Early on Sept. 1, three Canadians climbing Mount Rainier fell about 30 feet into a crevasse on Emmons Glacier, seriously injuring two of them.
About 40 rangers helped with Mount Rainier National Park’s first short-haul rescue to save the trio. The technique involves the injured climber dangling below a helicopter to be lifted away.
Cooper Self, a 33-year-old climbing ranger who has worked at Mount Rainier for roughly eight years, was part of the team that went into the crevasse and attached the climbers to the helicopter line so they could be flown to safety.
Question: Walk me through the rescue.
Answer: We got the call about 4 in the morning. We had to spend time getting a plan together, a team and the appropriate resources. That took a good bit of the morning. We got up on scene probably about 11.
Two other rangers and I accessed the crevasse by repelling from the surface of the glacier. The helicopter flew in with the line. We formulated a plan to extricate these people by short-hauling them directly out of the crevasse to the Sunrise parking lot where airlift helicopters and ambulances were waiting. The pilot was able to access them with a 100-foot rope.
Q: How far were they flown while dangling from the helicopter?
A: About 5½ miles.
Q: This was the first time you’d used that technique. Was that intimidating?
A: We’d gotten a good bit of training. All the rangers doing the short-haul part of the operation had practice. But it’s true: It was the first rescue where we had employed the short haul. It went really smoothly from my standpoint and I think from most people’s standpoints. It definitely expedited things, seeing as we didn’t have to do a technical raise out of the crevasse. (A technical raise involves using ropes, anchors, pulleys and manpower – but not a helicopter – to lift a patient to a higher location.)
Q: Is speed the benefit of short-haul rescues?
A: It’s faster. You can insert rangers and get patients out of really tight areas, limiting exposure to other dangers. Technical raises require more people and a longer time to set up. We would have had to make multiple sets of anchors in the snow. It was an overhanging crevasse wall we would have had to raise them over. The working area on the uphill side of the crevasse where we would have been raising them to was a tight working area, which would have complicated things. It would have been feasible; it would have just taken a lot longer.
Q: How much longer?
A: To get three patients out of there, probably would have taken two to three hours, to the surface of the glacier. To get all three patients to Sunrise (with the short haul) was probably 45 minutes to an hour.
Q: Do you explain to the patients what to expect? It seems like dangling from a helicopter by themselves could be terrifying.
A: We tell them what’s coming and give them a briefing on what to expect. It’s a pretty wild ride. The first time I was short-hauled, it was a pretty unique experience for sure. I can’t speak for (the patients), but I imagine they were pretty happy to be off the mountain after spending hours in the crevasse. They don’t have to do anything, just enjoy the ride.
Q: How do you coordinate with the pilot?
A: The pilot has already been up there flying around and looking with a ranger on board and talking about the plan. The rangers on the ground are able to talk directly to the pilot and tell them what’s going on. We were able to talk to the pilot and let him know when we were ready to lift the patients and how his line was coming into us.
Q: What are the limitations or challenges of a short-haul rescue?
A: Weather is probably the biggest around here. You can’t fly helicopters when you can’t see anything. We were lucky the other day. The potential to have a white-out was there, but it never came about.
Q: What would the rescue have looked like without the technique?
A: If we didn’t have a short haul or helicopter at all the other day, we would have been working well into dark and possibly the next day before the patients were at a place where the ambulance could get them.