Four found safe after cold night in Mount Baker wilderness

A member of the U.S. Navy's search and rescue helicopter crew assists one of the missing climbers Monday morning at the summit of Mount Baker.
A member of the U.S. Navy's search and rescue helicopter crew assists one of the missing climbers Monday morning at the summit of Mount Baker. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Four members of a Boy Scouts climbing party were found safe about 9:30 a.m. Monday after a freezing night in a cave near the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker, officials said.

A man, a woman and two 13-year-old Scouts were in serious condition with severe hypothermia Monday afternoon at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, and were later transferred to another hospital out of the area, according to hospital spokeswoman Hilary Andrade.

She declined to say more, citing patient privacy issues.

Teams from the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council, Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's Search Trauma and Rescue team, and a search and rescue helicopter crew from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station all participated in the overnight search.

"Success! Four people now safe, warm and being cared for at St. Joseph hospital," Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council tweeted Monday afternoon.

All four climbers were plucked by the Navy helicopter from a site near the summit of the 10,781-foot volcano, said Deputy Mark Jilk, who helps manage search and rescue operations for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.

"It was cold and snowy up there," Jilk said by text message from the scene.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said the four people were part of a Scout troop from Seattle that was camping in the Mount Baker wilderness southeast of the mountain village of Glacier, up Glacier Creek Road.

"The rescued hikers reported that they had spent the night in a cave near North Dome," Elfo said. "The four hikers were not injured, but were transported to St. Joseph hospital to be treated for severe hypothermia."

A call to the Scouts' Chief Seattle Council wasn't immediately returned Monday.

A Navy official said details of the rescue weren't immediately available because the helicopter team was still debriefing and writing reports Monday afternoon.

Elfo said the Scouts were reported missing Sunday when they were overdue after an attempted summit of Mount Baker.

He said the search started Sunday afternoon and continued into the night.

Jilk said the four were attempting to summit Mount Baker on its north face.

"They were on the Coleman-Deming Route," Jilk said. He said the climbers had minimal experience.

According to The Mountaineers, a Seattle nonprofit climbing group, the Coleman-Deming Route is a moderate approach that starts from the Heliotrope Ridge hiking trail east of Glacier.

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A member of the U.S. Navy's search and rescue helicopter crew, seen through the front window of the Navy helicopter, assists the missing climbers Monday morning at the summit of Mount Baker. U.S. Navy Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

It gains 7,000 feet of elevation in 5.5 miles as it crosses crevasse-strewn glaciers toward the mountain's iconic Roman Wall.

Weather at the 5,000-foot level Sunday was rainy with temperatures in the 40s during the day and in the low 30s at night, said meteorologist Danny Mercer at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Mercer said it would have been colder at higher elevations, with snow possible.

With the worst of winter past at higher elevations, April and May is when many climbers start their ascents in the North Cascades, said Bill Ashby of The Mountaineers.

He said the Coleman-Deming route is favored among novice and less experienced mountaineers.

Ashby said dangers such as deep crevasses or snow bridges are less serious in early spring than they are in July and August, as snow begins to melt.

For the rescuers, hiking to the summit is about a 12-hour effort carrying heavy gear.

Elfo said rescue teams used the Boulder Route that starts above Baker Lake on the volcano's eastern flank.

It was the third incident in the Mount Baker wilderness in as many weeks.

A woman was rescued in a technical rope operation at Racehorse Falls over the Memorial Day weekend and Liam MacDonald, a 19-year-old Western Washington University student from Seattle, died in a May 19 fall near the Skyline Divide Trail.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty