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Washington, Cascades, LaBohn Gap

Washington, Cascades, LaBohn Gap—About noon on August 1, Jack Slehofer (16) and William Johnson (18) were traveling from South to North over LaBohn Gap in the Washington Cascades. They were fishermen, headed for a string of lakes in Necklace Valley on the north side of the Gap. Two companions were headed in the opposite direction and all were to meet at or near the Gap. Neither Slehofer nor Johnson had any particular experience in snow climbing. Johnson had been over the Gap before, however, and had been on enough snow to realize some of its hazards. The snow ascent to the Gap from the south side was not

steep and no trouble had been encountered. The first 500 yards of the descent on the north side is quite gradual, then the snow slope takes a decidedly sharp drop, of about 600 feet. A large rock island in the center of this steep slope is so wide that it would be virtually impossible to avoid it in a fall. Both boys had on smooth soled boots, and were without crampons, ice axes, or ropes. Johnson started the descent of the steep part, heading for the top of the rock island, which was only about 50 feet down. About half way down to it he turned to see his younger companion blithely walking down the steep part in a different area, not immediately above the rock point. He reports that he then realized the impending danger and started to call to his companion, but at that moment Slehofer fell, sliding rapidly about 150 feet into a smaller rock island and then bouncing 150 feet farther into a 6-foot schrund at the lower part of the rock island. He suffered severe lacerations of the right arm and scalp, and a mild concussion.

The snow slope at the point of fall was so steep that some of the rescuers, with ice axes and crampons, who later ascended to the summit of the Gap would not descend the place where Slehofer descended, but instead came down the rock island. After seeing the fall Johnson hurried down the rock island (an easy descent) to aid Slehofer. At the same time the two companions coming from the North saw the fall and hurried up the snow slope to the place where Slehofer lay. There was no danger in their ascent as the lower part of the slope was a gentle grade. Their calls to each other attracted the attention of Paul Uno, a Scoutmaster, who was nearly in the valley on the north side with a group of Boy Scouts. He went to the scene of the accident bringing first aid equipment and rendered effective first aid. At about 3:00 p.m. Uno left the scene and brought word out by an 11-mile trail to the road.

Uno reached the Seattle Mountain Rescue council by telephone about 6:30 that evening. An attempt was made to get a helicopter to the scene that evening but darkness came too quickly. As it was a warm, fair weekend it was difficult to locate experienced climbers for the rescue. However, by 9:30 p.m. the first units left Seattle on the 70-mile trip to the end of the road. The rescuers, after traversing a very brushy and stream-filled 11-mile trail, reached the scene of the accident at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, to find that Slehofer’s companions had helped him descend about 700 yards to the valley floor. Dr. W. B. Spickard tended Slehofer. Radio contact was established with a Coast Guard helicopter which was standing by, and at 10:00 a.m. evacuation by helicopter was effected, thus saving the 15-man rescue team the prodigious task of a stretcher evacuation.

Source: Ralph W. Johnson and Arne Campbell who led the rescue.

Analysis: The accident resulted from the inexperience of these youthful fishermen. Slehofer in particular evidently had no knowledge, and thus no fear, of very steep snow slopes which could easily have been avoided. Slehofer was lucky to get away alive.