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Helicopter picks up climber injured in fall

Posted: April 23, 2013 - 12:07am

FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks mountain climber was rescued from a mountain north of Nome on Saturday after breaking both legs in a fall the day earlier.

Andy Sterns, 46, at about 3:30 p.m. Friday was climbing the northeast face of 4,714-foot Mount Osborn about 40 miles north of Nome when a large rock that his climbing partner estimated at 100 pounds fell on the rope that was connecting the two climbers and triggered a small avalanche.

“I had just established an anchor so I was able to hold on but Andy was swept away,” climber Ian McRae, of Nome, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner by phone Sunday.

Sterns wasn’t buried by the avalanche but he fell about 60 feet while still connected to McRae by the rope, McRae said.

“We don’t know how his legs got busted exactly,” McRae said. “They might have gotten tangled up in the rope.”

The 50-year-old McRae, formerly of Fairbanks, then had to lower Sterns down to their camp on a small glacier at the base of the mountain.

“We had to do four pitches of technical rappelling,” McRae said. “He was about dead and hypothermic by the time we got to the tent.”

The two climbers had a SPOT device, a global positioning system messenger that can be used to send satellite messages, but McRae wasn’t able to get a signal to send a message until the next morning so the two climbers had to spend the night in the tent. Sterns was in a tremendous amount of pain the whole time, McRae said.

“His pain was off the scale but he dealt with is well,” McRae said. “He was lucid the whole time. I was worried I was going to lose him.”

Troopers received a SPOT locater beacon distress call at 5:11 a.m. Saturday and a search and rescue team from Nome attempted to reach the climbers by snowmachine, according to a trooper report posted Sunday afternoon. However, the mountainous terrain prevented a ground rescue.

A Bering Air helicopter plucked Sterns off the mountain at about 10:30 a.m., troopers said.

The helicopter transported Sterns to Nome, where he was taken to the hospital and stabilized before being flown to Anchorage. Sterns underwent surgery Saturday but neither McRae nor Sterns’ girlfriend, Lisa Beattie, of Fairbanks, had spoken with him.

Sterns is better known for skiing than climbing. He has competed in the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic, an unsupported backcountry wilderness race, multiple times and has also skied 800 miles from Nenana to Nome.

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