A recent mountaineering accident at North Cascades National Park left one climber seriously injured and a second one stranded on a remote, rugged peak. The location of the incident was certainly appropriate: Mount Terror.
On July 5, 2009, a party of four experienced climbers was on the fourth day of a planned 6-day expedition in the Picket Range at North Cascades National Park. This is rugged, remote and challenging terrain, as suggested by the names of other peaks in the vicinity: Mt. Fury and Mt. Challenger.
At about 10:30 a.m. the group was divided into two rope teams when a piece of rock broke loose under the foot of the lead climber, Steve Trent, causing him to fall about 60 feet.
According to a park report,
Trent suffered a femur fracture and apparent head injury and was hanging unconscious on the rope. His partners were able to anchor the injured climber on a small ledge.
Based on detailed accounts of the incident posted on several climbing sites, members of the group did a fine job providing initial emergency care to the victim. A decision was then made to leave one person with Trent, while the remaining two continued toward the summit in an attempt to establish a cell phone connection and call for help.
Donn Venema and Steph Abegg began climbing about noon, checking frequently for a cell phone signal as they ascended. Finally, at 4:00 p.m., they were able to place a 9 1 1 call.
With approximately four hours of working daylight left, a helicopter was used to insert climbing ranger Kevork Arackellian at the accident site via short-haul. The injured climber and ranger were then plucked from the mountain and flown to a staging area, where Trent was transferred to a medical helicopter for the trip to a hospital.
What happened next is a good reminder that helicopters are invaluable tools for rescues, but they do have their limits, especially for mountain flying. Among the requirements for safe aerial operations: adequate daylight and acceptable weather conditions.
Due to the fading light, a second hoped-for maneuver to rescue the other climber, Jason Schilling, was cancelled.
Despite this unpleasant turn for Mr. Schilling, foresight helped save the day.
...during the pick-off of the patient, a pack with survival gear and a park radio had been handed to Schilling, who was now stranded at the cliff site. Due to fog, rain and eventually snow at the accident site, aerial rescue attempts were postponed. The stranded climber was able to locate a small overhanging ledge, where he stayed for the next four days until the weather was clear enough for an air rescue.
During the next four days, visibility on the mountain was reported at times to be less than 100 feet. Schilling was able to make radio contact with rescuers twice a day, a critical factor since the conversations provided reassurance about his condition, and allowed a risky rescue by a ground team to be postponed in hopes of better weather.
Finally, on Day Five, there was a break in the weather, and Schilling was short-hauled off the mountain and reunited with his friends. The other two members of the group had been able to hike out on their own from their base camp the day after the accident.
The injured climber is recovering, a process expected to take about two months.