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rbwen

Dragontail Fall

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From the Wenatchee World

 

LEAVENWORTH — A 23-year-old New York man fell about 50 feet and suffered a head wound and back injury Wednesday afternoon while climbing Dragontail Peak in the Enchantments, roughly 10 miles southwest of Leavenworth, according to a news release from the Chelan County Sheriff's Office.

 

Clive Pontusson was climbing the popular Serpentine Arete route with a partner at about 1:30 p.m. when the accident took place. According to the sheriff's office, a handhold apparently gave way, causing Pontusson to fall and hit several rock ledges on his way down.

 

A climbing rope system stopped his fall, and Pontusson landed on a ledge. He was wearing a helmet, according to the Sheriff's Office.

 

Two unknown climbers tended to Pontusson while his climbing partner, Noah Townsend of Seattle, summoned aid at 2:12 p.m. by activating an emergency beacon. Townsend, 27, then sought to find an area with cell phone service but was unable to phone for help until 4:30 p.m.

 

After Townsend's call, it was nighttime before a helicopter with winch could airlift Pontusson from the scene. He is listed in satisfactory condition this morning at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

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Too bad. I wonder if he fell higher up, where the angle eases off. It's a bit crappy up there. Good thing he was protected! Sounds like it could have been worse.

 

I wonder what kind of beacon it was? SPOT, or PLB? The story makes it hard to understand if the beacon was successful, or if it was his cell call.

 

Here's to a full recovery! :brew:

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I was on the rescue last night. Interestingly, the sheriff found the cell phone call much more helpful for getting the necessary info for mounting the rescue.

Kudos to the EMT climbers that helped stabilize the injured climber and hung out with him until dark. A special thanks to the Air Force pilots who were steady in the face of wind and increasing darkness in winching Clive out safely.

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Rescue at night in the Enchantments. Been there. Done that.

 

Good to hear about the winch and help. Was a blackhawk used and the dudes wearing night vision goggles?

 

 

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I'm pretty sure Noah post on this site as NoahT, I ran into him a couple weeks ago. I saw the helicopters as I was cragging in L-worth yesterday.

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Saw the helicopters as I was up the Icicle on a trail run. Great work on the part of Kyle and all the rescuers involved. Sounds like Noah kept it togther.

Hope Clive has a speedy recovery!

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It was a SPOT.

 

Sounds like the climber fell early on the route and that they were carrying overnight gear to carry over to climb Prussik next.

 

I assume Noah will tell us more at some point.

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I was on the rescue last night. Interestingly, the sheriff found the cell phone call much more helpful for getting the necessary info for mounting the rescue.

Kudos to the EMT climbers that helped stabilize the injured climber and hung out with him until dark. A special thanks to the Air Force pilots who were steady in the face of wind and increasing darkness in winching Clive out safely.

 

Crazy - the team of two EMT climbers that happened to be below when this accident took place were friends of mine I had been cragging with the day before. I was supposed to climb Serpentine with them but remembered I had an eye doctor appointment today so I had to bail. I dropped them off at the Mountaineer Creek trailhead yesterday before heading to Wenatachee for a few hours, then back to Seattle. I just called up one of them and he picked up the phone laughing and said "we were wondering how long it would be until you called and asked..." :)

 

Best of luck to Clive with the recovery! :brew:

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A few hours ago I spoke with my friends who spent the day on the ledge with Clive. Below is my quick interpretation from their story. We were talking over a cell phone, on speaker phone mode, as they were driving back. It is very possible I have mixed details up, so don't quote me. :P

 

As my friends Dave and Eric were approaching the bottom of Serpentine they heard someone yell and they noticed some small rocks fall, but weren't yet aware an accident had taken place. On the bottom of the route they encountered Noah, who asked for assistance. Dave and Eric are wilderness EMTs, so they evaluated and stablized Clive. Noah then headed out to attempt a cell phone call. From their description, it sounded like Clive was in good spirits and started feeling better as they waited. Knowing my friends, I like to imagine the three of them sharing a laugh while they kept Clive company.

 

At some point the Air Force shows up, and lowers a guy on to the ledge with them. Apparently the chopper had to leave to get some more fuel, but when it returned they were able to winch up Clive and the airman. Unfortunately there was no free ride for my buddies, who hiked out to their bivy. :-)

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I was at Argonaut-Colchuck col descending from Argonaut at about 6pm when this Army helicopter came flying straight at me! I always forget the signs for "need help" and "OK", so I just waved hello to make sure they knew we were fine. Come to find out later that they're rescuing dude from Dragontail. We figured they probably weren't there to give us a lift back to camp... Glad to hear that the injured climber is relatively OK.

