Cost Of Rescue Of Canadian Teen Released By Rocky Mountain National Park

(Top) The stranded climber's location is indicated by the red circle in this photo. (Bottom) Rescue team member's pack up equipment on the day following the incident. NPS photos.

In late May the plight of a Canadian teenager stranded on a mountain ledge at an elevation of 13,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park attracted international media attention. A major and risky rescue effort ensued, resulting in the teen's eventual return to safety. The park has now released additional details, including the cost of the rescue.

The stage for potential disaster was set on Tuesday, May 27, when Samuel Frappier, 19, from Quebec, Canada, and a friend decided to climb to the summit of Longs Peak. At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the highest mountain in the park, and a popular summer destination for climbers who are properly prepared for the trip.

It's not, however, a casual hike, and the risks, especially of an early season hike, were confirmed by the sad news of a fatal accident on the mountain earlier this week. The dangers clearly explained on the park website:

"In the summertime, when conditions allow, thousands climb to Longs' summit via the Keyhole Route. The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs.

For most of the year, it's winter on Longs Peak

"For most of the year, climbing Longs Peak is in winter conditions, which requires winter mountaineering experience and the knowledge and use of specialized equipment. Disregard for the mountain environment any time of year has meant danger, injury and even death."

It's not known if Frappier and his friend obtained any current information about conditions on Longs Peak, but it seems unlikely. Frappier was dressed in cotton clothing and wearing sneakers, and later realized he was not prepared to spend the night at an elevation with temperatures in the 30s and conditions that often include significant snow and ice.

The pair set out on their trip on May 27, intending to go to the summit of Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route, but mistakenly headed to Chasm Lake instead. From Chasm Lake, they climbed into the Chasm cirque and ascended The Flying Dutchman couloir, where for unexplained reasons, they decided to separate.

Frappier’s friend continued to head up The Flying Dutchman, eventually made it to the top of a formation dubbed The Beaver, and then turned around and headed back down to Chasm Lake.

Frappier chose a different route, came down The Flying Dutchman, ascended the Camel’s Gully to Mount Lady Washington, and reached the summit of Longs Peak via the north face.

Stranded at 13,000 Feet

Having achieved his goal, Frappier decided to descend via a different route, eventually crossed the Notch Couloir, and found himself at an extremely precarious, narrow location along Broadway Ledge. He was stranded at an elevation of about 13,000 feet, with a sheer 1,000 foot drop-off below.

At about 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27, Frappier contacted rangers at the park via cell phone, indicating he was stuck, unable to go either up or down. His friend heard Frappier’s shouts of distress and hiked out to the Longs Peak Trailhead to get help.

Although rangers correctly caution visitors not to count on cell phones to summon help in remote locations, this was one situation where technology saved the day, at least for Frappier. Still unclear about his navigation, the climber advised he was stranded on the Keyhole Route, but cell phone GPS coordinates allowed rangers to narrow his most likely location to the east side of Longs Peak.

Frappier was reported to be physically fit, but he had no technical climbing equipment and was not an experienced mountaineer. He said he was not prepared to spend the night, but at that point he had no choice. A park spokesperson noted later that although overnight temperatures were in the 30s, he was very fortunate there were no significant storms on Tuesday.

"If I slipped just one more foot..."

The stranded teen later told CBC news, "I spent all night shivering on a small rock. If I slipped just one foot more, then I would have fallen to my death."

Rangers began organizing a response, and late on Tuesday night, the initial park technical rescue team arrived at the Chasm Shelter, at the base of the east face of Longs Peak. Their task was to stage for Wednesday morning, and try to confirm Frappier's location.

On Wednesday morning, May 28, the field team was able to use spotting scopes to determine Frappier’s exact location. A Trans Aero helicopter assisted with aerial reconnaissance and prepositioning of supplies, and rangers aboard the helicopter were able to further assess the man's location and condition.

There was no landing zone near the victim's position for the Trans Aero helicopter, so the park’s Search and Rescue team requested assistance from the Teton Interagency Helicopter from Jackson, Wyoming. This helicopter and crew are able to perform short-haul operations, which is the ability to transport persons suspended beneath the helicopter to or from the scene. While a short-haul eliminates the need for a helicopter to land, that capability can be hindered by weather and other conditions.

The helicopter and crew from Wyoming arrived at about 1:15 p.m., but strong downdrafts of wind along the side of the mountain hampered the use of the aircraft. There were also concerns that if the helicopter were brought too close to Frappier's precarious perch, the downdraft from the aircraft rotors themselves could endanger his safety.

Sunny Skies Hampered the Rescue

Throughout the day on Wednesday, the park’s Search and Rescue team continued to stage additional personnel and equipment in the Chasm Meadows area. Ironically, sunny skies and warmer daytime temperatures created serious problems for the operation: the intense sunlight increased melting of ice and snow on the east face of the mountain, creating active ice and rock fall and making the area dangerously unstable.

During the late afternoon, as the east face passed into the shade, melting slowed, conditions began to stabilize, the rescue teams prepared to move to reach Frappier. Unfortunately, Frappier’s cell phone battery was drained and rescuers were no longer able to communicate with him.

