Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rough Start to 2007 - 3 fatalities

2007 has become a dangerous year at Mount Rainier, even with the roads closed. Since mid-February, there have been three fatalities within the park boundary, a terrible trend as the park prepares to reopen this spring.

The first incident involved a skier who ducked a ropeline at Crystal Mountain Resort for backcountry turns. The intent was to catch fresh tracks down the White River drainage (and into the park). That skier was caught and killed in an avalanche and the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol recovered the body.

The most recent accident involved a married couple who drowned in Ipsut Creek. The pair were crossing a footlog when Annette Blakely slipped, fell, and was quickly swept downstream in the frigid current. Her husband, Robert, immediately shed his backpack and leaped into the stream in an attempt to save her life. Sadly, both were caught in a log jam and drowned.

The News Tribune, Seattle Times, and Seattle PI have been covering the accident and recovery in detail, but a few details have emerged in the stories that are inaccurate. Some are minor, for example, a helicopter did not spot the body from the air. Another, however, is misleading. That is that the footlog to get across the washout was clearly established and marked. Here in this photo, you can see the two foot logs in question. The lower log was the one where the accident occurred, the upper is the preferred log to cross...

An accurate point about all of this is that the park, the roads, and the trail system are in very rough condition. With so much damage, climbers, backpackers, skiers and hikers will need to take extra precautions when visiting this spring and summer. Normally minor incidents in places like Ipsut Creek will be more difficult to respond to and manage.

As for the latest recovery, my thoughts are with the family and friends of the Blakely's. I would also like to thank the Pierce County Swiftwater Rescue team (and the bomb team, the dive team, and the SAR team too) for the outstanding assistance in this incident. In the image above, the field operations leader views the screen of an underwater camera.