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Hi all,

 

On behalf of Clive (posted as Raoul Duke), thanks for the good thoughts. He will fully recover with rest, and was able to walk out of the hospital yesterday wearing a torso brace. As many of us have been unable to resist noting, it could have been worse. A compressed vertebrae stabilized mainly by his ribcage means no surgery. Woooord....!

 

I wrote a rather long and detailed account last nite, but then my computer battery died (literally as I was about to post it). In hindsight, maybe you could call it lazy, it now seems like too much to rewrite. The above summary really is the gist.

 

A couple of notables that just can't be missed though:

--the help from Eric and Dave, two strangers who turned out not only to be WEMT's (holy crap!), but two very selfless and caring individuals

--the unflappable helicopter crew (airforce or army) that pulled off a rather harrowing long-line in the dark with no room for error

--And the Chelan SAR who mobilized so quickly, and was at the ready for what would have been a very involved manual effort, waiting around until late wednesday nite when they got the OK

 

We had planned to climb Backbone, and carry over to climb prusik the next day. Encountering hard snow at the base of backbone, we followed the rocks around to the start of Serpentine, and started a rising traverse of ledges across the gully planning to stay right of the ridge up to the start of the climbing proper. It's in that broken 4th class stuff that he took a fall. A hold broke pulling a bulge, he was maybe 10 feet out from his pro, we figure he fell 30ish feet probably hitting at least one particular ledge. A head wound (under the helmet) and tenderness along his spine made for a high chance of a spinal, but he was fully conscious and otherwise in stable condition.

 

I summoned Eric and Dave's help around 1pm, activated my SPOT around 1:30-2, and I headed out to make the 911 call around 2:30. Back at the car a little before 4pm, and down and out the icicle to make the call.

 

All and all, the rescue happened incredibly quick. The sheriff had been receiving the SPOT's for two hours or so, but couldn't send their small chopper up to investigate due to high winds down low. All they knew was that something was up. The full blown rescue that ensued needed the information only a 911 call could provide. This is an interesting, and understandable, fact. They had the coordinates of a distress signal, and would certainly have responded to it. It would have followed a more measured timeline, though, committing resources only as it became apparent exactly what was needed. The 911 call tells them exactly what is needed, and with that he can get everyone involved, including the military, with the whole rescue goes off in under 5 hours. In my mind, the SPOT was an important piece, providing the helicopter pilot with coordinates, and had we not been able to hike out, would have brought help in due time. At the same time, don't under estimate the power of seeking your own remedy, in this case, getting out to call 911. Punching a button on a machine that's supposed to bring help, and then just waiting, won't ensure anything other than a bunch of sitting around watching a couple of LED's blink. We lucked out by having two guys right behind us, being reasonably close to the ground, and Clive being in a stable condition.

 

An interesting point that we're not totally clear on is in what way was the helicopter pilot was using the coordinates given by the SPOT. He called me when I was in town, saying he was about to take off, and did I have any extra info? It was difficult as he didn't have colchuck lake or dragontail detailed on his map. He had a coordinate and he was relating it to Stuart and Cannon. It sounded like relatively the right area, but the most useful landmarks weren't identified. The sheriff had told me earlier that they were receiving the same coordinate over and over, and that that generally indicates that the coordinate is the right one. But, on the choppers first trip up there, they never made it into colchuck lake basin. Clive says they saw it fly up to Stuart, then work its way back down, poking around, and then fly back down mtnr creek. We know now, it went back to pick up a climbing ranger, who flew them right into dragontail. It seems like maybe they flew up to Stuart to get their bearings, and were triangulating in on them, but you wouldn't think you'd need to do that with a lat-long that is supposedly correct. So whether the SPOT coordinate was off, or that kind of terrain is just difficult to navigate, or something else, we don't know. We do know that it obviously takes the coordination/collaboration of experts from a couple of different fields to execute an operation like this one.

 

The actual rescue sounded pretty harrowing. A Huey with rotors 5 feet from the wall, going on 9pm, probably running on night vision at that point. Something, we were assured, could only be pulled off by the military. These guys are obviously badass. Thankfully it worked, and the equally competent Chelan SAR didn't need to pull off it's own difficult, and somewhat more taxing, high-angle maneuver.

 

All and all, there is lots to be grateful for, and lots to think about. If you follow these kinds of things, and your curiosity about something specific is nagging at you, feel free to ask. There's lots of details obviously, but not everyone wants to wade through them here.

 

Thanks again for the kind words.

 

Noah

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sounds like a bad-ass rescue. way to keep it together to all involved and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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We know now, it went back to pick up a climbing ranger, who flew them right into dragontail.

