Snowmobilers Survive Frigid Night in Michigan Wilderness

Night swept over the Porkies, and the Jenneys were armed only with a couple of granola bars, a bottle of water, and a dead cell phone; temperatures were dropping to nearly -40 degrees.

ONTONAGON -- Benjamin Jenney and his son, Benjamin Jenney, Jr., or “B.J.,” were at their family cabin in White Pine for a fun weekend, snowmobiling around the Porcupine Mountains.

For almost 15 years, the Jenneys have made the trek from Albertville, Minnesota to the Silver City area, and their weekend started out as normal, riding all day Friday and Saturday.

“It was just another weekend; me and him were coming up riding,” said B.J. “Nobody else could come with us, so we were just going to go ride ourselves.”

Around 11 a.m. Sunday, the two left on their snowmobiles for Silver City and decided to go off trail by Little Iron River. They said they’ve ridden in backwoods many times before and felt confident they could dig themselves out if needed. But about 1 p.m., they found themselves in deep snow and deep trouble.

“It was pretty nasty, lots of water, and we were trying to find a way out, and the banks were too high and we couldn’t really find a safe way out,” B.J. said.

By 4:30, they were still stuck in the snow and getting tired. B.J. sent a text to his uncle, Jenney Sr.’s brother, saying they were stuck. That’s when they ditched their rides to follow the river on foot toward Lake Superior.

That message was relayed to the Ontonagon Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police, and DNR, and the search began.

Bill Doan, Western U.P. DNR Regional Supervisor, said by the time they got the call, it was too dark and too cold to send out a team on foot to search for the Jenneys, but the MSP was busy throughout the night.

“They were doing things behind the scenes that people weren’t seeing, such as getting triangulation on the last known coordinates from a text message that had come in,” said Doan.

Night swept over the Porkies, and the Jenneys were armed only with a couple of granola bars, a bottle of water, and a dead cell phone; temperatures were dropping to nearly -40 degrees.

“I was obviously scared, but I don’t recall showing any emotion the whole time,” said a tearful Jenney Sr. “I just tried to bury what I was thinking. I didn’t want him to know what I was thinking. But I didn’t think we would make it through the night.”

“It was definitely very scary, especially at night when you can’t see very far, you don’t know what animals are out there, you’re hearing trees and stuff cracking all the time,” B.J. added.

With soaked clothes and frozen feet, they walked in waist-deep snow the entire night to stay warm, only sleeping for a few minutes at a time. Jenney Sr. said he would try to let his son sleep, but because he kept shivering uncontrollably, he would wake B.J. to keep walking.

“My fingers were so cold, so I balled them into the glove, and the gloves froze and I couldn’t get my hands in,” Jenney Sr. recalled.

By daybreak, they had a new burst of energy. They continued on Little Iron River for about five miles, and they estimate they walked for almost 22 hours straight.

“I knew that if we made it through the night, we’d make it somehow,” Jenney Sr. said. “I just told him that there’s nobody here, it’s just us. We’re on our own. But we’re going to make it out of here.”

Around 2:30 Monday afternoon, they finally found relief. Doan and a team of DNR staff spotted the Jenneys on the river about two miles inland from Lake Superior.

“We rounded a corner, and there was the DNR,” B.J. said. “Everything got better from there!”

“When we came across them, they were in relatively good condition; I would say better than we expected for being out there all night,” Doan said.

The two survived with only minor injuries--Jenney Sr. suffering some muscle tissue damage in his legs and B.J. had minor frostbite on his toes.

Doan said with the dangerous weather that night, they were lucky to get out alive.

“You need to be prepared to stay out there overnight, and they certainly were not,” Doan said. “They didn’t have anything to light a fire or headlamps and those kinds of things to be out overnight.”

The Jenneys said they wish they brought food and water, a GPS and compass, a shovel, and something to make a fire. Despite their horrific ordeal, they said they’ll be back out on the trails again soon.

“It’s not going to stop me from riding, just hopefully riding a little smarter,” Jenney Sr. said.

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