Joined: 26 Oct 2007
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Location: on the beach
The recent rescue of hikers stranded in the Three Fingers Lookout in blizzard conditions brought to mind a similar rescue years ago.
The winter of 1976-77 was much like that of 2014-15 with very little snow before February. Most of the trails in the Cascades were open and climbers were going up routes on Presidents Day Weekend that normally would only be accessible in the summer. On Friday, February 19, four teenagers - Mark Christianson, Dave Johnson, Kevin Riddle, and Chuck Carpenter, decided to hike in and spend the weekend in the Three Fingers Lookout (6,850 ft). I went up Mt Persis that Saturday and experienced a warm breeze and no snow on the summit (5,464 ft). The weather forecast was ambiguous, with a change predicted toward the worse on Monday.
In the middle of the day on Monday, February 21 the weather changed dramatically with 30 mph winds at Seatac and rain moving in. On Monday night, Everett Mountain Rescue was called out when the hikers didn't return. Chuck Carpenter was the son of the founder of Everett Mountain Rescue so we had a personal stake in this operation.
We reached Tupso Pass in our truck around 11 pm with a team of 5 or 6. The ground was relatively bare but it was snowing heavily and starting to accumulate. We grabbed our gear and started off in the darkness. By the time we reached Saddle Lake, a little over 2 miles in, we were in 6 inches of snow and visibility was zero with ground fog. We decided to spend a couple of hours in the Saddle Lake shelter to rest and discuss options. At about 3 am we tried to find our way ahead and when we got out of the lake basin the fog disappeared. It was still snowing heavily and we were in total darkness but we could see enough with our headlamps to grope our way up the trail.
As we approached Goat Flats and got out in the open, we were experiencing heavy wind and drifts up to 3 feet, making progress very slow. We arrived at the Goat Flats shelter (4 miles) in daylight. The team was exhausted but Greg Thompson and I had enough energy to keep going so we left the rest of our team at the shelter.
Greg and I proceeded up the ridge and the long traverse over to Baldy Creek Basin with fairly good visibility but when we rounded the corner to head up to Tin Can Gap, we were engulfed in a total whiteout. We decided to rope up and I set up some compass headings to get to the Gap. Before we rounded the corner into the basin, I radioed our situation back to base before we lost all line-of-sight for communications.
It was very tedious traversing the basin but we made it to the last slope to head to the Gap when I encountered a fresh avalanche track in front of us. We heard several avalanches but couldn't see anything so we decided to turn back. I radioed back to base and all they could catch of my transmission was "avalanche".
After we turned around, we saw that our tracks had been wiped clean by several avalanches that had just missed us. We ran on adrenaline to get out of that basin. I heard later that several tense hours went by when base was trying to reach me but we were out of range and had almost-dead batteries. It wasn't until we were back at Goat Flats that someone else called down that Greg and I were okay. The Sheriff informed us that it was snowing so hard at Tupso Pass that they had to move the base camp several miles down the road to Green Mountain.
We spent an uncomfortable night without sleeping bags at the small shelter and the County called Seattle and Tacoma Mountain Rescue units for assistance, with them arriving at base around 8 am.. The weather started to clear and the County was able to get our helo in the air around 9 am. When they reached the mountain, they spotted the hikers descending from the lookout and directed them to a spot where Firewood One, the Whidbey helo, could hoist them out at about noon on the 23rd. Our team walked out to the trailhead where our truck remained. When we got to base camp, we were informed that a news reporter had just left and drove off a cliff a quarter mile below base camp, dying at the scene, and had to be raised from the wreck.
Seattle Times 2/22/77
Seattle Time 2/23/77
Seattle Times 2/24/77
The Herald 2/23/77
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