Rescue effort for stranded teens could take days

DARRINGTON – One of three boys trapped on Three Fingers Mountain was reunited with his family at the trailhead this afternoon.

Around 1:30 p.m., the 16-year-old arrived with rescue crews, officials said. His condition wasn’t immediately known.

It may be a couple of days before two other teenagers, both 17 and stranded high on the mountain, can be brought to safety.

Bad weather is forecast to stay in the area into the weekend, and likely will make helicopter rescue nearly impossible. Rescue crews are trying to figure out the safest alternative to get the boys down.

All three boys are suffering from moderate hypothermia after becoming lost Tuesday night and caught by bad weather. The two 17-year-olds were being treated in warming tents at 6,200 feet just below the summit.

“This is a massive undertaking,” Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said. “The good news is that we found all three of them alive.”

Crews reached the three boys about 7 a.m. today. Rescuers immediately went to work to help warm up the boys. They used tarps and portable heaters to create a warming room to help raise the boys’ body temperatures, Hover said.

Rescuers also gave the boys some of their clothing and offered them food and water.

The crews are working under near white-out conditions with heavy rain. Visibility high on the mountain is reported at about 200 feet.

Before being found this morning, the teens told emergency dispatchers they were doing OK, officials said.

During limited cell phone communication with the boys, their speech sounded slurred, a sign they were suffering from hypothermia, Hover said.

“There were some points during this that we weren’t sure we would have a happy ending,” she said. “It’s a darn good thing that one of them had a cell phone and that it worked.”

Two of the boys are from Arlington, the third is from elsewhere in Snohomish County.

Search and rescue crews hurried Tuesday night to reach the teenage hikers. The boys called for help about 8:30 p.m. when they found themselves unprepared for difficult weather conditions, sheriff’s Lt. Dallas Swank said. Around 20 people in four teams searched the mountain for the teens.

The teens brought a sleeping bag, some blankets, a light and a whistle, among other gear, but weren’t prepared for ice, snow and rain that fell during the night, Hover said. The boys planned to spend the night in the lookout shelter at 6,870 feet.

Emergency dispatchers continued sporadic communication with the boys throughout the night and early morning, including letting them know that their parents were waiting for them at the trailhead.

The trail to the top of Three Fingers is about 8 miles long. Near the summit it crosses snow fields and glaciers requiring the use of ice axes, and sometimes ropes and crampons. Lower down, the trail is deeply rutted, preventing rescuers from riding horses to assist, Hover said.

Volunteer search and rescue teams from Everett, Skagit County, Bellingham, Seattle, King County and Olympic National Park were helping and officials were trying to rally additional help to spell tired teams.

They’re trying to get enough help to relieve those rescuers who need to rest and recuperate.

Rain showers are forecast to continue in the Cascades for the next several days, said Ni Cushmeer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle. High temperatures are expected to reach around 50 and freezing levels will hover between 6,000 and 9,000 feet.

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