Haines volunteer search and rescue teams jumped into action on Saturday evening after a pair of alpine enthusiasts got stuck coming down Mount Ripinsky. The two snowboarders were found uninjured a couple of hours after the search began.
Jess Kayser Forster got the call Saturday around dinner time and didn’t hesitate. Two snowboarders had called into troopers after getting stuck in a gully while making their descent down Ripinsky.
Kayser Forster and her husband Kevin are avid backcountry travelers, have rope-handling and mountaineer experience, and are certified search and rescue volunteers. They joined several others for the search.
According to the trooper dispatch, the call for help came in at around 5:00 p.m. The boarders, Patrick Pritchard, 31, and Erin Kelly, 32, have lived in Haines for a few months. Troopers said, Pritchard made the call from his cell phone and said he could see the lights of town, a couple miles away, but didn’t know their exact location.
Kayser Forster says she’s hiked and climbed in that area many times and knows how easy it is to get turned around, especially with some new snow and no daylight. The search teams packed sleeping bags and harnesses, everything they might need to be outside for a while.
“Given the conditions, you know it’s dark, it’s the middle of winter, it’s cold for the search teams as well so you want to take precautions so that you’re not putting anyone else at risk,” she says.
Kayser Forester says seven people joined in the search donning crampons and snowshoes, and looking in the area of Piedad Trail. The search teams were phoning in regular updates to the troopers.
“We headed out and started up the Piedad trail and we were yelling their names and we finally got a holler back and by the time we got to them, they had gotten themselves out of the steep terrain in which they felt that they were stuck in and that’s why they originally had made the call,” says Kayser Forster.
She says one of the boarders told her that they got motivated to climb out of the gully when they started to get cold and the threat of hypothermia loomed. Both made it out unscathed. Haines got nearly a foot of snow in some places on Friday evening, and the temperature hovered in the teens on Saturday.
“I think one of the things that people underestimate in Haines is the micro-topography that exists on these ridgelines,” she says. “We look up Ripinsky and we think ‘oh, we can just hike up there’ and looking from a far down on the road, you don’t see all the steep gullies and the little cliffs that will get you stuck when you get up there.”
With so many backcountry opportunities right in our backyard, Kayser Forster says there is great need in Haines for more trained search and rescue volunteers.