Mount Daniel Rescue: Technology and a Helicopter

Technology and a Snohomish County helicopter help rescue a scrambler with fractured ankle during the hike out from Mount Daniel.
David Shema David Shema
March 10, 2015
Mount Daniel Rescue: Technology and a Helicopter
Google Earth image of Squaw Lake area

Mount Daniel Scramble Incident

Sunday, August 3: Upon the successful completion of our Mount Daniel Scramble, the climbing team returned to camp (at Peggy’s Pond), broke it down, and hit the trail at approximately 3pm. The team was travelling well with no issues.

At approximately 0.5 miles from Squaw Lake the team realized that we were slightly off the best return trail (the area has many trail systems). A GPS check indicated that we were off the trail of choice, and that by travelling cross country we should reach it within 0.8 miles.

We had traveled no further than 20 feet down a slope of approx. 30-40 degrees when the leader (myself) slipped, with all weight bearing on my left foot. In attempting to immediately right myself, by use of my poles, I added a slight component of shear force to the ankle joint resulting in what was later diagnosed as a closed bi-malleolar fracture (breaking both sides of the left ankle, along with a minor hairline fracture to the fibula). Yes, it did hurt for a slight moment there. The time was 4pm.

In no later than 15 minutes the team had generated a plan of action; three scramblers were to remain with me while 2 messengers were to head out and alert authorities at Cle Elum.

I took a dose of Ibuprofen, and activated the SOS feature on my SPOT.

The team moved me approx. 20 feet into an open section of the lightly treed meadow and assembled a tent. We consolidated food and supplies, supplied GPS coordinates and contact numbers to the two messengers, and they were off.

Turns out that our messengers ran into a WTA group at Squaw Lake. This group had satellite phones and called in the coordinates of our team. Our messengers continued down the trail as planned. 

Meanwhile, two of the remaining party hiked to a local stream to collect additional water and flagged a path to my location from the established trail. The First Aider and I isolated my ankle, still in the boot, and settled down for a wait.

Approx. 2.5 hours later (6:30pm) the team decided to send a third messenger down to the trailhead to communicate and coordinate activity with the authorities we imagined would assemble there.

Less than one half hour after his departure, at 7pm, the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team’s (HRT) Snohawk-10 helicopter crested the nearby ridge and hovered directly above our position.

We successfully signaled each other, Snohawk lowered 2 rescue team members and had me in a gurney in less than 15 minutes. Upon extraction the time to Providence Hospital in Everett was 30 minutes.

Prior to departure we did quickly assemble gear for the two remaining team members to carry down. Graciously, the HRT allowed me to take my pack and substantial gear.

The last of our party successfully reached the trailhead, met up with the third messenger, and departed for home.

What became of the post scramble refreshments awaiting our team at the trailhead (beverages and several savory munchies)…is still under investigation!

Later that evening I received a call from the SPOT center and learned that both emergency calls (SPOT and the WTA call) were received by the National Emergency Response Center (that evidently coordinates such rescues).

I’m exceptionally proud of the team’s (MOFA) response, planning and execution. The professionalism of the HRT group was outstanding and the service they provide...simply amazing!


Lessons Learned

I have extensive experienced in crossing varied terrain…let alone simple heather strewn slopes. Having relived the dynamics of the injury countless times in my mind the only preventable actions that could have been taken, I feel, are: (1) added care in crossing this normally untraveled zone, or better (2) a simple act of reversing our direction on the trail and seeking the turnoff we missed…in other words…avoiding the cross-country jaunt entirely.

The eight screws and a plate that now bind up my left ankle will no doubt speak to me on future jaunts and suggest the more moderate course of action.

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Joan Turchin
Joan Turchin says:
Mar 14, 2015 04:47 PM

Glad it all turned out fine. Sounds like you were with a great team, with the needed skills to handle these matter.
Rest and recover.

Kimberly Parsons
Kimberly Parsons says:
Mar 22, 2015 12:11 PM

You can find support on FB - "Broken Ankle / Foot / Leg Recovery - On a Quest for Normal!" It's a closed group. You have to join the hard way (which you did). I'm tri-mal, plate and 9 screws, 10/27/12. And back in the mountains!

Bob Margulis
Bob Margulis says:
Apr 01, 2015 01:01 PM

Off-course: well we've all been there and I'm glad it worked out well in the end. While I can see myself doing just what you did I think it's worth mentioning, for those with less experience, that under different circumstances I might not have split the party (especially sending a lone individual down--given that the first two had the necessary information).
I hope you recover fully and enjoy the pleasure of more thorough TSA screenings at the airport (a lifelong reminder of your rescue)!