Hypothermic hiker rescued

Man recovering after near-fatal experience

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

A visiting hiker found unconscious and hypothermic was rescued Thursday afternoon from a trail near Mendenhall Glacier.

Officer Bob Kolvig of the Juneau Police Department identified the man today as Robert Pace, 38, of Montana.

"He was found unconscious," said Marijo Toner, regional affairs coordinator of Bartlett Regional Hospital. "He was suffering from hypothermia and from dehydration" because of exposure to the elements overnight.

Pace had no broken bones. He was admitted for treatment and remained in Bartlett Thursday night for observation. He is in stable condition today, and is expected to be discharged this afternoon, Toner said.

Pace had been visiting friends Dean and Diane Paddock on Counterpane Lane in the Mendenhall Valley and hiking nearby trails for a few hours every day, said Division Chief Scott Chehock of Capital City Fire & Rescue. The Paddocks could not be reached for comment this morning.

"Wednesday he went out about 10 a.m. and did not return. Thursday morning, his friends reported him missing (at 9:24 a.m.) to the Juneau Police Department. We heard from them about 12:30 p.m. Thursday that there was a potential search. We were mustering the Capital City Rope Rescue Team and the Juneau Mountain Rescue Team, which always work together, when JPD called back at 1:10 and said another hiker had called," Chehock said.

The second hiker had stumbled upon Pace about one-and-a-half miles up the East Glacier Trail. "The man was unconscious, shivering uncontrollably, wet and could not speak," Chehock said.

The second hiker ran down the trail for help, and encountered a woman with a cell phone. Chehock was put in touch with them from his office, "and I told them what to do. They stripped him out of his clothes and bundled him up," Chehock said.

Meanwhile, Capital City assembled an eight-person rescue crew, including a medical team and a U.S. Forest Service official, Gareth Hummel, because it was on federal land. About 2 p.m., they left the glacier visitor center parking lot with a litter with a wheel attached. It took them 70 minutes to reach the downed man with all their equipment.

"Two Capital City Fire & Rescue medics sprinted ahead, stabilized the patient, put warming packs and blankets on him. He never was able to communicate, although he could open his eyes," Chehock said.

Pace stands well over 6 feet 4 inches and weighed more than 200 pounds, and the rescue crew used the lower trail with steps to bring the heavy litter down. They started down at 3:16 and put Pace into an ambulance waiting at the parking lot at 4:40.

"We had already talked to the doctor in the emergency room by cell phone," Chehock said.

Chehock felt the rescue mission had been both efficient and speedy.

"He is really a lucky guy. If he had not been found, it's a roll of the dice (as to his survival). He was wet and hypothermic, and you can't sustain life over a long period of time in that condition," Chehock said.

Wednesday night, the temperature in the area hovered around freezing, and there had been some rain, he said.

"We are assuming that he became incapacitated from a previous medical condition and could not get down off the mountain," Chehock said.

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