VERLOT — The Camano Island man was descending from Vesper Peak with three other hikers Saturday afternoon, a couple of miles from the trailhead, when he felt a sharp pain in his chest.
Randy Belles, 50, thought maybe his backpack was too tight as he neared the finish line of the Mountain Loop Highway hike east of Granite Falls. He loosened the straps. The pain persisted.
He sat down and began dry heaving. He couldn’t push through the pain.
One person stayed with him, at the base of the switchbacks to Headlee Pass. Two others went to the Verlot Ranger Station to call 911.
Then, another hiker happened upon Belles. The stranger activated a distress signal on his GPS beacon. They built a fire. Belles took aspirin and covered himself with blankets. Rain moved in.
Belles said he was thankful that everyone had come prepared.
“We all had a little bit of everything,” he said. “Everything clicked very well.”
Belles spent about two hours on the ground before he heard the Snohomish County SnoHawk 10 rescue helicopter flying overhead just after 5 p.m.
A search and rescue team immediately spotted Belles thanks to the smoke from the fire, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was kind of a relief to hear a chopper and see the medics on the ground,” Belles said. “I said, ‘Good, I’m getting out of here and getting fixed.’”
The rescue team strapped in Belles and flew him to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett for treatment.
There, medical staff said he had a heart attack.
Belles said he’s never had heart issues before, but others in his family have. He figured he would be the exception, since he exercised regularly and was in good shape. A half-hour before the heart attack, he was taking selfies with his friends.
A surgery and two stents later, Belles was back home and feeling better Tuesday. He already has plans to go hiking again. But he said he might take it easy at first.