Hiker dies on trip to Stampede Trail bus

Jul 30, 2019

Veranika Nikanava
Credit Facebook

The Teklanika River has claimed another hiker on a visit to the bus featured in the book and movie Into the Wild.  A 24-year-old hiker from Belarus drowned when she was swept away by the water.

Veranika Nikanava and her new husband, Piotr  Markielau were hiking the Stampede Trail near Healy on a trip a month after they were married.


 “They had gone up the Stampede Trail to visit the bus – the one that’s called by some people “the magic bus” as portrayed in the book by Jon Krakauer, about Chris McCandless.”

Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Ken Marsh says the couple, both 24 years old, were hiking last Thursday and attempted to cross the Teklanika using a rope ... when Nikanava lost her grip and was swept under the waist-high water.  Marsh says Piotr  Markielau telephoned Troopers shortly before midnight on Thursday. He told dispatchers that he was able to pull his wife out of the river 75 to 100 feet downstream, but she was already dead.

“Of course, a Trooper was dispatched from Nenana that evening, when we got the report, and responded with volunteers from the Tri-Valley Fire Department. They were able to recover the body, and the body was transferred over to the state medical examiner.”

This 20-mile section of the Stampede Trail has developed a cult following, especially since the publication of the 1996 book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which was made into a movie in 2007. The bus has become notorious as the place where adventurer Christopher McCandless hiked into the Alaska wilderness with not enough food nor equipment in the summer of 1992. McCandless was found starved to death about four months later.

Known as Bus 142, from the former Fairbanks City Transit System, the bus is a 1946 International Harvester K-5. It was abandoned along the trail by a construction company in the 1960s. It sits on state land adjacent to Denali National Park and Preserve, and to get to it, one must cross the Teklanika River.

Hundreds of hikers have been attracted to the quirky pilgrimage spot. Canadian journalist, Eva Holland out of Whitehorse, examined why so many attempt the dangerous river crossing to get to the derelict bus. (https://evaholland.atavist.com/chasingsupertramp)

Not all make it.

In 2016, two Americans got to the bus but were swept downstream while crossing the Teklanika River on their way back. They were helicoptered out. Later that summer, a Canadian man made it to the bus but was injured and could not return across the swollen Teklanika River. He was helicoptered out. A year later, the same thing happened to a Belgian man.

 “Between 2009 and 2017, which is the last year I have figures for, there’s been 15 state-generated search and rescue operations for the Stampede Trail in relation to the magic bus.”

The last death of a hiker was a Swiss woman, Claire Ackermann, who drowned in the Teklanika in 2010.

Veranika Nikanava was born in Minsk and studied drama and film directing. She was a teenage actress in a 2010 film about World War II. She posted a demo reel on YouTube in 2014. Belarussian media reports that she wanted to make documentaries and she came to the USA for further studies.