Skier rescued after nearly 24 hours in Mount Baker wilderness

Mount Baker overlooking Bellingham, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.
Mount Baker overlooking Bellingham, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. The Bellingham Herald

A Seattle backcountry expert is lucky to be alive after members of Bellingham Mountain Rescue found him in a remote area of the Mount Baker wilderness Sunday.

Dave Drulard, 46, had been missing for 21 hours when he was found about noon Sunday near Barometer Mountain by two members of a Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council search and rescue team who coincidentally were training nearby.

“I’ve been hit with physically demanding situations before, but nothing comes close to this,” Drulard said by phone Monday from his home in Seattle, where he was recuperating from the ordeal. “When I met with the SAR guys, I was pretty much at the end.”

Three people are missing and presumed dead this winter after they disappeared in the same general location near Heather Meadows.

Duncan Howatt, president and general manager of Mt. Baker Ski Area, said employees searched for Drulard well past darkness Saturday, using people on skis, snowmobiles and Sno-Cat tractors.

They lighted the mountainside with flares but stopped searching about 8:30 p.m.

Howatt said Drulard’s wife notified the ski area about 5 p.m. Saturday, when her husband didn’t return from what was supposed to be a short trip through new powder at Heather Meadows. He left a little before 3 p.m., in the direction of Table Mountain and Herman Saddle, but didn’t say exactly where he was headed.

Drulard, his wife and their two small children had spent the day at the ski area. Drulard’s wife and children parked their small overnight trailer at the upper Heather Meadows lot as they waited for word about Drulard’s fate.

In describing his survival story, Drulard acknowledged he broke several rules of backcountry travel and said he hopes other wilderness enthusiasts can learn from his errors.

He wasn’t familiar with the terrain, he didn’t tell his wife exactly where he was going and took a solo trip despite dangerous avalanche conditions.

“I’m doing surprisingly well, considering,” Drulard said. “It’s pretty embarrassing, putting other people’s lives in danger because of my mistakes. I hope people can use this to rethink the basic aspects.”

Drulard, a sales representative for the outdoors equipment manufacturer Patagonia, spent a frigid Saturday night on the slopes and was nearing physical exhaustion when he was found.

He’d fallen through a snow bridge into a stream – soaking his clothes up to his shoulders – and forced himself to keep moving to stay warm.

Every time he stopped to rest, Drulard said he felt his body growing colder and he feared that even a nap would prove fatal.

According to weather information archived at the Northwest Avalanche Center, some 14 inches of new snow fell Saturday and temperatures hovered in the low to mid-20s. NWAC officials issued an avalanche warning for the region because of unstable snow conditions.

“That group of volunteers just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Whatcom County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Jilk, part of a team that coordinates backcountry SAR efforts.

“(Drulard) was going the wrong way and had no idea where he was,” Jilk said. “(He’s) very lucky. And like like every other one of these situations this season, (he) violated some very basic rules. No partner. And (he) didn’t tell anyone where he was going.”

Howatt said Drulard likely would be charged for the ski area’s search expenses, about $3,000.

Whatcom County officials and SAR volunteers don’t bill victims for their search efforts.

“It’s such an eye-opener,” said Drulard, who’s been skiing most of his life and was sponsored in professional events.

“These safety processes just don’t change. The consequences are the same when you make a big mistake. That’s where I hope I can help people,” he said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty