Multiple search and rescue (SAR) incidents occurred in Olympic National Park over the Labor Day holiday weekend bringing the total for the year to 71. Although Labor Day is often thought of as marking the end of the busy summer season, hiking is still a popular activity through the fall. As we transition from summer to fall, visitors are reminded to be prepared for changing weather conditions that can also affect rescue efforts. Visitors are urged to plan ahead, hike smart, pack the Ten Essentials, and have an emergency plan. Consider learning CPR and basic wilderness first aid, especially if you are planning to hike in the back country.
On August 31 a backcountry ranger contacted a group of backpackers at Lake LaCrosse in the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness. Lake LaCrosse is on the North Fork Skokomish River Trail roughly 20 miles from the Staircase area in the southeast corner of the park. A 30-year-old male in the party had sustained an ankle injury. The group intended to hike all the way out the next day and end their trip early, however, based on the injury NPS staff were concerned that an evacuation could be required. The next morning, the backcountry ranger began hiking out with the group who later decided they needed assistance for the injured backpacker. The group managed to hike 8 miles back to the area of Home Sweet Home at 2:10 pm which is open and suitable for a helicopter landing.
The National Park Service exclusive-use contract helicopter was activated from Mount Rainier National Park and was on scene at 3:35 pm. Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic national parks share the dedicated short-haul rescue helicopter on contract for the summer season. The injured hiker was transported to the causeway outside Staircase and transferred to a Cushman Fire ambulance for transport to Mason General Hospital.
On September 2 at 12:17 pm park dispatch received a report of a 15-year-old male who fell into the Sol Duc River and went over Sol Duc Falls, falling approximately 40-50 feet. The minor was from Bloomfield Hills, MI and was walking beyond the fenced viewing platform area above Sol Duc Falls when he fell into the river. He was able to climb out of the water onto a boulder in the canyon below the falls.
A technical rope rescue operation was required to extract the patient from the slot canyon. Park staff lowered a lifejacket and helmet and two members of the Forks Fire Department Swift Water Team managed to get below the patient on the banks of the river to maintain containment if the patient were to fall into the water. After the patient was lifted from the canyon, he was carried out 0.8 miles on a wheeled litter to the trailhead and evaluated by medical personnel.
Olympic National Park, Forks Fire Department Swift Water Team, Forks Ambulance, Clallam County District 1 Fire/EMS, Clallam County District 2 Fire/EMS, Clallam County District 3 Fire/EMS, and Clallam County Technical Rescue all participated in the rescue.
In addition to these incidents over the holiday weekend, park dispatch and Visitor and Resource Protection staff handled two overdue party reports along with multiple Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls.
The NPS utilizes helicopter search and rescue for those cases demanding this specialized resource. Far more ground-based searches and rescues occur at national parks every year than those in which helicopters are employed. Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic national parks staff train together and have worked to hone their communication and interoperability. The parks’ exclusive use rescue helicopter is owned, piloted, and maintained by Helicopter Express, Inc. based in Chamblee, Georgia. This coverage is in addition to the park’s long-lived relationship with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard which also perform helicopter rescues in the park and serve as contingency resources.