Helicopter crew rescues climbers stranded in Mount Baker whiteout

View of Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker, June 28, 2015.
View of Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker, June 28, 2015. chutton@bhamherald.com

A Navy helicopter crew rescued two climbers who had been stranded for more than a day in a fierce storm near the summit of Mount Baker on Friday, July 22, Whatcom County Sheriff’s officials said Monday, July 25.

Undersheriff Jeff Parks said the rescue attempt began about 7 a.m. Friday with a call from friends of the climbers, who received a text message about their situation. The climbers were a 22-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man, both from Knoxville, Tenn.

“The two experienced climbers reported being lost, dehydrated and becoming hypothermic,” according to a statement from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. “They were stranded for 28 hours and in a whiteout with strong winds. Climbers contacted friends by cell and text and messages relayed from contact in Bend, Oregon, and then eventually to What-Comm dispatch.”

A sheriff’s search and rescue team member coordinated the operation with Bellingham Mountain Rescue, a volunteer group, and with Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which sent a helicopter.

Parks described the climbers as experienced mountaineers who got lost during their ascent and then were trapped by severe weather on the snow-covered 10,781-foot volcano.

They were using the North Ridge Route, an approach that is described in various alpine guides as an easy to moderate technical climb across the Coleman and Deming glaciers, which harbor deep crevasses. It is accessed via the Heliotrope Ridge Trail off the Mount Baker Highway east of Glacier and is among the volcano’s more popular mountaineering routes.

Adverse conditions prevented a rescue attempt until 5:40 p.m. Friday, when rescuers signaled a break in the weather at 9,500 feet. Both climbers and the rescue team were flown at 8:36 p.m., sheriff’s officials said.

Neither climber required medical aid. A sheriff’s deputy drove them to their car at the trailhead the next day.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @bhamMitty