UAS Chancellor: Wagner is ‘an extremely capable mountaineer’

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield said Forest Wagner sounded clear and lucid when they spoke over the phone Tuesday afternoon.

“He expressed his concern about the students, and I assured him they were all safe and on their way back to Juneau,” Caulfield said.

The UAS students will be able to access counseling and support services on campus, Caulfield added. As of Tuesday afternoon, the students were on a ferry from Haines to Juneau with outdoor studies faculty member Kevin Krein, who was not on the expedition.

Wagner’s medical condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center had improved from “critical” to “serious” on Tuesday, said a Providence spokesman. He’s still in the intensive care unit.

Caulfield said Wagner is likely to be in the hospital for some time, but “he expressed an interest in getting back on his feet as quickly as he possibly can.”

Wagner’s mom from Fairbanks is with Wagner at the hospital, Caulfield said. He spoke with her and Wagner’s father over the phone.

Caulfield said he doesn’t know any details of the mauling.

“I wasn’t in the position to talk to him about the details of it in his hospital room, but when the students are back and we have time to debrief, we’re certainly going to be looking into that,” he said.

Caulfield said UAS will be working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to learn more about what happened in the area between Mount Emmerich and the Chilkat River where Wagner was attacked by a sow with cubs.

“Certainly if there’s any possibility of avoiding those circumstances in the futures, we’ll be trying to do that,” Caulfield said.

Wagner has worked at the university since 2006 teaching courses like outdoor leadership, rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry navigation and glacier rescue.

The five-day expedition summiting Mount Emmerich served as a capstone to Wagner’s Mountaineering 1 class this spring semester.

“He’s an extremely capable mountaineer with a wealth of experience including expeditions here in Alaska and oversees,” Caulfield said.

He added that Wagner is very friendly and loved sharing his knowledge with the students.

“He was very concerned about the safety of his students and very concerned about sharing with them an appreciation for the outdoors and being competent in traveling the wilds of Alaska,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield asked the Juneau community to keep Wagner and his family in their thoughts and prayers, and to help support the students involved on the trip as they return back to campus.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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