The Lost Photos

The Lost Photos
By: Kevin Estela, Owner/Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education

At the tail end of my Alaskan trip back in August, while sorting through gear used on a 3 week trip through the Brooks Range down the Sag River, I thought I had all my belongings cleaned, organized and packed for the trip down the Dalton Highway. At some point during the morning of the buffer day between river travel and the trip home, it dawned on me I could not account for the whereabouts of my phone. It had survived numerous trips into the outdoors prior and just made it through whitewater, hikes in the tundra and Alaska’s elements and somehow, in the safety of the tent, it went missing. Long story short, after multiple walks around the perimeter and with the assistance of my friend Mark and an impromptu search party of folks waiting for rides and flights, we couldn’t find it.

Fast forward to September 4th. Bree from Happy Valley Camp sent me an E-mail with great news. Someone from Deltana Outdoors found my phone and turned it in. A day or two later, they tried powering it on and it lit up. After some communication back and forth, Bree sent me my phone, I sent the gentleman who found it (thank you Jeremy B!) a check as a finder’s fee and I waited for it to arrive in the mail. After a couple days, it showed up and without issue, I was able to power it on, sign into my home WiFi account and upload “The Lost Photos” to my Google account.

What follows are some of the better shots from Alaska that were initially lost but eventually recovered. Enjoy!

Kevin Estela Arctic Circle

When you need to look like a tourist. The author standing near the Arctic Circle sign off of the Dalton Highway.

Galbraith Lake

View from Galbraith Lake camp (Night 1)

Alaskan Pipeline

Alaskan pipeline warning sign

Mark Knapp Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes atop Mark’s hat. No escaping these buggers.

Prospect Landing

Prospect Landing Bathroom Facilities. The last toilet seen for 3 weeks.

Kevin Estela bush plane

Johnny Cool Guy (AKA Kevin Estela) riding “co-pilot” in the bush plane.

bush plane beaver view

Alaska from the air. Looking down from the co-pilot seat in a Brooks Range Aviation Beaver.

Sag River Float Trip

Geared up for 3 weeks. Location: Upper Sag Lake. Time to inflate our raft and head to the river.

Alaskan Mountains

A typical day in the mountains. Scouting around the Brooks Range.

Drying socks and boots Alaskan Survival

Cold, ok. Wet, ok. Cold and wet, not ok. Drying boots/socks on the hike back from spike camp.

Sag River bear attack.

When bears attack. Raft Damage along the Sag River.

Alaskan survival. Bear attack.

Ripped raft bag. When bears attack part II.

Bear attacks action packer

Did I mention the bear went through everything?

Fishing in Alaska with a rifle

Kevin Estela fishing the Sag River with a Remington 700 rifle in 300 Win Mag strapped to his back.

Mark Knapp setting the trap.

Mark Knapp setting the trap.

Mark Knapp snare

The trap (snare) is set. This setup was carved in the bush.

Captured parky squirrel

When we checked the trap, it was triggered.

Captured squirrel released.

Caught and released unharmed. No need to kill when we had food on hand. He lived to see another day.

Heavy Cover Alaskan Survival

Camp life. Cooking up Mountain House foods in my Titanium cook kit from Heavy Cover.

RMJ Tactical Pathfinder

RMJ Tactical Pathfinder Axe. This was my preferred chopping tool on this trip.

Paracord and Kevlar cross

Paracord and Kevlar thread cross made while on the river. Faith is a good companion.

Trail nibble, alaskan survival

Wild Alaskan Blueberries everywhere. Great trail nibble.

pebble stacking along the sag

Pebble stacking along the Sag River. One way to find peace and balance in the wild.

Cleaning firearms in camp. SIG Sauer P220 10mm

Camp life. Eating freeze-dried food, cleaning firearms, hanging out in the tent.

Alaskan Weather

Around day 16. Hiking to a mountain pond, we saw this weather on the horizon. Looked ominous, passed us by.

Mark Knapp fly fishing an Alaskan Mountain Pond

Mark Knapp fly fishing a remote mountain pond

Kevin Estela fishing survival

A nice lake trout caught by the author. Ultralight tackle was the way to go to put food on the table.

Alaskan char on gathered materials

Mark Knapp caught this arctic char on a fly he tied with gathered materials in the field during this trip. Outdoorsman level: Stud!

Arctic char hook and cook

Kevin caught this arctic char later that day. It was delicious.

alaskan survival fishing lake trout

Mepps spinners were the ultralight tackle of choice. A nice lake trout in the rain.

Arctic char catch and release

A char caught and released within the 5 mile corridor. What a beautiful fish. Another day my friend!

mark knapp lake trout alaska

Mark with a nice lake trout caught and released within the 5 mile corridor.

Kevin Estela heading back to camp

Kevin Estela heading back to camp with catch in hand

fish steaks grilling on the Sag

Fresh fish steaks grilling along the Sag River

Willow Ptarmigan grilling

Willow Ptarmigan grilling up

Ptarmigan legs are furry. Winter is coming

Ptarmigan legs are furry. Winter is coming.

alaskan survival float trip

Perhaps one of the coldest days of the trip. Dry but the water on my rain gear never dried and combined with the wind, it brought me to dangerously cold levels.

alaskan survival hypothermia

To combat the cold, we heated water on the float in a Jetboil and filled my metal canteen. This was placed near my femoral arteries and then I drank the water when it was still warm.

Alaskan survival north slope

The last photo taken on my camera before it was lost. The furthest north I’ve traveled to date.


As you can see, the photos here were once in a lifetime and impossible to replace. Other photos not posted here include my parents reading my articles with a look of pride on their faces and photos from previous trips. My lost phone is now my backup phone I will carry with me as a backup WiFi device I can use should my first go down. I’ll likely pick up a pre-paid phone as well. Communication is extremely important and this experience highlighted that for me.

I’m convinced I could travel to Alaska again, repeat this trip and not encounter or experience the same trip even if I followed each one of my steps perfectly. Getting my phone back was a real surprise. If you ever lose your phone in your car or in your house, remember my story. My phone was lost on an air strip, deep in the Arctic circle, exposed to the elements and over 3000 miles from its home in Connecticut. It still found its way back to me. If my phone can be recovered, there’s a good chance yours can too!