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Date: 28 May 2005
Location: Logan, Mount (5959 m) - St. Elias Mountains
Province: Yukon Territory
Park or Region: Kluane National Park Reserve
Topo Map: 115 C/9 McArthur Peak; 115 C/10 King Peak
Route: King Trench
Persons Killed: 0
Persons Injured: 3
Type of Injuries: frostbite
Mt. Logan Massif
Photo by: Jeremy Frimer
Description: ANCHORAGE (CP) — A North Vancouver firefighter may lose fingers to frostbite after he and two other men survived a ferocious storm near the peak Mount Logan in southwest Yukon – Canada’s highest mountain. The three experienced mountaineers, all veteran members of the North Shore Search and Rescue team, were slinged to safety by helicopter on Saturday after being trapped at 5,500 metres on Prospectors Col, which forms part of Logan’s King Trench route. During their 48-hour ordeal, temperatures dropped to -30 C. ‘We’re lucky the storm ended when it did or it would have been a different outcome,’’ building contractor Don Jardine, 51, said from his hospital bed in Anchorage. Officials with Kluane National Park received the alert of a climbing team in trouble at 9:35 Friday morning, through radio contact with another team who’d been in touch by radio with the troubled climbers. Altogether, 24 personnel from the Kluane park and Alaska took part in the operation, involving five helicopters, including a high-altitude Llama provided by the Denali National Park that was used to short-line Jardine and his two colleagues off the mountain. Park warden Terry Skjonsberg said the Llama made three trips to the 5,500-metre elavation. Each time, it hovered above the pick-up location while the three climbers took turns securing themselves in the harness for the 10 to 15 minute flight off the mountain, dangling 30 metres below the chopper. The three men were flown to a base camp at confluence of the Ogilvie and Logan glaciers, at the 1,830-metre elevation. They were then transported by a large Pavehawk helicopter to Anchorage. Officials with Kluane explained today the decision to send the three to Anchorage was based on the abundance of experience the Anchorage Hospital has in treating frostbite, and the Pavehawk was going that way to begin with. Such was the ferociousness of the storm that not all of the three who remained trapped on Prospector’s Col were convinced everything would be OK in the end. As more than 100 kilometre-an-hour winds raged and more than a metre of snow fell on the shivering trio, Jardine wrote a note to his family. He said he wanted to say goodbye to his wife, Jane, daughter, Kate, 20, and son, Jeff, 18, to tell them he thought ‘‘the world of them.’’ Jardine set out May 7 for Mount Logan’s summit along with six others from B.C. It began well. Barry Mason made the 5,959-metre peak and three others topped the secondary summit. It wasn’t until the descent, when Jardine and two others were surmounting an exposed ridge last Wednesday evening, that the storm struck. ‘‘We were in the worst place you could be when it hit,’’ Jardine said. ‘‘You couldn’t see a thing. It was just coming at you from everywhere.’’ Jardine, along with 40-year-old North Vancouver firefighter Erik Bjarnason and 45-year-old ambulance paramedic Alex Snigurowicz, put up their tent and secured it with ice screws. Snigurowicz said he would likely spend three more days in hospital. Unlike Jardine, Snigurowicz was confident the three would be rescued because they were prepared with radio equipment. ‘‘At the worst, I thought we’d just lose some toes or something like that but for me it’s OK and so is it for Don but Eric’s hands are a bit of a problem,’’ he said. A hospital spokesperson could not confirm whether Bjarnason would lose some of his fingers. Roaring blasts of wind pummeled the tent all night, at times so powerfully that the 175-pound Jardine, sitting by the tent’s edge, was lifted right up. Bjarnason lost his overmitts leaving his hands exposed for the three days. When the storm began tearing the tent apart around noon last Thursday, Jardine and Snigurowicz left the shelter to dig a snow cave. Bjarnason, his already-frostbitten fingers of no use in digging, remained inside.
