WASHINGTON — With summer in full swing, popular hikes are melting out, and people are flocking to their favorite trails. But more people using Washington’s wild spaces means more rescues happening in the National Parks.
On July 4, Fred Newman was climbing Hozomeen Mountain in the North Cascades when he was reminded of the risk inherent to some outdoor activities.
"I was scrambling on rock, not particularly difficult terrain," Newman said. "At some point, I tumbled, fell about 200 feet, rag-dolling down a slope."
He spent the night out, hoping to feel well enough to self-rescue in the morning. But when his situation didn’t improve, he called for help and was airlifted out by a National Park Systems (NPS) helicopter.
"Definitely a feeling of some relief to see that helicopter," he said.
It turned out he’d broken bones in his face and several vertebrae. He’s still in a neck brace, and the head injury left him with little memory of the fall.
North Cascades Mountaineering Ranger Alex Brun met Newman during the rescue. He noted that Newman was prepared for the conditions and terrain, but many people requiring rescue are not.
"I think it comes back to being prepared," said Brun. "So making that if you're going to come to the mountains in Washington state, to any of the National Parks here, that you have the right training and experience."
It’s why rangers recommend bringing the 10 Essentials on any hiking trip and checking at the Wilderness Information Center for the latest conditions and information. There they can make contact with visitors and advise them of any necessary equipment.
This year, the non-profit Washington National Park Fund also gave North Cascades nearly $100,000 for preventative search and rescue efforts including training, equipment, and messaging for visitors. The fund supports projects across all three parks.
Brun also recently hosted a 'Virtual Field Trip' on preventative search and rescue (SAR).
"Nobody wants to go out and get hurt, right?" said North Cascades Chief Ranger Brandon Torres. "And the other thing I’m really focused on is the protection of my staff and the search and rescuers. We engage in a lot of risk to get in helicopters and hung underneath helicopters to come out and save people. And we’re willing to that, it’s what we signed up for. But we don’t really want to do that."
But still, there's a lesson in Newman's situation, too: even with preparation, accidents happen.
"I don’t think I was doing anything foolhardy or beyond my skill level," said Newman. "…I’m grateful they were there."