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Three mountain rescue pioneers honored

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Three Chelan County Mountain Rescue pioneers — Bill Asplund, Gene Ellis and Freeman Keller — were honored by the organization recently for their many years of dedication to saving lives in the North Cascades.  

Ellis, a long-time deputy with the Chelan County Sheriff's office who recently retired, played a crucial role of coordinating rescues from some of the most rugged terrain in the region. Shawn Ballard, co-owner of Ballard Ambulance, described Ellis as someone who "always kept his head and was methodical about getting good information and putting a good plan together" for rescues. The sheriff's office has primary responsibility for rescues but works closely with the Mountain Rescue volunteers.

Asplund, the former science teacher and business owner, was one of the early members of the organization. He was out doing rescues when it was a fledgling organization and they were making their own equipment and inventing techniques for getting injured mountain climbers down from precarious positions. 

At the awards ceremony, Ballard said many of the Mountain Rescue volunteers acknowledged that Asplund's high school program, The Alpine Club, was what first got them interested in mountaineering. I remember going on hikes with the Alpine Club back in the early 1970s and it was an amazing opportunity to experience the mountains as a young person. It taught self-reliance, problem solving, preparation and safety. 

Asplund also was instrumental in getting volunteers outfitted with equipment from his outdoor store at deep discounts. 

Keller ushered in the era of the organization becoming more professional. A gifted climber, he organized training and participated in some difficult rescues. 

Chelan County Mountain Rescue was one of the first groups of its type in the country to focus on getting a trained medical person to the scene as the first priority to stabilize the patient before attempting a rescue. "There are guys who should have been dead walking around today and climbing" because of that philosophy, Ballard said.

It's nice to see the efforts of Ellis, Keller and Asplund recognized.