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Emergency rescue at Sequoia National Park [UPDATED]

June 16, 2011 |  6:17 pm

Sierra
A Squaw Valley hiker had to be rescued this week at Sequoia National Park after falling through a snow bridge into the icy cold creek below, park authorities said.  The woman, 51, was found by hikers three hours later suffering from hypothermia, but was able to walk away from the scene.

Park officials declined to release the woman’s name but said she left Farewell Gap Trailhead for a day hike, training for an ultra-marathon. She crossed a snow bridge, but on her way back, the snow bridge collapsed.  The woman fell into the freezing creek with 5 feet of snow from the bridge falling on top of her, according to park spokeswoman Dana M. Dierkes.

The creek’s strong currents pulled the hiker downstream for about 40 feet, until she was able to stop herself, with the snow still atop her. The woman was able to dig up through the snow, creating  a small hole at the surface, and throw her backpack out. The pack  was seen by another hiking party, whose members pulled the woman out of the water.

[UPDATED:11:15 a.m. Monday June 20. In a comment to this post, hiker Marcia Rasmussen, confirmed the observation of a witness to her rescue, saying,  "It is true that I was not in the water more than a few seconds. I was able to grab a small bush and pull myself up into a small alcove, where I could dig for the surface." ]

“She is extremely lucky another group was passing by when she threw her backpack,” Dierkes said. “There were other hikers at the park, but this was really good timing.”

When hikers got to the woman she was incoherent, officials said. One member of the hiking party went for help, while the park’s helicopter, plus a medic and ranger on foot, arrived shortly after.

The woman declined evacuation or medical assistance, Dierkes said, because she was able to walk from the scene.

Sequoia officials say slowly melting snow is causing strong currents and rising water levels in the park. Some trails remain covered in snow and many creeks are not passable.

The Central Sierra Nevada mountains have 1.5 times more snow this year  than in previous winters.
As snow continues to melt, the water levels will rise and currents are stronger, park officials warn. Not only does snow last longer at higher elevations, but it hasn’t been as warm and snow is not melting as fast.

“If you are unsure about a snow area, err on the side of caution when crossing,” Dierkes said.

Photo: Sequoia National Park. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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