Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Washington Outdoors Report 28

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Playing it Safe Outdoors

The wilderness and waters here in Washington offer a wonderful playground for outdoors recreation but far too many people underestimate the dangers out there, turning a fun day of enjoying nature into a crisis or tragedy.

In the past month there have been three accidents in Central Washington leading to deaths in each instance. Could some of them have been prevented? There is reason to believe so and sometimes, it really comes down to playing it safe and knowing your limitations before you put yourself into a situation you can’t get out of. Here is a rundown of these recent incidents.

Climbing Accident - July 4 - Icicle Buttress near Leavenworth

A 44-year-old man from Vancouver, Washington was climbing with a female partner when they were caught in a sudden, violent rainstorm. The two attempted to descend the rocky face but the male climber fell some 100 feet and died from the injuries he sustained when he did. Sergeant Jason Reinfeld is in charge of Emergency Management and Search and Rescue Operations for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office. He speculated the two climbers didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the storm. Reinfeld also said it appeared a rope anchor appeared to have popped out of the rocks as the victim descended, leading to the fall.

Kayak Accident - June 28 - Lake Chelan

An 18-year-old Redmond man launched his kayak from Twenty-Five-Mile State Park around 10:30 a.m. while vacationing with his family. He was last seen a few miles up lake from the park. His family alerted authorities when he did not return. Chelan County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to the scene and searched by boat and air but could not locate the kayaker, who was diabetic. They did however, find his kayak. When they did, Sergeant Reinfeld said they found he had not taken his insulin medication with him and he was not wearing his life jacket, which was left in the boat. The young man has not been located.

Kayak Accident - June 25 - Little Wenatchee River

Two experienced kayakers put in at a bridge crossing on the Little Wenatchee River. Where they put in was relatively calm but two hundred yards downstream around a corner there was a severe set of rapids and a waterfall. Both kayakers were thrown out of their kayaks. One of the men made it to shore, the other, a 41-year-old man from Des Moines, lost his life jacket and was swept over the waterfall. As of July 6, his body has not been recovered due to high flowing waters.

Sergeant Reinfeld talked about the importance of knowing the river in detail that you are going to paddle. He said this set of rapids and waterfall was not visible from the road and he does not know if they scouted the whitewater from the bank before entering it or if they entered it blind. It is always a good practice to scout rapids ahead to determine if they are passable and to formulate a plan to navigate them.

Asked about other water safety issues unrelated to this incident, Sergeant Reinfeld stressed the importance of always wearing a life jacket while in a watercraft. He also said that while being tethered to a Stand-Up-Paddleboard is a good idea on a lake it might not be on a river if the tether or paddleboard gets hung up on a snag or structure.

Alpine Lakes/ Enchantments Rescues

While I was on the phone with Sergeant Reinfeld, he was coordinating a rescue mission in the Enchantments portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. A hiker had slipped on snow and slid into a tree. The hiker was unable to move and with the weather in the area bad, a ground team was hiking in with supplies to help them weather the night (the day hikers had none) until a helicopter could reach them the next day.

Reinfeld said the first year of the Covid pandemic was a record year for search and rescues and they remain very busy. He explained that almost all of those who needed to be rescued in the mountains or woods underestimated their skills, their level of fitness, and the time they needed to do the hike they were on (especially in the Enchantments). Many of them did not research the conditions in advance through websites like the Washington Trail Association’s Trip Reports page and were not aware of how fast the weather can change in the Cascades.

As far as parting tips go, Reinfeld said it’s always good to have a way to communicate besides a cell phone. Both Spot and Garmin make portable devices you can take with you that operate off a satellite. If you get into trouble, you can simply text the nearest 911 call center and ask for help. Sergeant Reinfeld also said hikers should be prepared to spend the night in the woods if things go wrong with the appropriate clothing and survival supplies and to always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Consider these lessons learned on the water and in the high country.

John Kruse, Outdoors Report, water safety, E28

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