Sloan Peak (7835 ft.)

Corkscrew Rte - Jul 18-19 '98

A Mountaineers Basic Alpine Climb.

Party of 6: Leader: Walt Reissig, Assistant Leader: Brian, Basic Students: Ron, Thom Ludwig, Tracy Schryer and I.

Weather: Sunny and hot Saturday; Overcast Sunday morning; Clear and sunny Sunday afternoon. No wind nor precipitation.

I guess Tracy doesn't quite hate climbing yet (after Rainier last weekend)! This past weekend we climbed Sloan Peak (7830 ft.), a basic alpine climb. It had a lot of interesting features: a 50 ft. knee deep river ford, a small but significant glacier crossing, and a fun class 3 scramble for 600 ft. to the top with a few areas of good exposure. The downside was that we had no visibility from the top; too bad, since this is one of the most prominent peaks in the cascades with supposedly great views... you can see this peak from several peaks a long way away. (It has been called the Matterhorn of the Cascades). If you have Becky's Cascade Alpine Guide #2, its in there. To comfirm the words of Jay Bruce, it is a very pleasant climb.

Due to the lack of view along the way, there are very few worthwhile photo-opportunities. Here are a couple summit shots:

summit image
Tracy and I at the summit with Walt.

summit image
Brian, Thom and Walt... lunch at the summit.
Walt was highly regarded by the entire party for his sharing of summit treats... mini-chocolate bars.

The Rescue

The excitement really started on our way down back across the glacier when we ran into a party who had a member fallen into a crevasse/moat. They were traversing (unroped, unhelmeted) pretty high on a steep slope (where they should not have been) with the moat 30 feet below them! At about 9:30AM, the climber fell and tried to arrest but fell into the moat before stopping. Apparently he landed with his face down onto the rocks... nasty facial wounds and head injury. Their climbing team did not have the manpower to extract him from the crevasse, but they had addressed most of his first aid while in the hole waiting for help. Another two man team arrived before us and were preparing to help extract the victim. When we arrived, at about 11:30 AM, one of our rope teams helped extract him (and provide a higher level of first aid...we had an EMT on our team). My rope team went lower to 1) get out of the way, and 2) to prepare anchors for lowering the victim down the slope. Fortunately the victim party had a cell phone and a rescue helicopter had already been called. The helicopter arrived first around 12:30 - 1:00pm but could not land due to the poor visibility, the clouds were rising and falling right at our level.

By the time the victim was lowered (1 rope length below the crevasse) to me at the anchor I set, it was probably 1:30. We set up fixed lines to another lower anchor and were preparing to lower the victim again when we heard the helicopter again. It landed out of view about 300 ft. below and across from us. A decision was made to not continue lowering the victim until a rescue team got a proper litter to us, the concern was to avoid moving him further since he may have had a neck or spine injury. We took his vitals a few times and provided TLC-encouragement. The victim "Read" stable with regular and strong distal heart beats fo ~54. His breathing was a little irregular but at a normal 15/min. He was clearly at a very low level of consciousness, not responsive to voice, but only pain stimuli (a bad sign!). he was moaning occassionally and clearing his throat. He was having bouts of shivering...generally good, not shivering is worse! I tried to keep him warm rubbing his legs and sitting next to him (Tom was rubbing his arms and upper body).

To assist fast transport of first the rescue team and second the victim's lowering, we had other descending rope teams make a line of fixed ropes (Human anchored) down the slope toward the helicopter. A while past before we sent someone to see if the rescuers were coming up with a litter. Apparently the rescue team were not climbers and were not coming up. I think they had sent a portable litter and radio up with someone else since it did not take long for the guy we sent to return with the goods. We loaded the victim onto the plastic, slip-n-slide, cocoon litter. With the line of ropes down to the helicopter, it did not take long (45 min?) to get the victim down to the helicopter. It was pretty difficult work. I was trying to support his head, mostly by ensuring that I kept the head end high so it didn't roll down slope. My back was pretty sore until I thought to tie a prussic loop to a hole in the litter so I could stand up more. Plunge stepping en-mass down a steep snow slope, essentially breaking the victim's weight is quite a challenge. At one point in the descent, the person in front of me slipped and fell on top of the victims head!!! Not a good scene!!! I hate to say that I think the victims response and condition appeared even worse after this fall, he seemed to slip deeper into unconsciousness... no groaning, and possibly weaker breathing. We did not re-check vitals since we were not too far away from the helicopter.

We loaded him into the helicopter which, after taking an initial check and securing him, took off. We collected our used rescue gear from a large gear pool on the rocks. The victim's party was camped close to our camp, so we helped share his gear load for the trail back down to the trail head.

The news report below claims that 28 climbers helped with the rescue. I never counted everyone, but it seems like a really good estimate of the number of people on the Sloan glacier that day. All 28 deserve credit and thanks for their help in setting the fixed lines and a path to the helicopter and sharing gear; though for clarification, there were a total of about 10-12 people directly involved with the rescue: crevasse rescue, first aid, anchor prep and removal and litter/victim transport.

Earlier, before the climb, we were 'surprised and disappointed' at how many people were there this weekend (somewhat crowded). Now it seems like a fortunate outcome.

I guess you dont become experienced without experiences like these!

rescue image
Impressive landing anyway...


News Brief:


DARRINGTON -- A 60-year-old man suffered a serious head injury and hypothermia Sunday after falling 20 to 30 feet onto snow and rocks while climbing Sloan Glacier, several miles off of the Mountain Loop Highway southeast of Darrington.

The victim, William Leber, had been climbing the glacier about 10 a.m. when he slipped and fell, said Snohomish County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen. The sheriff's office helicopter couldn't reach the victim because of fog and clouds, so the 28 other climbers in the area had to lower him on a stretcher by rope to a safe landing spot.

The sheriff's office helicopter took the victim off the mountain and then transferred him to an Airlift Northwest helicopter, which transported him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

"They brought him down, but it was extremely difficult," Jorgensen said. "Our search and rescue people really credit the mountaineers for the work they did."

Leber, whose hometown was not listed by the sheriff's office, was in serious condition Sunday night at Harborview.


---------- An Update -------

A couple days after the accident, I called the hospital and spoke with Mrs Weber, and Thom had direct contact with the Leber family. Bill Leber had sustained a serious skull fracture and fractured hip - actually breaking the femur off at the ball joint! He had been taken off the respirator on Tuesday as he had begun breathing on his own. All signs of improvement were good, though there was still serious concern with the head injury and cranial pressure.

It is hard to describe how I feel about this incident. Its strange since this is someone I dont even know but somehow feel a strong connection and hope that he does well!

-------- Final update ------

Sept. 8 '98 I have been informed by a fellow climber who indirectly knew the Weber family that Bill passed away a couple weeks ago. This apparently occured during surgery on his hip fracture. Bill incurred severe bleeding and an aneurism. Apparently he was recovering slowly but surely from his other injuries.

Sadly, sickly, G.

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Last updated: 15 Oct 1998
Copyright © 1998 Gordon Schryer.