Opinion

When hikers leave civilization behind, they leave help behind | Opinon

I was climbing the path to Colchuck Lake two weeks ago when I heard the dreadful sound, a helicopter circling a mountain peak.

I knew it meant someone was badly injured.

My heart sank.

For the second time in the past two seasons, I was hiking to a destination where another hiker took a risk with the melting snow, and died a brutal death in the mountains.

Hiking in itself is not a risky activity, and I have no idea how experienced the 21-year-old woman who died that day was.

She was glissading down Aasgard Pass, known for it’s unbearably steep climb, when the snow gave way under her. She was pinned down beneath the glacier in the river, which was fed by the melting snow.

Her friends couldn’t get to her, so they ran down the mountain, asking hikers whether they had an emergency beacon.

It was at least 6-8 hours before a helicopter lifted the body from the mountain.

New hikers need to understand, and experienced hikers should remember, that when you leave civilization behind, you leave help behind. You’re on your own. A broken leg that could be set and mended by a doctor in Issaquah, could kill you on the mountain.

This is not an issue of government response, it’s an issue of being smart and knowing the risks.

A year ago this July, I paid a visit to the Big Four Ice Caves, a hike so easy it was once wheelchair accessible before part of the trail was washed out.

I was standing at the mouth of the cave when I first heard shouts for help.

I followed my search and rescue friend to the top of a small hill to see a man carrying the limp body of a 11-year-old girl down the hill, her leg bending like jello.

She passed in and out of consciousness with the pain she suffered. A couple of nurses and some search and rescue volunteers left their parties to see how they might help.

A large car-sized boulder of snow at the cornice of the small glacier had come loose and crashed and rolled about 20 feet. The girl was standing too close, it crushed her hips and legs.

Even with all the people already available to help, it was four hours before the helicopter landed. Despite hours of CPR, the medic onboard could do little but proclaim her dead.

The wails of her father echoed off the towering mountains and filled the empty snowfield.

This was perhaps one of the easiest hikes I’ve ever done, it’s hardly a hike, but it was still far enough from a paved road that civilization couldn’t reach her.

Authorities said the family didn’t do anything wrong, but I would point out that there weren’t any warning signs posted that day, even though hundreds of parents and children filled the area.

Perhaps, if these novice hikers knew that snow doesn’t gently melt down gutters on the mountains, that it tumbles and crashes, they wouldn’t have stood so close.

Perhaps if the young woman at Aasgard Pass knew there was a river flowing beneath her, she wouldn’t have slid down the middle of it. She would have chosen to hike up the side.

Hiking is a wonderful group activity. I still hike most weekends, but I caution all people who hit the hills, no matter how close you feel from civilization, don’t be brazen. Think through your decisions. Then maybe the mountains will claim a few less lives this year.

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