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Thread: Winter survival story: Mt. Ranier blizzard on dayhike

  1. #1

    Default Winter survival story: Mt. Ranier blizzard on dayhike

    Skills, love help Lacey woman, Vancouver man survive Mount Rainier blizzard in a snow cave

    As the third day of searching for a missing snowshoer began at Mount Rainier last week, a man and a woman appeared out of the inclement weather.

    Published: 01/27/12 7:18 pm | Updated: 01/28/12 3:30 am

    As the third day of searching for a missing snowshoer began at Mount Rainier last week, a man and a woman appeared out of the inclement weather.

    When searchers first saw them on Mazama Ridge, they figured the two were fellow rescuers. There were no reports of any other missing parties, and they couldn’t be day hikers because the road to Paradise was closed.

    Then the shrill sound of a distress whistle pierced the morning air.

    As they rushed to the couple the reality of the situation hit. She was missing a snowshoe and goggles. He was poised but frostbitten.

    Josephine Johnson and Jim Dickman were rescuers. They had just saved themselves.

    The couple had headed out on a short snowshoe hike two days earlier. Instead, they spent two nights lost in a blizzard, putting their survival skills and new love to the test while beating back the fear of death.

    “There were times when I just wanted to sit down and cry and say ‘I’m going to die,’ ” Johnson said. “… But we stayed strong. It is a miracle that we are alive.”


    Johnson and Dickman, both 53 and divorced, met eight months ago, drawn together, in part, by their love of the outdoors. Johnson, an administrative assistant at State Farm, lives in Lacey. Dickman, budget director for Clark County, lives 110 miles south in Vancouver. Soon after meeting, they were getting together every weekend to hike, camp and climb.

    With plans to climb Mount Rainier this summer, they headed to the mountain Jan. 14 for a training trek to Camp Muir. They changed their minds when a ranger warned them that winds were gusting up to 75 mph. They decided on a short hike to Panorama Point, but shortened that too because of the weather.

    Planning to be out for only a few hours, they found themselves behind a group of hikers from Tacoma.

    The group spoke Korean and was led by a man named Yong Chun Kim, a 66-year-old South Korean military veteran.

    Johnson became nervous as the wind picked up, almost knocking her over on several occasions. Then, suddenly, they realized the group had stopped.

    “Something had happened,” Dickman said. “Radios were going. One lady was very scared. But we couldn’t quite understand what they were saying.”

    Then they saw for themselves. Kim had fallen down a steep slope and could not climb up. Meanwhile, the weather was rapidly deteriorating.

    Johnson and Dickman said they’d go for help and asked if any members of the party wanted to go with them. “We didn’t get much of a response,” he said.

    “The wind was really whipping up and we needed to get off that ridge,” Johnson said. “We thought, if we don’t go right now nobody is going to be able to get help.”


    The weather offered no mercy as Johnson and Dickman headed back. The snow blew through the vents on Johnson’s goggles, icing the lenses inside and out.

    “It was like sand blasting my face,” Johnson said.

    Johnson had bought a GPS handset the day before but couldn’t load the map because of a scratch on the software CD. It didn’t matter. The world turned white around them, the conditions so bad they couldn’t even see the device’s tiny screen.

    About 2 p.m., Dickman decided it was time to stop and build a snow cave. Johnson was surprised and delighted when Dickman pulled a shovel from his pack. She’d given it to him three weeks earlier during their first Christmas together but didn’t know he’d packed it for the short hike.

    “I hate to think about what might have happened if we didn’t have that shovel,” Johnson said.

    It had been decades since Dickman built a snow cave. He was a teenager hiking on wicker snowshoes on Chinook Pass in the 1970s. But he knew what to do. In about two hours he and Johnson were squeezed into a 6-foot-long, 3.5-foot-wide, 3-foot high cave.

    They wedged their gear into the opening to keep out the wind. They didn’t have sleeping bags.

    “I was never so cold in my life,” Johnson said. “It was miserable.”


    At first light on Jan. 15, they peeked outside only to realize visibility wasn’t any better.

    They thought they were in the Edith Creek basin and that following it would lead them close to the Paradise parking lot.

    They were actually in the Stevens Creek canyon, which descends farther east of Paradise to the Stevens Canyon Road, which was closed for the winter.

    Unaware of the mistake, they kept going.


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  2. #2
    Vulnerability Array Eilonwy's Avatar
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    Oct 2009
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    Wow! Mt. Ranier isn't kind. All three are lucky to have made it out alive, even with experience and preparation.
    Johari / Nohari

    “That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.” ― Gene Wolfe

    reminder to self: "That YOU that you are so proud of is a story woven together by your interpreter module to account for as much of your behavior as it can incorporate, and it denies or rationalizes the rest." "Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain" by Michael S. Gazzaniga

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