Hikers survive their ‘incredibly poor judgment’

SILVERTON — It was the kind of hiking trip gone wrong that could have ended much worse.

Two Marysville brothers were stranded overnight in the wilderness, unprepared for the terrain and ill equipped for the outdoors.

The men, 37 and 19, were pulled off a cliff by a rescue helicopter Tuesday morning uninjured, hungry and cold, police said.

“We’re glad it was a rescue and not a recovery,” said Sgt. Danny Wickstrom, Snohomish County sheriff’s search and rescue coordinator. “It’s just amazing to me that these guys could exercise such incredibly poor judgment and survive it.”

The brothers were climbing near the Big Four Ice Caves on Monday afternoon when they became trapped on a narrow ledge, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

Hikers heard yells for help and called 911 about 5 p.m., she said.

Rescuers were able to locate the men Monday night and were able to yell to communicate with them.

Crews used heat-seeking equipment to pinpoint the stranded brothers’ exact location, but darkness and slippery terrain made it unsafe for rescuers to reach them Monday night, Hover said. Rescuers decided to wait until daybreak Tuesday. Several camped out near the stranded brothers.

Despite foggy weather, a King County sheriff’s rescue helicopter was able to hoist the men to safety just before 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The Snohomish County sheriff’s helicopter was unable to help because of scheduled maintenance.

The brothers were fed some breakfast and sent home, Hover said.

“Had the weather been a little bit colder out there, we could have had a very different situation,” Hover said.

The men were not experienced climbers and didn’t hit the trail with the 10 essentials, important survival gear experts say should be a requirement for outdoor wilderness activities.

They were wearing baseball caps, short-sleeved T-shirts, jeans and shorts.

“There’s a saying in search and rescue, ‘Cotton kills.’ Cotton is a bad thing to be wearing,” Wickstrom said.

Hypothermia and cold can lead to fatalities in the Pacific Northwest, Wickstrom said.

Cotton clothing tends to wick heat away from the body when wet. Synthetics and wool provide insulation even when they get wet, he said.

Any time people hit Snohomish County trials, they should at least bring extra clothing, food, shelter, a pocket knife, a flashlight, a whistle and some way to start a fire, Wickstrom said.

People shouldn’t venture into tricky areas without the proper training, Wickstrom said.

“It’s just boggling that people can get into that kind of position,” he said. “Unless you’re a climber, it’s probably not a good idea to be climbing.”

The brothers were scrambling near the popular ice caves at the base of Big Four Mountain, about 20 miles east of the U.S. Forest Service ranger station at Verlot.

Big Four’s ice caves are one of the two most popular spots in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, attracting 50,000 visitors from all over the world each year, officials said.

The bridge that carries most visitors to the area was washed out in last winter’s storms.

It’s a little difficult to get to the ice caves with the bridge gone, but the area is not off-limits, Hover said.

Tuesday’s rescue was not the first in the area. In January 2003, a man and his dog were saved near the ice caves.

A Bothell woman was killed there in 1998 when an ice bridge collapsed.

Sheriff’s search-and-rescue deputies believe the brothers were lucky. Mild temperatures Monday night kept them from getting dangerously cold, Hover said.

“Survivable overnight weather may not last much longer and people have got to think about that,” she said. “They have got to be prepared.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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