At about 4:00 p.m., Frappier, concerned that he would be spending a second night on the mountain, started to move on his own. A park spokesperson noted that he was extremely fortunate that he had waited that long, allowing the snow and conditions to become more stable. Frappier moved down toward rescuers who were staged at Chasm Meadows, and was able to link up with team members; he was given initial medical care and flown to Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The climber was taken by ambulance to the Estes Park Medical Center for further medical evaluation, and he was released later than night. Due to fading light, most of the rescue team spent the night on the mountain, and were flown out the following day.

A Costly Operation

In response to numerous requests, officials at the park compiled and released statistics from the incident. The final tally: "Forty-six people and two helicopters were involved with this incident. The final cost is estimated to be $41,000." Those expenses will come from NPS operating funds.

A park spokesperson also noted, "The National Park Service does not charge for search and rescue services."

For his part, Frappier at least admitted the climb was a bad decision. He told ABC7 in Denver, "I imagine people saying that I'm stupid, and they're right. It was stupid, and I'm never going to do that again."

Comments

I'm getting a little tired of the NPS publicizing the cost of every rescue. Rescues are rare and such a miniscule part of the budget but they use this to shock the public and cry for more funds. There is an easy solution to the problem. Require folks to purchase rescue insurance to reimburse them. Global Rescue is a great organization. But I don't really think even that is necessary. There are always going to be idiots who make bad decisions everywhere. Does the highway patrol publish the costs of rescues on the interstates? How about drownings in lakes or atv excurions gone awry. Its is another one of Jarvis' "make the public realize how poor we heroes are" schemes. This is part of being in the business of taking care of America's recreational interests.

I was at a NPCA event several years ago when a guy who was with the NPS was going over budget stuff and someone asked him about rescues and their impact on NPS budgets. The guy laughed and actually said "it is miniscule and negligible." I can't remember his name but could probably go back to the NPCA notes to find it.

"Use this to shock the public and cry for more funds".

Or perhaps, to answer the question asked about "how much did this cost"? That's not really "every rescue". And to shock the public into realizing what a dumb expensive mistake these risky adventures are? It doesn't sound to me like this ultimately lucky gentleman would have purchased rescue insurance with the cavalier decision to make such a climb.

Sounds to me like there is some other reason behind such a sour grapes comment.

In this particular case, the park says it released the cost information "Because we received numerous questions pertaining to the cost of the operation." If you read the press release on the park website, there is no suggestion the staff is either "publicizing" or complaining about the costs.

That statement is credible, since a number of media outlets in Colorado ran a follow-up story on the cost of the rescue. Commercial media sources don't waste time or space covering stories unless they think they're of interest to readers or viewers.

The statement that "those expenses will come from NPS operating funds" was mine, not the park's. I felt it was information worth noting, just as a reminder that there are costs for public services (such as rescues) that people tend to take for granted.

There's a little bit of a difference between flying a helicopter into a main interstate compared to performing a very tricky S&R operation on a 14,000 foot mountain with a verticle cliff face that experiences high downdrafts. Just a tad bit of a difference, but carry on with your hateful-screeds against all things NPS. Maybe, it would take another Mt Hood helicopter crash to make you happy?

And seriously, there were a couple airlift rescues that I know of last year, and don't remember the NPS talking about the cost of the rescues in the media. I also recall a few other S&R events this year, and I remember them trying to use the media to educate people in many of those scenarios, so that they sway more ill prepared people from potentially doing things like this guy, but other than that I can't recall financial information thrown around in each scenario.

Point is, when ill prepared people do things they are not prepared for, then they cost taxpayers and groups like the NPCA money that could be put elsewhere. 41,000.00 is a chunk of cash that could be used on many other things. These guys should have known how to use a topo. I've done Longs Peak before, and it's pretty simple to realize that going up chasm lake isn't the right route, if a little bit of research on the route was done before heading out.

"I'm getting a little tired of the NPS publicizing the cost of every rescue."

Interesting. When did they start doing that?

Fact: They haven't.

But this kind of mis-information is nothing new in an old agenda of anti-everything NPS.

Kinda tiresome, actually.

As long as it doesn't take too much time to compile the costs I enjoy hearing what they are from time to time. If they reached the right audience it may even act as a bit of a deterrent for those who might tackle an adventure they aren't prepared for or at least give them pause. Just knowing the costs are tracked and available means they could one day be used to recover them. Maybe enough of a reason to throw that map in your backpack or take another bottle of water along.

I'm going to suggest that NPT start a column called "Ask Gary Wilson". It would save all that pesky investigative journalism that ties up so much staff time and often requires statistics.

Rick Smith, who also performed more than a few SAR missions during his three decades with the Park Service, thinks it'd be wrong to begin charging for rescues ."I'm not a big fan of the idea, although I see some merit in asking people who do really high risk things --climbing Denali-- to buy some kind of insurance. But I am very reluctant to put a price tag on adventure." http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2008/04/national-park-search-and-rescue-should-rescued-help-pay-bills

Haha. Well Johnny, if you weren't so full of it 9 times out of 10, maybe i'd find no reason to comment on your BS.

Hey, let me know when you find time to get over to Blackberry Farms trail system, though. We are all still waiting on pins and needles to see the results of that "fact finding" mission.

This comment has been edited to remove gratuitous material. Please, let's stick to substantive matters and not drift into personal aspersions.--the editor.