Mountaineers helped with rescue operation on remote glacier

DARRINGTON — The man was in bad shape.

He’d slid 300 feet down a glacier, landing at the mouth of a crevasse. Medics believed he had broken ribs.

In theory, the injured 38-year-old could have made the descent from Dome Peak in the Glacier Peak Wilderness and then the full day’s hike back to the trailhead.

“It would have been miserable,” said Sean Edwards, a volunteer flight medic with the Snohomish County sheriff’s Search and Rescue team.

The injured man and a woman had been on a multi-day climbing trip on the southwest side of the mountain. They carried with them a personal locator beacon borrowed from a friend in Seattle. One of them activated the beacon June 21 after the fall.

That alerted Search and Rescue. The alert provided little more than coordinates. Sheriff’s helicopter pilot Steve Klett likened it to a 911 hang-up call. It meant, in essence, “I need help.”

“We fly to them and start looking,” Klett said.

Search and Rescue got in touch with the device’s manufacturer and that led to its owner. He gave them information on the two climbers and their intended route.

Crews deployed from Taylor’s Landing near Snohomish, about a 50-mile helicopter trip to Dome Peak. They stationed a refueling trailer in Darrington in case it became a lengthy mission.

The team included Klett, co-pilot and local fire chief Travis Hots, crew chief Beau Beckner, Edwards and rescue technician Dave Zulinke.

They searched for several hundred yards around the coordinates without finding anybody. Then they came upon a group from the Mountaineers club on the glacier.

“They were waving emphatically so we were pretty certain we had the people we were looking for,” Klett said.

It wasn’t safe to land the helicopter there, though. Its power was limited by the heaviness of fuel and gear on board and the altitude of about 8,200 feet. They flew to a ridge a few miles away and dropped off some of the extra gear for later retrieval. Then they hovered over a spot about 100 yards below the injured man, where the ground was more level, so Edwards and Zulinke could step from the skids onto the soft snow.

They kicked in footholds to cross the distance.

“It was on a glacier, basically,” Zulinke said.

The group of Mountaineers had been on the mountain nearby when the man fell.

As the man’s friend was working her way down to where he stopped sliding, the Mountaineers pulled him off the mouth of the crevasse and put him in a sleeping bag and into a tent.

The man was in pain but was conscious and talking. Edwards and Zulinke got him into a litter that was hoisted up into the helicopter.

He was taken to a waiting ambulance in Darrington, then driven to Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington. Initially, the rescuers planned to return to the mountain and retrieve the man’s climbing partner, but she was safe and with the mountaineers, who were heading back to their base camp near Cub Lake. The helicopter did, however, collect the gear back from the ridge.

Every summer brings two or three missions involving glaciers for Search and Rescue, Klett said. Scrambling and rock climbing accidents are more common. They do, however, see a lot of mishaps involving folks crossing snowfields and sliding.

Klett has been volunteering with search and rescue since 1974. Edwards has been a firefighter in Everett for 20 years, and a paramedic for 17 years. Both he and Zulinke are outdoors enthusiasts, with mountain-climbing experience.

Mountain rescues are intriguing in their complexity, and challenging in a way that’s technical, physical and mental, Zulinke said. The mortgage loan officer is in his fourth year with the helicopter rescue team and also worked with Everett Mountain Rescue. He likes the camaraderie and having the chance to help people, he said.

“I’d hope someone would get me if I got hurt,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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