Hiking alone in winter extremely risky

GRANITE FALLS – Even on a blue-sky summer day, Mount Dickerman can be a challenge for an experienced hiker.

In the winter, the trail to the summit can transform into a deadly route covered by a blanket of snow and thick, hard-crusted ice.

The mountain has claimed the lives of two experienced climbers in the past 11 days.

The body of Dennis Echterling of Snohomish was discovered Monday just 30 feet from where rescuers found Dale Godsey, another experienced mountaineer, on Feb 10.

Echterling fell about 600 feet down the same gully at about 3,500 feet elevation.

“We live in an area with beautiful mountains, but once you venture off the asphalt, it can be treacherous,” said Scott Weldon, vice chairman of Everett Mountain Rescue.

Weldon was part of a team of volunteers that searched for Echterling, 52, after his family reported that he was overdue to return from a hike Sunday evening.

The 5,723-foot mountain isn’t all that popular in the winter except with experienced climbers, rescuers said.

Both climbers were alone on the mountain, except for their dogs, which helped rescuers find the men.

“When you chose to hike alone, you chose a higher degree of risk,” Weldon said. “Given their experience, I believe they were aware of the risk.”

While there is an allure to experience the winter-washed scenery in solitude, it isn’t recommended that climbers go alone, rescuers said.

“It’s just (you) out there if you wind up slipping. It’s not like slipping on the sidewalk; there’s a real potential for a tragedy to happen,” said Snohomish County sheriff’s Sgt. Danny Wickstrom.

The trail is steep with a multitude of switchbacks. Two Everett teenagers fell to their deaths in 1991 when they ran off the trail during a school outing.

Rescuers often find themselves searching for hikers who get in over their heads because they don’t have the proper equipment or they don’t understand the hazards of the land.

“Just because the trailhead is there at the side of the road, it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Weldon said.

Lack of experience doesn’t appear to be the case with these two men, who both were seasoned climbers and seemed well-equipped.

It just proves how unforgiving the mountain can be, rescuers said.

While a team followed Echterling’s snowshoe tracks above the gully, another team spotted his dog, Cash, next to his body.

The Snohomish man died of blunt-force injuries from the fall, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Tuesday.

Search and rescue crews hurried to retrieve Echterling’s body before daylight, when the sun would begin to melt the ice and create even more hazardous conditions.

The sheriff’s helicopter crew eventually flew him off the mountain.

The mission weighed heavy on the dedicated volunteers. Just last week the group scrambled to find Godsey after a passing hiker heard the Lake Stevens man crying for help.

Godsey died before rescuers could reach him.

The volunteers risked their lives to save the men, Wickstrom said.

“When they couldn’t do that, they did the next best thing. They brought them home to their families.”

Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or hefley@heraldnet.com.

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