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Sequoia hiker: "I didn't know if I was going to survive."

Top photo: Underneath the snow bridge. Credit: Stefan Barycki Marcia Rasmussen, 51, was walking across a snow bridge spanning a small stream in Sequoia National Park last week when the hard-packed snow collapsed and she plunged four feet into the swift water.

“There was no warning,” she said. “One second I’m walking on top of snow , then I’m in the water.”

Dragged along the narrow icy tunnel carved by the creek, she tumbled down a waterfall before finding branches to stop her. But she was still stuck beneath several feet of snowpack.

For three hours, she tried to claw her way out, without gloves. In the final moments before her arms stopped working, she threw her backpack up and out of a 6-inch-wide hole she had dug. A passing hiker spotted it and hauled her out.

The Squaw Valley horse farmer, an experienced hiker, described her ordeal in an interview Monday. She said she is still recovering from minor frostbite that has blackened and blistered the skin on her hands and left knee, preventing the marathon runner from training at the park’s high-elevation trails. She “feels very, very lucky to be alive,” she said.

Rasmussen is a cross-country skier and mountaineer who has led a team up Mount Rainier. For 30 years, she trained wilderness search and rescue teams in Virginia. So, as Rasmussen fell through the 4-foot snow bridge, which she says looked hard, thick and packed solidly, she didn’t panic. “It was like being flushed down a toilet,” she said.

Snow bridges are formed when the top of a creek freezes, creating a tunnel. The water below can be barely warmer than the snow.

 

 

The view under Franklin Creek's Snow Bridge from Stefan Barycki on Vimeo.

 

To most experienced hikers, crossing a snow bridge isn’t a risky endeavor, and crossing the bridge over Franklin Creek is frequent, a Sequoia park spokeswoman said. This year the central Sierra Nevada had 1.5 times as much snow as in previous winters, and the snow lingers longer above 3,000 feet.

Rasmussen said that even though it was 80 degrees outside, she was confident the bridge would hold. She wore only nylon jogging apparel.

Once she had plunged into the water, Rasmussen said, she acted on instinct. “You don’t have time to think ,” she said. “My only thought was: Get out of the water. It’s a very fast way to die. There is no swimming in water that cold.”

Her only option to get out of the stream tunnel was to dig upward through 2 feet of packed snow. She looked for thinner areas in the tunnel, which appear as powder-blue spots when the light shines through, and started digging with bare hands. She dug for three hours.

“I used to do search and rescue, so the whole time I’m digging, I know what I’m up against,” Rasmussen said. “I know how people die in the snow, but there wasn’t much I could do.”

Spiritual, not religious, Rasmussen said she prayed part of the time and talked to herself the rest. “I talked to myself a lot, telling myself I had to be smart and think through my options, telling myself to keep digging,” she said.

Right about the time her freezing arms were beginning to give out on her, she threw her hydration pack out of the hole, which was about 6 inches in diameter. “I hadn’t seen anybody on this trail all day, but there’s always hope,” she said. "And that’s exactly what happened."

Stefan Barycki, 26, a photographer from Visalia, had crossed the snow bridge while Rasmussen was underneath. On a return trip, he noticed the backpack. Barycki said he wasn’t alarmed when he went over to check the pack out, thinking someone had left it behind. When he saw the hole and peered down it, he spotted Rasmussen’s face looking back at him.

“It freaked me out someone was down there,” Barycki said. “I could see her mouth saying ‘Help,’ but she couldn’t speak and was shaking like crazy.”

Barycki screamed for his friend to come over and they dug the hole wider. “Give me your hand!” Barycki recalled yelling. The men pulled her up.

They took off their shirts and wrapped them around her, asking her name. But Rasmussen was incoherent, suffering hypothermia.

Barycki said he stayed with Rasmussen while his friend went for help. Rasmussen said she remembers very little of the rescue.

Feeding her PowerBars, Barycki left to get water out of his pack on the other side of the snow bridge. As he crossed, the bridge collapsed again, cutting his leg (See video below). He said the water was shallow enough for him to get out, but he was shaken and cautious, and remained on the other side, monitoring Rasmussen from a short distance.