Without the weight of the two other men, the tent flipped — despite Bjarnason’s 240 pounds. His companions hauled him out and the wind sucked the tent away, along with a sleeping bag, both shovels, their stove and a pack. With Bjarnason wrapped in his sleeping bag and propped on skis and a foam pad in a rock niche, Jardine and Snigurowicz spent six hours digging and scraping with a pot lid and ice axe to make the cave. ‘‘When your life depends on it, you just work as hard as you can,’’ Jardine said. Kluane park spokeswoman Rhonda Markel said a team of two climbers went to the assistance of the three and were able to assist with providing shelter and reassurance. They provided crucial assistance at a crucial time, Markel emphasized. The two are currently descending the mountain. Markel said there are 16 groups involving 42 climbers on Mount Logan right now. The search and rescue expenses are not billed back to the climbers, and the cost of the rescue will be paid by the federal government, she said. The climbers’ plight attracted media interest across Canada over the weekend. UPDATE The three experienced climbers, themselves are part of a search-rescue team in North Vancouver B.C., were trapped at the 5,500-metre level of the mountain, about 500 metres from the summit. The three men were flown to a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska where they were treated for frostbite. Markel said they were in "fair condition." One of the climbers, Erik Bjarnason, suffered the worst case of frostbite on his hands. He said the trio lost some of their gear when their tent blew away in the violent storm. "I could only grab so much stuff out of the tent before it went over the cliff. And one of the things I failed to grab was my overmitts so I had my hands exposed for most of the time," he said, adding he was without the gloves for three days. "It was just one of those things you knew was going to get ugly," he said." We had the tent tied in with ice screws and you could hear the fabric start to rip and once the tent was gone, I thought we were gone." Climber Alex Snigurowicz said once their tent was shredded, he started to build a snow cave. "We just huddled together in a snow cave and that helped keep ourselves warm and if you can't stay warm, you're gonna die," he said. Markel credited the climbers' preparedness for saving their lives. "They were experienced climbers but there are risks and hazards out there," she said. "We all had radios between us so we could notify them of the problem and tell them what to do and that's what got the ball rolling," said Snigurowicz. Friday afternoon, two other climbers reached the trapped climbers and provided them with a tent until they were rescued. Park officials said those climbers were crucial to the success of the rescue. They were to make their descent on Saturday. Mt. Logan is located in Kluane National Park, west of Whitehorse. UPDATE: Jane Seyd "THROUGHOUT the long night that Alex Snigurowicz spent huddled in a snow cave at 5,500 metres (18,000 feet), waiting for the sun to return and the weather to break, he never doubted that he and his two fellow North Shore mountaineers would make it out alive. "I knew (death) was not going to happen to me," said Snigurowicz, 45, a member of the North Shore Rescue team and emergency paramedic. "I had no intention of dying on the mountain." Snigurowicz, of North Vancouver, said he refused to give up hope. "If you have doubts you start compromising yourself." He also knew the situation was serious. The three men - Snigurowicz and fellow North Shore Rescue members Don Jardine, 51, and Erik Bjarnason, 41 - lay squished together in a tiny snow cave on an exposed ridge of Mount Logan, sheltered from the 100 km/h winds that whipped a blizzard through temperatures of below -30 C outside. Their tent was gone, along with two of their three sleeping bags that had been blown off the mountain by the storm. The temperature was dropping. Between them, the three men huddled on two Therm-A-Rest sleeping pads with one sleeping bag between them. Bjarnason had also lost his gloves and his hands were already badly frostbitten. All three knew that "time is flesh," said Snigurowicz. "Every 15 minutes Erik would ask me, 'What time is it?' " said Snigurowicz. "That's how long the night was." At one point, Jardine got out of the snow cave, saying he was going to see if the weather was better. Snigurowicz said for what seemed like hours he listened to Jardine's footsteps pacing back and forth in the snow outside. "I think he was thinking of the end and he just didn't want to be in there (in the snow cave). He was walking around outside trying to make his peace. He wasn't sure he was going to make it out alive." Snigurowicz said he eventually called out to Jardine and convinced him to come back inside the shelter. At dawn on Friday, the sun rose and the storm broke, allowing the trapped climbers to call for help on their radio to fellow team member Gordon Ferguson, who had a satellite phone. The North Shore climbers were lucky. Through the combined actions of their fellow North Shore Rescue team members, the Canadian and U.S. parks services and U.S Air National Guard, they were rescued by helicopter from the mountain around midnight Friday and were flown to hospital in Anchorage, Ala. Speaking by phone from