LEAVENWORTH — A Seattle mountain climber is recovering at Central Washington Hospital after he fractured several bones in a fall in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, spent a night hoping for rescue and then walked to help.
Ryan Cairnes, 36, summited the 8,638-foot Cannon Mountain Sunday after climbing a slew of other peaks in the wilderness over the weekend. During his descent, he slipped on ice in a coulier and tumbled almost 400 feet down a slope, according to Sgt. Kent Sisson with Chelan County Emergency Management.
Cairnes bounced off rocks and went over ledges before he came to a stop near the base of the mountain. He suffered fractures to his neck, right knee and scapula and sustained injuries to his ribs. He credits his helmet and backpack with cushioning his fall, Sisson said.
Cairnes was without an emergency beacon and the last person he’d been in contact with was his mother in Pennsylvania about 4:05 p.m. Sunday.
Badly injured, he slept in his sleeping bag overnight and then on Monday maneuvered to a waterfall for drinking water where he spent the rest of the day, Sisson said.
The hope was he’d be reported overdue and rescuers would come looking. His mother reported him overdue at 2 p.m. Monday. By then, it was too late in the day to organize a search due to waning daylight, said Jason Reinfeld with the sheriff’s office.
On Tuesday, Cairnes decided his best bet at staying alive was to walk out. He found a tree branch to use as a walking stick to support his right knee and abandoned most of his gear — the weight was too much with his injuries — and left with only a water bottle, helmet and sleeping bag.
He hobbled most of Tuesday west toward where he knew a trail existed. As he hiked out, the sheriff’s office began its search. A helicopter crew saw human tracks on the westside of the mountain and at one point flew over Cairnes, though he wasn’t spotted by the crew.
Two members of the Chelan County Mountain Rescue Association located Cairnes about 6:05 p.m. Tuesday on the Stuart Lake Trail. He’d walked 2.75 to 3 miles, Sisson said.
He was taken out with a wheeled litter and then transported by Cascade Ambulance to Central Washington Hospital.
Cairnes’ story is unlike most mountain rescues Sisson has seen in his nine years with Emergency Management.
“It’s rare to have this type of situation where somebody’s injured to that extent and is able to nearly self-rescue out of there,” Sisson said. “I mean, he more than likely had the determination to make it all the way to the trailhead if the mountain rescue guys hadn’t found him.”
Sisson advises solo mountaineers to pack an emergency beacon and share itineraries with others before climbing.