 

Nope, not a climbing ranger, just Kyle Flick. Since he's climbed the route a number of times, he knew exactly where to look.

 

I was chatting with you at the staging area. Interesting Noah, I didn't realize they had flown all the way up to Stuart initially. The Huey had landed back at the staging area and the pilots reviewed the CCSO's topographic map from your SPOT signal, which was right on. That's when they enlisted Kyle's help, and flew back up there to lower their medic. They returned to E. Wenatchee Pangborn airport to refuel then returned to pull your partner out.

 

I'm glad it turned out okay for you. Hope you get to return soon to send the routes!

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Badass indeed. And, interesting about reviewing the topo. Having a climber on board seemed to be the right answer. There's no other reason to really be familiar with all the different large rock faces in the area, and with light fading, all the more difficult to pinpoint them.

 

Was I talking to you right after I pulled up, or over by the sheriff's truck? Either way, thanks for the chat.

 

Please feel free to pass on our deep sense of appreciation for your, and the rest of the guys, efforts. Even though we dodged needing a rescue on foot, your ready and willing attitudes to take that on if it was needed, and everything else that I imagine you all contributed to the heli's operation, helped accomplish a serious rescue in what can only be described as...goddamn fast!

 

I'm impressed and humbled by that devotion, and it gets me thinking about how I can best support SAR to those ends?

 

Anyways, thanks and cheers,

 

N

 

 

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Impressive story by all.

 

Where did you go to to get cell coverage?

 

I always get good cell reception from the summits of Colchuck and Dragontail with AT&T.

 

Anyone know of any other spots up there for cell coverage?

Might be useful info sometime.

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No surprise beta there, I had to get all the way out icicle creek to the flats. It seemed like we were "close" to sending a text from where we were down low on the face. Didn't have the "searching for signal" message, but didn't have any bars either. Not sure if it ever got off and into the system, though. They kept the cell phone as they had the best chance being up high. Mine was in the car, so by that point you just gotta drive out.

 

I'd imagine maybe the next generation of plb's will include a texting feature, if it's not already in use.

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Somebody correct me if I am wrong. But when you have coverage in remote areas the signal is bouncing off rocks or snow; thus, really depends if the signal is continuous on the balance. We did a get a text message sent around 7. I have noticed when the sun gets lower in the atmosphere the signal has a better chance of sending.

 

Dave

 

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No surprise beta there, I had to get all the way out icicle creek to the flats. It seemed like we were "close" to sending a text from where we were down low on the face. Didn't have the "searching for signal" message, but didn't have any bars either. Not sure if it ever got off and into the system, though. They kept the cell phone as they had the best chance being up high. Mine was in the car, so by that point you just gotta drive out.

 

I'd imagine maybe the next generation of plb's will include a texting feature, if it's not already in use.

Hey Noah, I hope I came accross as curious and not anything else.

You clearly reacted well and got the rescue moving very quickly.

Cheers!

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In terms of support, I'm sure the Chelan SAR would appreciate a donation specifically earmarked for the mountain rescue unit. Sounds like an excellent effort by all involved led to a pretty stunning rescue. Bravo to everyone who helped.

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Ya bug, definitely curious--as am I. Interesting to note you pick up service at the top, too.

 

Someone from the helicopter actually texted me on their first trip up--"this is rescue 13, unable to locate victim, any additional information." Whether it was forwarded from an airforce operator, or they were actually texting from the chopper, I was struck by how pervasive the text message has become in our lives.

 

 

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In terms of support, I'm sure the Chelan SAR would appreciate a donation specifically earmarked for the mountain rescue unit. Sounds like an excellent effort by all involved led to a pretty stunning rescue. Bravo to everyone who helped.

 

Eric and Dave deserve a donation. I know them, so, um, you can send it to me, and i'll make sure it gets there... :D

 

An interesting note on your text message comment, Noah: In the pickets a few weeks ago Wayne and I had wanted to call friends to let them know we wanted to stay up another day. Even with Verizon (best mtn coverage in WA, bar none) a phone call wouldn't go out. Text messages did arrive successfully and gave us the peace of mind knowing arriving a bit late wouldn't worry anyone.

 

Glad to hear Clive is doing well! :brew:

 

-j

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In terms of support, I'm sure the Chelan SAR would appreciate a donation specifically earmarked for the mountain rescue unit. Sounds like an excellent effort by all involved led to a pretty stunning rescue. Bravo to everyone who helped.

 

Chelan MRU should be an independant organization -- you should be able to donate money directly to them without going through Chelan SAR.

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