his hospital bed on Monday, Snigurowicz said he was not sure why he knew he was going to make it: "Faith, experience . . . ignorance of reality. . . ." He said as a longtime member of the North Shore Rescue team "in all my life I never expected to have to be rescued." But he added: "I also believe in karma. What goes around comes around. And in this case, it certainly did." For North Shore Rescue team members at home, the rescue of the mountaineers late Friday ended a day of drama and worry. It was Friday morning when North Shore Rescue search manager Tim Jones received a frantic call from Ferguson on the satellite phone telling him of the dire situation. Ferguson told him the condition of the three trapped climbers was critical. "It's a hard role to be in," said North Shore Rescue team leader Bridget Milsom, who with Jones flew to Alaska on the weekend to be with the rescued climbers: North Shore Rescue members are used to leading rescues, not needing to be rescued, she said. All three climbers received severe frostbite to their fingers and toes while they were trapped on the mountain. Bjarnason, a North Vancouver City firefighter, will likely have to have either some or all of his fingers amputated. Snigurowicz said he doesn't expect to lose any of his fingers or toes, but it could take up to six weeks for the three men to get the final verdict, after their bodies have time to heal. The three rescued climbers were part of an eight-member team from North Shore Rescue, who were climbing Mount Logan in the Yukon - Canada's highest peak at 5,959 metres (19,550 feet) - to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the rescue organization. All are experienced mountain climbers, who planned to take a month to complete their expedition. Climbing conditions are good in May because there are relatively few crevasses at that time of year. In the early part of their trip, the weather varied between storms and brilliant sunshine. One of the team members - Barry Mason - made it to the summit of Mount Logan. The others made it to secondary peaks, 40 metres (131 feet) lower, before deciding to turn around, partly because of the ferocious winds the climbers were battling. Snigurowicz, Jardine and Bjarnason had started to head down last Wednesday from the camp at about 5,900 metres (19,400 feet) and were climbing across an exposed ridge when the weather started to change unexpectedly. "We could see it from a distance," said Snigurowicz. Quickly, the situation got exponentially worse, with driving snow and whiteout conditions. Unable to see more than a metre in front of them, the three men pitched a tent and anchored it down with ice screws. They spent the rest of that day and night being buffeted by wind, wondering if the tent would hold. Frostbite was already setting into Bjarnason's hands, causing enormous blisters, so Jardine and Snigurowicz decided while the storm continued that they should dig a snow cave, in case something happened to the tent. Snigurowicz said he was in the entrance to the tent, putting on his crampons and Jardine was already outside when the wind started lifting the tent with Bjarnason still inside it. "I was trying to push it back," he said, ". . . but I just couldn't keep the tent down anymore." As Bjarnason ran outside with his sleeping bag and Therm-A-Rest, "the whole thing just took off," said Snigurowicz, along with their camp stove and Bjarnason's gloves. "It didn't look good," said Snigurowicz. Having also lost their shovels, he and Jardine spent the next five hours digging the snow cave with a snow saw, ice axes and pot lids. After a night in the snow cave, Snigurowicz said the effects of hypothermia were setting in. "I was saying stupid things," he said - like asking Jardine to get him a can of Pepsi from "the embassy" - the nickname the rescue team members use for their headquarters in the North Vancouver City works yard. When Jardine responded with a joke, Snigurowicz said he got frustrated and tried to reach the imaginary Pepsi stash himself, but soon discovered "I couldn't find my way." Luckily for the three climbers, after Jardine made the call for emergency help, Ferguson skied down with a tent and supplies to help warm them up while they waited for the break in the weather that would allow the rescue helicopter to fly. When it finally arrived - a special Lama helicopter from the United States used for flying at high altitudes - the men climbed one at a time into a mesh basket suspended from the chopper and were flown down 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) to a staging area at the back of Mount Logan. Dangling from the helicopter, Snigurowicz flew for 15 minutes with "nothing but glaciers whizzing by." Despite their mountain ordeal, Snigurowicz said he couldn't help but be stunned by the scenery. "The country is so beautiful," he said. That appeal will probably keep him climbing, he said. But he added, "I'm going to have to be a lot more careful."
Analysis: “The group was very well experienced, and they were well prepared,” she said of the rescue workers from the North Shore. “It is just when you are in an environment like Mount Logan, there is a lot of inherent risk.”
Rescue Mode: helicopter
Source: Whitehorse Daily Star, Chuck Tobin, Jane Seyd, North Shore News
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