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Overdue Backcountry Skier, Miscommunication, Washington, Olympic Peninsula and Cascade Range

OVERDUE BACKCOUNTRY SKIER, MISCOMMUNICATION

Washington, Olympic Peninsula and Cascade Range

In late April 1988, Craig Peterson (32) left his housemates a note that he would be hiking and cross country skiing on the Olympic Peninsula. When he did not return on time two days later, his friends notified Clallam County officials, and a search was started. For four days, county, Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest searchers checked trailheads and searched the area where they believed Peterson had gone.

When the search failed to produce anything by last Saturday, officials called it off. But about 60 of Peterson’s friends continued looking for him, some of them centering their search in the North Cascades near where he had hiked before.

To the astonishment of friends who had about given him up for dead, he walked out of the Cascades and drove to Darrington, Snohomish County, late Sunday evening, nearly eight days after leaving on what was supposed to have been a two-day trek.

“It was like somebody coming back from the dead,” said housemate Edy Schlosstein. “He’s a strong little bugger, but it’s a miracle. I was just sure he was dead.” (Source: The Seattle Times, Tuesday, May 3, 1988)

Analysis

Peterson said that after he wrote the note and headed off in his car, he changed his mind and headed toward Glacier Peak in the Cascade Range. He decided to explore an area he discovered the previous summer.

At the trailhead, he hid his van so it wouldn’t be vandalized. As an experienced hiker and cross-country skier, Peterson took along more than enough supplies for the planned two-day trek. His pack was heavy, laden with a tent, ice ax, shovel, several changes of clothing and enough food for four days. He had set out for the northeast side of Glacier Peak on Sunday afternoon, and by the light of the moon traveled well into the night.

It was midway through the second day that he fell. He went to explore a source of drinking water and fell through a snow bridge that had been weakened by the dripping water. He fell about three meters, but that’s apparently where his bad luck ended. He landed in soft snow, didn’t break any bones during the fall and landed right side up. Although the hole he fell into was too steep to climb out of, he was lucky that his pack ended up alongside him—with the food he needed for energy and the shovel he needed to dig his way out of the snow.

“I knew the only way out was to dig so I tunneled up through the snow,” said Peterson. “It took me two days and by the time I got through I was exhausted. When I got out I got a little ways away from where I’d fallen and I pitched my tent and went to sleep. I wasn’t hypothermic, but I was totally exhausted. I lost a day or two. If I’d known people were searching for me I’d have come down sooner, but I just slept in my tent and tried to get my strength back.”

“This is not something I’m proud of,” he said, looking back on the week he spent digging his way off the mountain while law-enforcement officials on the Peninsula and 60 of his friends searched for him.

“I’m embarrassed. I did some stupid things. I went by myself and didn’t tell anybody where I was going.” (Source: The Seattle Times, Tuesday, May 3, 1989)

(Editor’s Note: While not a climbing accident, this case is worth reporting because of its obvious application for climbers.)