There were 31 search and rescue operations in North Cascades National Park during 1994. Climbers failing to check as indicated on their Voluntary Climber Register caused most of the searches.
There were nine major search and rescue operations in the park and on Mount Baker during 1994 but no climbing-related fatalities. Search and rescue crews evacuated eight injured climbers last season.
Uncontrolled glissades, falls on non-technical terrain and route finding mistakes caused eight of the nine incidents. The ninth search occurred after a climber fell 500 feet down the West Ridge Couloir of Forbidden Peak. Six of these accidents are summarized below:
Mount Baker, Coleman Glacier, June 2
Mount Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys, June 20
Forbidden Peak, West Ridge, June 26
Mount Johannesburg, June 29
Forbidden Peak, East Ridge Direct, September 3
Mount Baker, Coleman Glacier, Sept. 18
All of these climbers required SAR assistance.
On the 15th anniversary of a helicopter crash that killed five U.S Navy search and rescue (SAR) crew members near Challenger Peak, Navy fliers and local volunteers continue to risk their lives rescuing injured climbers on Mount Baker and peaks throughout North Cascades National Park.
Search and rescue crews from Naval Air Station Whidbey are primarily responsible for rescuing downed Navy fliers but they have flown rescue missions in the North Cascades for more than twenty years. The hazards that in 1980 claimed the crew near Challenger are still part of the job for the 29 members of Whidbey's SAR unit.
"We accept a great deal of risk," said Aviation Machinist Mate Patrick Gibbs of Whidbey's SAR unit. "And all of us have volunteered for this."
Four Sikorsky SH-3H helicopters based at Whidbey are used for SAR work. Each aircraft has a crew of two pilots, a crew chief who is in charge of rescue operations, an emergency medical technician and a crewman who is an expert rappeller and high-angle rescuer.
Navy helicopters often carry members of Bellingham Mountain Rescue and Skagit Mountain Rescue into the backcountry to prepare injured climbers for evacuation. These Mountain Rescue members come from many walks of life.
Accountants, engineers, college students, doctors, dentists and dairy farmers sacrifice weekends and evenings for rescue training sessions and many have used their vacation time and personal leave to search for missing climbers. Families suffer and income is lost during lengthy search and rescue operations, but dozens of volunteers are ready to help injured climbers because, as Bellingham's Operation Leader Lynn Dayton said, "If we didn't do it, who would?"
Bellingham Mountain Rescue
"We usually go out on 10 to 15 missions each year," Dayton said. "But last year we had 44. I've been involved with mountain rescue for 30 years and last year was the busiest year ever."
Bellingham Mountain Rescue formed in 1955 after back-to-back accidents on Mount Shuksan revealed the need for a well-trained, local group to respond to backcountry accidents. This year the group celebrates its 40th anniversary and will likely carry out its 600th rescue mission, according to Dayton.
About 15-20 BMR members regularly participate in rescue missions. Members donate their time and hard work during extensive training, monthly meetings and risky rescue missions.
"Everybody is a volunteer," Dayton said. "A lot of the equipment is their personal gear and some members take vacation days while they're working on a longer mission."
Donations from the United Way and private donors fund BMR's specialized rescue equipment including four wheel drive trucks and radios, Dayton said.
"People join Mountain Rescue because they enjoy the outdoors and there's the satisfaction of helping your fellow man," Dayton said. Mountain Rescue members want climbers to know the responsibility for climbing safety is their own.
"There may be some concept of the thirty minute rescue out there," Dayton said. "But don't count on the fact that someone's going to be there to pack you out. If the weather is good we can get a helicopter in, but there's potential for a week-long wait. Even with cellular phones and radios you can have problems calling for help because of the ridges and deep valleys."
Skagit Mountain Rescue
About one-fourth of SMR's operations are in the park or on the Ptarmigan Traverse, just outside park borders, John Semrau, SMR operations leader, said. Founded in 1964, Skagit Mountain Rescue has recently seen some of its busiest years. Semrau isn't sure why rescues have become more common in the last few years but he is sure of one thing.
"There are more people involved in mountaineering at the beginning level than ever before," he said. "The old climbers climb expecting to rescue themselves. That's the attitude people need to climb with."
In the last few years, several parties have called for help with cellular phones. This doesn't mean, Semrau stresses, that a cellular phone is insurance against poor judgment or objective hazards.
"There's a lot more to not getting lost than carrying a cellular phone," he said.
When nature calls and you're surrounded by acres of snow and ice, what do you do? Bury it? Carry it? A new minimum impact video, available to climbing clubs and other organizations has the answer.
The twenty minute video, developed by the Forest Service, Park Service, National Outdoor Leadership School, American Alpine Institute and the Mountaineers covers climbing safety and minimum impact skills for climbers in the alpine zone of the Pacific Northwest. For more information, contact Barb Richey at (360) 856-5700 or ask a ranger.
North Cascades National Park has eliminated its five year- old campsite reservation system. The old reservation system was not successful because two-thirds of the people who wrote and requested sites never arrived and 30 percent of those who did arrive had changed their plans.
Backcountry permits are still required but they are issued on a first-come first-served basis. Most areas in the park do not fill to capacity but popular sites, including Boston Basin, Pelton Basin, Sahale, Monogram Lake, Thornton Lake, Copper Ridge and Ross Lake, fill quickly on weekends, especially during July and August.
More people are visiting wilderness areas in the North Cascades than ever before. Climbers and backpackers have trampled beautiful meadows, increased erosion and polluted tarns and streams with feces.
The Park Service, Forest Service and other federal land management agencies, along with the National Outdoor Leadership School, have developed Leave No Trace, an education program that teaches wilderness travelers how to protect wilderness and to Leave No Trace of their visit. Ask a ranger for more information on Leave No Trace.
Last November, National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy gave North Cascades National Park Complex the first-ever Outstanding Wilderness Management Program Award. Kennedy mentioned outstanding climbing safety, wilderness education, human waste composting and native plant nursery programs as reasons North Cascades won the award.
Last Updated: 28-Oct-1998