie and Jim drove to Fairbanks to do their delayed trip to ANWR.  During that trek, they hiked across the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean and Barter Island.

They began by flying from Fairbanks to Arctic Village, then on to Red Sheep Creek near the east fork of the Chandalar with more than 400 pounds of gear.  There was still snow on the creek in July.  They planned to take day and week trips from a base camp there for six weeks, but when a hunting guide flew in about four weeks later, they decided to send their extra gear back with him and walk over the range to the Arctic Ocean for their last two weeks.  Annie’s pack weighed about 80 pounds and Jim’s 100 pounds, but Annie’s had food so it got lighter.  Annie’s heavy hiking boots soon gave her bad blisters and she finally had to wear tennis shoes cut and tied together to allow her to continue.  They had seen moose, Dall sheep, an occasional caribou, sik siks (ground squirrels,) and wolves, but although they saw tracks,  the wolverine remained elusive.  They observed many birds including peregrine falcons, a Gyrfalcon and Townsend warblers, and identified and pressed many Arctic flowers.  They ate ptarmigan and grayling to augment their food supply.

Leaving the Chandalar, they crossed over a gentle pass, making their way down the Hula Hula River, across to the Opilak River and out to a long, narrow peninsula in the Beaufort Sea where they could look across to Barter Island.  They had been told to build a big bonfire here and someone from Kaktovik would  come across to pick them up.  They didn’t have to wait long.  A skiff came fairly quickly as a young man hunting on the mainland was overdue.  His family hoped they were that fellow.

In the late fall of 1978, Annie started working with dogs belonging to Edd Craver, who wanted someone to run the Iditarod with him. She used one of Edd’s sleds.  One night around 5:00 in mid-December, they went on a practice run, Edd and his team running in front of Annie.  Edd’s place was right next to the railroad tracks; in fact, the trail to his dog yard was only 15 feet from the tracks.  As the dog team approached the tracks, Annie heard the train whistle blow.  Annie thought she’d have time to cross, but she had a new lead dog who had never crossed the tracks into the yard.  Instead, the dog turned left, directly toward the train, which looked like a huge moving Cyclops with its single light in the front  of the engine.  Annie put on the brakes to stop her team, and grabbed the dogs one by one, throwing them over the berm next to the tracks.  Annie got all the dogs across the berm except two, and she and the last two animals stood beside the tracks, with no time to get to safety.  When the train came through, it cut the line running from the sled to the team.  The train took the sled.  Though the engineer had  braked immediately, it took 1/4 mile for the train to stop.  Until it did, the engineer had no idea what had happened.

Annie came through the scary incident unscathed, and one dog was okay.  The second one got a punctured lung, and though she recovered, she never regained enough strength to be a sled dog.  The sled was gone, and so was their desire for running the Iditarod, though later they ran the dogs just for fun.  The morning after the near-tragic incident with the sled and team, Jim and Annie got on the train to go to Maine for Christmas.  They got married there, on December 16.

So ended Annie’s “banner year.”  She had climbed the highest mountain in North America and the highest mountain in South America, walked across the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean and hitchhiked through Argentina to Ushuaia, close to the southern tip of South America, began running sled dogs, and at Christmas in Maine, she married Jim.  The couple have been married for 38 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “VIVACIOUS & INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: TEACHER, HIKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

  1. Excellent article! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our website.
    Keep up the great writing.

  2. Wow, what a wonderful exciting life! Thanks so much, Fran, for writing this great piece on Annie. I loved every word.

  3. She is a wonderful lady and wow what a story 🙂

    Thanks for writing so interesting!

  4. Thanks for this wonderful story about 1 of my best friends in the world. I knew much of her history but some tales are new and I thank you for that. Great job and keep the stories coming.

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