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Atop Mount Whitney and battling frostbite, these hikers sent out an SOS

Watch a CHP team rescue hikers from Mount Whitney by helicopter

Two hikers reached the summit of Mount Whitney on May 13, but were unable to come back down after one of them developed frostbite. The crew of CHP helicopter H-40 was able to take the hikers to safety the next day.
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Two hikers reached the summit of Mount Whitney on May 13, but were unable to come back down after one of them developed frostbite. The crew of CHP helicopter H-40 was able to take the hikers to safety the next day.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew on Sunday rescued hikers stranded on Mount Whitney after one of them was unable to continue because of frostbite.

A relayed call for help brought the CHP to the rescue. Despite the extremely high elevation and rocky terrain, pilot Ty Blasingame and paramedic Mike Crain landed a short distance from the hikers. They were helped into the helicopter, one carried piggyback by Crain.

The two hikers reached the 14,505-foot elevation summit on Saturday but were unable to descend because one of the hikers was suffering from the apparent effects of frostbite. The victims had spent the night in a rock shelter at the peak, but temperatures fell to the low teens and both became hypothermic, when a body loses heat faster than it can produce heat.

The hikers, a 20-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a 34-year-old Ontario man, arrived at Outpost Camp on Friday night and reached the summit on Saturday. They told National Park Service rangers they had a problem with their shoes getting wet as they climbed, said Sintia Kawasaki-Yee, public affairs officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

The couple managed to get to a shelter Saturday night, but the woman thought she had frostbite when they reached the summit, Kawasaki-Yee said.

About 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, the woman reached her mother by telephone in Southern California. Her mother called the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, which transferred the call to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office then called the National Park Service, which called the California Highway Patrol to assist, Kawasaki-Yee said.

About 5 a.m. Sunday, the CHP helicopter made a pass of the summit and then rescued the couple, she said.

Both had mild hypothermia and the woman had frostbite on a couple of toes, while the man was suffering from partial blindness because of the cold, Kawasaki-Yee said.

The couple was ill-prepared for the hike, she said.

“They were inexperienced and had inadequate equipment,” Kawasaki-Yee said. “If you don’t have the right equipment, you could definitely die.”

There has already been one fatality this year of a climber on Mount Whitney, she said.

The summit of Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

The hikers were taken to Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine for treatment.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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