Harrowing rescue saves ill-equipped hiker on Mount Adams

He was trying to summit the mountain as a tribute to his brother, who died hiking earlier this year.

By Alec Regimbal / Yakima Herald-Republic

A 27-year-old Illinois hiker who became stranded on the edge of a crevasse on Mount Adams was plucked from the peak in a dramatic helicopter rescue while trying to summit the mountain as a tribute to his brother, who died hiking earlier this year.

Josh Adams was hiking with a group of friends late last week when he slipped while heading east on Piker’s Peak on the south side of the mountain, according to a news release from the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. Adams came to rest on an overhang just above the Mazama Glacier, said Sgt. Randy Briscoe, who heads the department’s search and rescue team.

Adams was hiking without crampons or an ice ax, and couldn’t climb up the slope away from the drop without that equipment because the icy terrain is too slippery, Briscoe said.

“You’re basically on blue ice at that point,” he said.

After Adams’ friends reported the fall just before 4 p.m. Thursday, officials at the sheriff’s office asked for air support from the Washington State Emergency Operation Center. Officials decided to rescue Adams by way of air — as opposed to sending a team up the mountain — because they weren’t sure exactly where Adams was, and because it would take as long as 12 hours to get a team together.

Briscoe said Adams, who was wearing a pullover sweatshirt and jeans with no gloves, had been stranded for several hours and likely wouldn’t survive the night. High winds and below freezing temperatures were expected overnight.

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were deployed from the Yakima Training Center at 6:14 p.m. and 24 minutes later arrived at the mountain, where rescue personnel quickly spotted Adams, the release said.

After assessing the situation, the team’s leader decided Adams was in too tricky of a spot to be airlifted out, and that a rescue attempt would have start at daylight on Friday, the release said. Helicopters typically aren’t used to rescue anyone above 10,000 feet in altitude because it’s hard for a helicopter’s rotor to keep the craft airborne in such thin air, Briscoe said.

Thinking quickly, the two pilots decided to remove all rescue personnel from one helicopter and deliberately burn its fuel in an attempt to make it lighter, the release said. From there, one of the rescue personnel was harnessed to a hoist and lowered to Adams’ position.

After Adams latched onto his rescuer, the helicopter went into a dive and fell for about 2,000 feet before stabilizing, Briscoe said. Adams was then lifted into the helicopter and safely flown to the ground, Briscoe said.

Adams said he was climbing the mountain as a tribute to his brother, Jeremiah, who died while hiking in the Olympic National Forest earlier this year, the release said.

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