Rescue Highlights Hazards of Winter Climbing
On Sunday March 25, two men were rescued from North Cascades National Park through a combined effort of national park rangers, volunteers from Bellingham and Skagit Mountain Rescue and Whidbey Naval Air Station. The call for help came in to the National Park Service on Friday, but the effort to extract the two from steep and difficult terrain was hampered by the storm that dropped tremendous rainfall across western Washington over the weekend.
The party of four men from Everett and Lynnwood set out on Wednesday March 21 to climb Pyramid Peak in North Cascades National Park. By Friday March 23 the group abandoned the climbing goal and attempted a short cut descent, deviating from their ascent route. This led to trouble as the group encountered steep terrain on the slopes above Diablo Lake.
Two members made it out on their own Friday night and reported to a park ranger that they had left two other members stranded, one with a leg fracture. The reporting two were both treated for mild hypothermia. Saturday’s efforts to reach the two men were limited by heavy rainfall and poor visibility. A helicopter flight to locate the two was attempted but aborted due to visibility concerns.
On Sunday, a ground team of park rangers and volunteers reached the two, and prepared them for evacuation. Whidbey Naval Air Station search and rescue helicopter Firewood 21 hoisted Micha Berg, 22, of Lynnwood from the mountain Sunday afternoon during a break in the weather. Rangers escorted his partner out by ground.
Limited access, avalanche hazards and dangerous weather make attempts to climb the bigger peaks in the North Cascades infrequent during the winter. “It is unusual for park rangers to have a rescue this time of year,” explained Kelly Bush, park search and rescue coordinator. “Just as we see fewer backcountry travelers in the winter, resources including rescue personnel capable of working in technical terrain under harsh conditions are limited in the off-season . . . but it was also the winter snowpack, poor visibility and limited daylight that forced the injured and exhausted men to spend two nights in miserable weather awaiting rescue.” Bush also commented that “shortcuts” in the North Cascades often lead to trouble.