Coincidently, Ed Patrovsky, a retired national park ranger and a longtime friend of Rasmussen’s, walked by on her side of the creek and gave her his sleeping bag and more clothing. The men waited for about two hours until the park’s helicopter and a medic and ranger on foot arrived.

Rasmussen said she was able to walk away and didn’t need the park’s medical assistance or an emergency evacuation. She left the park around nightfall, went to pick up her husband from work, which is a 2.5 hour drive, and came home and slept.

“I am strong and determined,” Rasumussen said. “I do well in the outdoors and in extreme situations. I didn’t know till the last second if I was going to make it, but I didn’t let myself dwell on those thoughts.

“I will be back up their as soon as I can run again.”
Photo: Marcia Rasmussen, 51, running in Sequoia Park on the High Sierra Trail, 2007.Credit: Marcia Rasmussen
 RELATED:

Thick Western snowpack holds water--and potential peril 

Blasting through Yosemite's snowbound Tioga Road

Emergency rescue and Sequoia National Park

--Ashlie Rodriguez

Top photo: Underneath the snow bridge. Credit: Stefan Barycki

Bottom photo: Marcia Rasmussen, 51, running in Sequoia Park on the High Sierra Trail, 2007. Credit: Marcia Rasmussen  

Video: The view under Franklin Creek's Snow Bridge. Credit: Stefan Barycki

 
Comments () | Archives (25)

The comments to this entry are closed.

People hike alone all the time. Yes it is a good idea to hike with a buddy especially if you're inexperienced, but it really depends on the trail condition and the length of the journey. She was wearing nylon jogging apparel because she was probably jogging and it was 80 degrees. She was prepared because she had the experience and knowledge to survived a situation that would have killed most people (including the ridiculously negative people on here). It's easy to cluck your tongue, but I'm sure everyone on here has done something stupid or regretful in their lives. Learn from your mistakes and move on with life.. and don't listen to the "omniscient" people on the internet.

It's stunning to read so many hateful posts. Having been a certified WFR and having many years as a Wilderness Guide, Kayak Instructor, etc, I know how important it is to convey the importance of having a buddy when venturing away from camp (because its a liability if we lose a client) . However, I do 99% of my kayaking, hiking, backpacking, and trail running SOLO! I know the risks EVERY time I head outside and I am prepared for any consequences. I have been known to run (often) along the 11 mile Moro Ridge trail in Crystal Cove State park without water or food, while wearing nothing more than booty-shorts, a running top, and my shoes. I kayak at night by myself and along the coast during the day-SOLO. Luckily, the only time I've encountered a problem was when I was hiking with a pack carrying a few text books, a huge lunch, a few beers, my yoga mat and some comfy clothes (I intended to stay out til sunset and head back by moonlight)...I encountered a BIG Mountain Lion 1/2 way through my day. The cat thought I was an a** while I was doing my crazy person dance swinging my trekking poles and screaming like a banshee...I'm happy it worked. Had it not, I deserved to be eaten...I was in the kitty domain... I feel more frightened when I have to drive the 5 north from Anaheim to Glendale every morning at 4:45am...way more a**holes and danger there then in the wilderness. If I die outside, it most likely be becuase of another human being than something eles. Keep your bitterness to yourselves and think about it, you know that all of y'all have hiked alone at least once! Wishing y'all happy and safe adventures outdoors! :)

For anyone who has read "The Last Season" (the story of the disappearance of Randy Morgenson), this incident is very familiar. Except that nobody was around to rescue him...

One gutsy, and luckily, very experienced lady. If she weren't gutsy AND experienced, she wouldn't have made the trek across the snow bridge. Praise the Lord that she made it! I would have been worried about blackened parts of my body, but apparently she didn't freak, and knew she would be ok!

JT: You're right. If someone's sitting at their computer screen for four hours confused by a simple blog post, then they need to get up, walk out the door, and walk into traffic until nature takes its course.

"back up their" what?

