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Viviane’s Baker with Heli Rescue

Have you ever had a heli­copter land next to your tent? Or been involved in a res­cue? I had­n’t — until one of my trips on Baker.

We were very method­i­cal­ly work­ing our way up the Roman Head­wall to the sum­mit plateau. We had left ear­ly — real­ly ear­ly — to avoid some bad weath­er that was fore­cast­ed to come in that after­noon. Climb­ing in wind and that ter­ri­ble stuff that they call a win­try mix”? You know, the stuff that gets you soaked by rain, frozen by sleet, and strug­gling in a snow­storm, all at the same time? No thanks! We saw a few par­ties below us, but we were clear­ly the first group to leave camp. Imag­ine my sur­prise when I looked up and saw a man pop his head over the top of the head­wall. He stood there, watch­ing us method­i­cal­ly make our way up the slope. I chat­ted with him as we got clos­er, about the usu­al stuff like the weath­er and the beau­ti­ful dawn and the moun­tain con­di­tions. He was friend­ly and cheer­ful. I even­tu­al­ly told him that I had­n’t expect­ed any­one to be ahead of us. And he said, I am actu­al­ly in a lit­tle bit of trou­ble. I spent the night up here.”

Say what?

The wind was 80 – 100km last night. I have a down jack­et that kept me warm, and I found some water, but I’m run­ning a lit­tle bit low on food.”

Yeah, I’ll bet. If I had spent the night burn­ing calo­ries to stay warm sit­ting on the top of a moun­tain in howl­ing winds, I would have eat­en my backpack.

Appar­ent­ly he had parked his truck in Glac­i­er, WA and soloed up the Cole­man-Dem­ing route in one day, an ele­va­tion gain of just under 10,000 feet. Not only that, but the road on that side of the moun­tain was washed out this spring. What was once the most pop­u­lar route on a very pop­u­lar peak has now become a desert­ed moun­tain­side. I imag­ine it look­ing like a moun­tain ver­sion of a Hol­ly­wood-style post-apoc­olyp­tic New York: noth­ing but aban­doned camp­sites with tum­ble­weeds made of Clif Bar wrap­pers and emp­ty oat­meal pack­ets bounc­ing by, punc­tu­at­ed by that lone­ly howl­ing wind that they love to put in movies.

His plan was to para­sail back down to his truck, but he fell in a crevasse and twist­ed his knee. That slowed him down, and by the time he reached the sum­mit, the winds had picked up and it was no longer safe to fly. He could­n’t retrace his steps because he was wor­ried he could­n’t make it with his bad knee. He could­n’t go down the Eas­t­on Glac­i­er because he did­n’t know the way. By 5PM, when he real­ized that he was­n’t going to get off the sum­mit before night­fall, he hit the 911 but­ton on his SPOT and wait­ed to be res­cued. But no one came.

I quick­ly assured him that we would take care of him. We gave him food, a sleep­ing pad, and a tarp (he refused water and extra lay­ers, say­ing he did­n’t need either), and my co-guide stayed with him to wrap his knee while the rest of us scur­ried to the sum­mit and back. Then we made him a har­ness out of a cordel­lette, gave him extra bin­ers to clip into our rope, and head­ed back down the moun­tain. Mean­while, our clients stood there rub­bing their chins and say­ing Oh, THAT’S why you guys car­ry so much gear…”

None of us were quite sure how to can­cel the 911 call on the SPOT, but he hit the OK” but­ton, rea­son­ing that it would send his wife a mes­sage and she could then let Search and Res­cue know that he was fine. We crossed our fin­gers that that would work, and there would­n’t be a search par­ty com­ing to the sum­mit to find a guy who was no longer there. Appar­ent­ly, that did­n’t work, because just as we got back to camp, we heard the famil­iar sound of rotor blades and looked up to see a heli­copter come fly­ing up the val­ley. It cir­cled the sum­mit a few times, then start­ed to scan the rest of the mountainside.

We did­n’t want the heli­copter to waste its time, but we had no way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing He’s OK” to the crew. So we flagged it down as it passed over us. Then we watched as this huge mil­i­tary heli­copter banked sharply, spun around, and land­ed in a snow patch near our camp. Two Search and Res­cue guys came run­ning out. We quick­ly told them that the man they were look­ing for was with us and he was fine. They ran back to their heli­copter and took off. The whole thing last­ed less than five minutes.

So I got to help in what was prob­a­bly one of the tamest res­cues” on record. I’m sure it was just a blip on the radar for the Search and Res­cue world, and noth­ing com­pared to sit­u­a­tions that oth­er guides have been in. But I got to watch a heli­copter land right next to me, and that was just plain cool.