Fallen Climber at Spray Falls – Mission Report

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TMRU Mission Report September 20, 2013

Friday afternoon the call came in for assistance in rescuing a fallen climber at Spray Falls in Mount Rainier National Park.  Mark and Roger diverted from their trip to Blewett Pass.  Fran and Jeff picked up the Unit Truck, while Tim and Tyler headed out in their own rig.  Communication and some initial planning between the team members was made possible via a nearby amateur radio repeater.  As he was the first to arrive at Mowich Lake, Mark became the Strike Team Leader (STL).

Mark and Roger reached Mowich Lake around 6:00 pm and found the Park ranger designated to remain at the trail head.   This Park ranger conveyed what sparse information was available; that one female hiker had taken a serious fall near Spray Falls and that another Park ranger was on scene assisting her at that moment.  He also shared that some rescue equipment was already on its way down the trail in the hands of other Park staff but was unable to provide a complete list of what all that included. While Mark and Roger got their personal gear together, the rest of the team arrived.

The TMRU team moved quickly down the trail, meeting several people along the way who were familiar with the accident scene/area.  Additional information was gathered from them and while many offered assistance, due to lack of needed experience, it was suggested that they all return to the trail head and wait to help when requested.  It was approximately 2.3 miles to the junction of a spur trail leading to the vicinity of the accident scene.

The subject had fallen while climbing on the rocks around the falls.  Wearing only flip-flops on the slimy rocks she had lost her balance and fell 10-15 feet; luckily sticking on a very narrow downward sloping ledge.  Her injuries included broken ribs, face lacerations, and a shattered knee.  Through all the pain she was able to be coherent and carry on a conversation with the rescue team. The subject had fallen at about 2:00 PM and had been in the precarious position sprayed by the falls for over 6 hours. Park rangers had done a good job of securing her and providing her with additional clothing to stay warm.

A very complex and technical rescue ensued when the team got on site.

Just getting up the slope around the falls was difficult as it was extremely steep, wet, and wooded. An anchor was established above the subject and she was packaged on a litter. This was obviously the most painful part of the rescue for the patient and she let everyone know it. Using this upper anchor she was moved over a slight raise and then laterally over to a flatter and drier location.  At that location, the subject was moved out of the litter for a moment while a full body vacuum splint was put inside the litter to better stabilize her and then she was lowered back into the litter.  Air was then evacuated from the body splint and the subject was much more stable.

While this first lower and packaging of the subject was occurring, a second lowering system was established down lower.  This one included another steep lateral traverse over to the top of a downward slope. These first 2 lowers got the subject off the high angle rock, but the second lower system was needed to safely move down less steep but still very dangerous rocky terrain

The last section included input from the Park ranger who had developed a series of systems for evacuating the subject before TMRU ever arrived.  But, he wanted to defer to our team as we had the complete resources and experience to pull off a system of our own.  This cooperative effort showed a strong example of both Park and TMRU resources working together. A single line friction system involving a huge tree was implemented and the litter team assisted the litter on a slow progression down the hill while Jeff monitored the other end of the rope to provide a controlled and steady but efficient descent to the trail.

All those still up the hill, including several Park rangers and TMRU members, were responsible for cleaning all gear and bringing it down to the trail.  Total time from arriving at the base of the accident site to the point where the litter was starting to move down the trail was nearly 6 hours.  The litter started moving down the trail toward the trail head using the wheel at approximately 2:00 am Saturday morning.

The route down the trail was rough but manageable.  Several very narrow bridge crossings required extremely careful movement as there was only room for one person at either end of the litter while a slip would have meant falling  several feet to the rushing creek underneath.  As the night wore on, several other parties began to meet us on the trail and join in on the rigorous effort of lifting and maneuvering the litter down the trail.  TMRU member Rick was one of those late arriving but fresh resources.

The litter arrived safely at the trail head around 5:30 am and the subject remained in the litter while it was moved into the back of the TMRU truck.  Here, further warming and other aid were provided.  The medic unit arrived approximately 30 minutes later.  The subject was transferred to their stretcher and transported to HarborView Medical Center (per the subject’s request).

TMRU and Park staff completed a debrief and Unit members then either went to sleep in the truck, drove a short distance then pulled over to get some sleep, or made the drive home.  The mission was completed at approximately 6:30 am Saturday morning.

Despite the complexity of the rescue and extremely dangerous terrain, there were no injuries reported by or to any Unit members.

Following the mission, it was amazing to see the immediate financial support we received from several friends of the victim. We sincerely thank them for their generosity.

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