Never take a chance when you are outdoors on your own.It is dangerous enough when you follow this creed.Enough things can happen to you when you are sure all is well,accidents.Taking extreme chances will get you into extremely precarious situations outdoors.Live to enjoy another day,that my friend is the secret to life.

Wow, the armchair *expletives* are really out in force!

Look, people hike alone all the time. It's a heck of a lot safer than driving on a freeway. Especially with people like some of you near by.

One poster here sure has issues.

Exploring alone....isn't this the kind of thing they teach 5 year olds NOT to do in school, scouts, etc? Why does it suddenly become OK when you hit an age or an experience level?

Did she refuse the helicopter because she didn't want to pay for it? Costs were already incurred at that point...or was she too embarassed and didn't want to admit to her hiker friends that she was med-evac'ed out? IS this some kind of macho thing?

Lucky for her someone happened along to save her otherwise it woudn't be until the spring thaw that anyone knew where she went...IF THEN!

If her years of experience didn't help her to make better choices re: equipment, clothing, buddy-system, etc...I guess experience doesn't count for much.

I suppose I'd rather be a KNOWLEDGEABLE hiker than an EXPERIENCED one. The Knowledgeable one had a buddy hiking along and some food.

I'd take one Marcia Rasmussen over all 13 of you lazy slobs combined in anything -- hiking, bicycling, digging a ditch, closing out the monthly books -- anything. Go stuff some more chips in your face, and I won't whine when the coroner's office uses my tax dollars to roll your fat body off the sofa in front of the TV and into a body bag.

Astonishingly rude and unknowlegable comments from many. Most of the best mountaineers of the world do solo trips. They understand and accept the higher risk involved. Many of the commenters appear to be "armchair experts", who don't know a mountain from a molehill.

... something to be said and praised about survival techniques and training in the wilderness and awareness of what to do in situations like this, I recently went to Nepal and the Himalayas and crossed snow bridges twice, little that I know, this could have happened to me! I DO NOT hike alone and ALWAYS encourage all other hikers to do the same!!

People like this should confine their outdoor adventures to Seaworld and Knottsberry Farm.

Here in Seattle we have a lot of "experienced" hikers who go alone to the mountains and very often end up getting lost. Some of the survive and some don't, and in the meantime all the resources avaliable are used in trying to find them. Helicopters, personnel, you name it. When will those "experienced" hikers learn that hiking alone is not the safest not the smartest thing to do?

Franklin creek? Sounds like Mineral King.
Two thoughts: We're was your hiking buddy? Where were your 10 essentials?
I'm glad you survived Marcia.
It's times like these we learn to live again.

Yeah crossing a snow bridge is never not a risky route. A lot of "experienced hikers" this year are really getting themselves in trouble because they are not familiar with the heavey snowpack. Newbies please stay home and play with your ipad 2!

"Rasmussen said that even though it was 80 degrees outside, she was confident the bridge would hold. She wore only nylon jogging apparel."

Well, obviously she was wrong.

"... crossing a snow bridge isn’t a risky endeavor," NOT so. Old snow and ice deteriate and should be probed for weakness before crossing. A GOOD snow and ice mountaineering class helps survival. One must take responsibility personally.

Its amazing how deadly a snowbridge over a small creek can be. How scary to find a person the way Stefan did.

sounds like a good way to die when your end is near. The perfect way to save on these ridiculous and useless medical bills. Back to nature the way it was intended.

"The Squaw Valley horse farmer, an experienced hiker..."

Rasmussen is a cross-country skier and mountaineer who has led a team up Mount Rainer. For 30 years, she trained wilderness search and rescue teams in Virginia..

No gloves.

"..only nylon jogging apparel."

All this writing about how smart she is. I don't think this old crow is too smart. As an "experienced" outdoorsperson, she had the duty to take great care.

I assume the old bag will be writing a check for the helicopter and rescue services?

A miracle rescue, involving decisive thinking and luck.

Running alone in the wilderness? A true Darwin candidate!

I'm sitting here staring at this article. It's been 4 hours now. I still can't figure out what it has to do with this blog.


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