PCT Hikers Rescued From Snowpocalypse
On October 23rd, 2017 a SAR team rescued two PCT hikers from a 60-hour blizzard near Taylor’s Landing in Washington.
Several days prior, hiker Dylan “Flip” Zitawi stated that he and Colton “Rook” Lufs waited for two days in Seattle for the weather to subside before setting out on their last stretch.
While in town, they took some precautions and added four-season gear to their setup. Although they figured they could hike the last stretch in four to six days, they carried 10 days of food.
They felt confident they could reach Canada before the hiking season ended. So when they saw what they thought would be a break in the weather, they took it.
Zitawi and Lufs were about 150 miles from the Northern Terminus of the PCT when the storm erupted at full force. They hiked through snow drifts that were knee to chest deep. At times, they couldn’t tell the difference between the ground and the sky.
Eventually they decided to hunker down and dig themselves a snow cave to add some insulation to their tent and bivvy. After 12 hours of nonstop snow, they decided they were in over their heads and signaled for help on their SPOT device.
Both Zitawi and Lufs are experienced hikers and they knew that signaling for help meant that their loved ones would immediately think the worst. Although they felt uncertain about the risk of avalanches and other obstacles down trail, both hikers had two changes of dry clothes and plenty of supplies. They were well prepared to wait out the storm.
Knowing that SPOT devices aren’t entirely reliable, Zitawi and Lufs started coming up with a contingency plan. They could hike 90 miles forward in unknown conditions, or they could hike 40 miles backwards.
SAR sent out a team on foot and via helicopter. Both teams had to turn around due to poor weather conditions. The hikers heard a chopper at one point, but the sound only appeared to disappear again.
On day three, they decided they’d wait for a few more hours. If there was no sign of rescue, they would return the way they’d come on the PCT.
Just as they were preparing to pack up their gear, they heard a chopper in the distance. SAR was surprised to find both hikers in stable conditions. Neither hiker was injured during the storm.
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Do the hikers on the PCT have to reimburse the state or park, for their rescue costs? Does there seem to be an increase in how many individuals keep putting others live at risk, due to their bad decisions?
Those carrying Garmin devices, like the Explorer, can purchase SAR insurance for about $20 annually that covers up to $50K x 2 rescues. There is also a plan for Helovac for more serious adventures. It’s more pricey but also geared for more active users.
I hiked with Flip in 2015 on the AT; I think these guys made the right decision. Flip has a lot of hiking experience and he is a smart guy. Anything could have happened out there and I’m so glad they chose to err on the side of caution. Hikers hike !
I have to disagree that they were equipped or experienced for these conditions and I also believe they were incredibly irresponsible to go into these conditions when EVERYONE knew what was coming. Specifically:
1) Those snowshoes are a joke for feet of fresh snow. My guess is that these “experienced” hikers had never snowshoed in deep fresh snow or they would have known better. Also, those snowshoes look like MSRs which are a joke for feet of fresh snow. But they can be equipped with flotation tails added for an additional 6″ on the EVO ascents that provides a bit more help than the standard 22″ shoes. Did they even have the tails?
2) this link https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/10/18/5-000-mile-long-river-sky-deliver-heavy-rain-feet-snow-northwest/776060001/ was posted on the PCT class of 2017 page. People that met them warned them before they went in. The forecast was calling for up to 9′, yes, 9′ of snow at the Cascade crest which is where the PCT runs. Even a third of that snow would have been an issue as it is well known that the Glacier peak area is one of the toughest stretches of the PCT.
Bottom line, I’m glad they are OK, the decision to push the button was probably the right one but they were neither experienced nor equipped to handle these conditions. Just a quick look at Dylan’s facebook page shows how challenging the previous section had been, here is a direct quote “This weather is testing every ounce of my experience and skill level, and although I’m handling it so far, this is feeling less like a thru hike, and more like being in the movie the revanant.” Did they really think an additional several FEET of snow in more challenging terrain would be any better?