Wednesday Rescue Round-Up

Mount Hood, Canyon Rescue, and the Tetons get a SAR HQ maybe

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Hey campers! I’ve pulled my head out of…Gear Guide writing, and I’ve got a few hours before driving north to a surgeon’s consultation (I’m getting a stainless steel hip “resurfacing” this winter). Soooo it’s time to get back into rescue blogging. Here are a few recent highlights:

Mount Hood Again

One climber has been found dead, and two are still missing, after a trio set off up the Reid Glacier Route (Class II, 50-degree snow/ice) on the West face of 11,239-foot Mount Hood, America’s most-climbed peak. The group took off at 1 a.m. on Friday, December 11, expecting to be back about 2 p.m.. When they didn’t return, family members contacted rescue authorities. Searchers found the body of Luke Gullberg next morning, below the Reid Glacier headwall. He had fallen, but later died of hypothermia. No rope or other gear was found with him, but searchers found a water bottle and glove they think was owned by one of his companions, and photos in Gullberg’s digital camera showed the party earlier on Friday, roped up and happy in sunny conditions.

Gullberg’s two companions, Anthony Vietti, 24, and Katie Nolan, 29, remain missing. Aerial searches of the mountain in good weather on Monday revealed no further clues. Gullberg was the most experienced climber of this relatively experienced group. All three were devout Christians. The search has been halted several times by Hood’s infamous maritime weather, and the ensuing media frenzy has been accompanied by the usual ponderings about ‘crazy’ climbers, beacon use, and tax protesters screaming about costs. The mountain is expected to get another two feet of snow over the next several days.

The group registered their climb at Timberline Lodge and set off in good conditions, but with a short weather window before storms were expected to move in late Saturday. One of the group apparently turned their cell phone on shortly after leaving Timberline Lodge, according to cell pings, but no calls were ever issued. If the party managed to dig a snow cave with their ice axes, this could still turn out well, but the signs are ominous, and the fate of the remaining pair may, like several recent Hood victims, stay unresolved for years. Hopefully not.

Anatomy of a Canyoneering Accident

On that same Saturday, December 11th, there was a much less publicized rescue in Larry Canyon, a fairly straightforward technical slot in the Robber’s Roost region, west of the Dirty Devil River near the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. The incident was first reported in a badly researched Deseret News article which has seen been taken down from their website. It did not surface in any other news outlets.

The short version: A pair of canyoneers were descending Larry Canyon when one was tugged over the brink of a short rappel as his tethered pack slipped, taking him with it. He received badly torn knee ligaments. The pair had a SPOT beacon loaned to them by a relative, and scant but adequate knowledge of how to use it. The rescue coordination center received 88 “911” messages over the next several hours. It all proceeded from there.

The Wayne County Search and Rescue team, a typical sheriff-coordinated rural rescue effort that had to come from over 90 miles away (half of that on dirt road), responded to the alert, but halted before encountering the stranded pair due to darkness, distance and a lack of supporters who were still arriving.

Relatives who owned the SPOT were the first to arrive on scene and holler into the canyon. The unfortunate pair had built a fire, made a splint for the leg out of backpack framestays, and were hanging tight. Both the relatives, and Wayne County SAR, reached the strandees on Sunday morning. Eventually a helicopter had to come from Page, Arizona, approximately 300 miles south of the accident scene, at the southern tip of Lake Powell, and evacuate the victim via short haul. His companion, and most of the rescue team, were forced to spend another night in the canyon when darkness fell.

To get a glimpse into what a rescue, and particularly a remote, off-season rescue in a rural area with low tax base, might be like, check out this message thread on Bogley Outdoor Forums. You’ll find the uninjured rescuees account here (scroll down to the long post by Jaxx and follow along). You’ll also find a later account by the injured victim, Mark “TNT Rebel” Turner, a former EMT and SAR member, several pages further on. In the thread you’ll also see photos of the incident and rescue, and satellite photos of the area, with callouts to locations in the account. This is a rare and very complete peek into the subtleties of a SAR incident, and fascinating stuff. Highly recommended.

The upshot? Adventurers who head into remote locations need to be prepared for emergencies, be ready to hang tough and, oh yeah, carry a satellite capable beacon – like these guys. Otherwise, this woulda really been a long wait.

Jackson Hole Might get a Regional Rescue Facility

Teton County commissioners are considering a proposal to build a large search and rescue headquarters with helicopter pad, heli hangar, and equipment storage area outside Jackson, Wyoming at the foot of the Tetons. Currently Teton County SAR is based in the Sheriff’s Office, while equipment is stored at volunteer’s homes, and the Jackson Hole Airport. A public comment period will commence soon. Grand Teton National Park has their own highly trained rescue team, but the surrounding -equally busy- public lands have less formal facilities.

Hike safe out there.