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Firefighters pluck hiker from ledge at remote waterfall

Racehorse Falls cascades over a series of rock ledges near the popular Racehorse Creek, which is in a steep gorge in the Mount Baker foothills.
Racehorse Falls cascades over a series of rock ledges near the popular Racehorse Creek, which is in a steep gorge in the Mount Baker foothills. rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

An injured hiker was rescued late Wednesday in a difficult rope rescue operation on a cliff face at remote Racehorse Falls, fire officials said.

“This was straight down, vertical,” about 40 to 50 feet, said Chief Jerry DeBruin of Whatcom County Fire District 14.

DeBruin said the man, who was 20 to 30 years old, fell about halfway down and landed on a ledge, injuring his shoulder and possibly his chest.

Details about the victim’s injuries were withheld because of medical privacy laws, but DeBruin said the man wasn’t critically hurt. He was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph hospital about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

Racehorse Falls is a 139-foot fan-type waterfall in a steep, narrow gorge carved by Racehorse Creek, according to the website Aaron’s Waterfall World. The falls plunge in a series of steps to a deep pool.

It’s located north of Mosquito Lake Road, off the upper reaches of North Fork Road, where the paved road becomes a dirt logging route. No cell phone service is available at the falls.

DeBruin said the man and a woman were traveling on a motorcycle and hiked to the falls Wednesday afternoon.

“They just got too close to the edge, he did, and he fell 40 to 50 feet,” DeBruin said.

Nearby campers tried to raise the man to safety, but his companion finally hiked to where she could call 911 about 9:30 p.m., DeBruin said.

Volunteer firefighters from Kendall, Sumas and Welcome assembled rope rescue gear, joined by volunteer firefighters from District 19 in Glacier, DeBruin said, adding a rescue helicopter from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was sent, but its crew returned to their base because a ground-based operation was already in progress. The falls is in a narrow canyon surrounded by tall trees.

“The biggest challenge was getting set up,” DeBruin said. “We got one guy over the edge quickly to provide care and wrap (the patient) in blankets. He was cold.”

Firefighters brought a portable LED floodlight, but mostly worked with flashlights and headlamps, DeBruin said.

“You’re in the dark on the edge of a cliff. It’s steep terrain. There’s a lot of challenges,” DeBruin said.

DeBruin said the man was placed in a vacuum splint to immobilize his spine and limbs, then raised in a Stokes basket and carried down a trail to an ambulance.

In July 2016, a man was seriously hurt when he slipped at the top of the falls and sailed over the edge to the pool at the bottom.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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