Sitkan Survives 1,000-Foot Fall Down Mountain

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

A Sitka hiker survived an avalanche and a thousand-foot slide down a steep slope on Mt. Verstovia Saturday.

Jeff Wright, 61, was able to summon help with his cell phone and was evacuated by a helicopter crew from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka.

“Banged up pretty good but will survive,” Wright said Sunday in a Facebook post, adding, “Valuable lesson learned.” 

The accident happened on the area above Picnic Rock in the popular recreation area.

 

The peak of Mt. Verstovia is pictured from Picnic Rock Sunday. An arrow points to the area near where Jeff Wright fell more than 1,000 feet Saturday.
(Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

 

The back side of the Mt. Verstovia shows the 1,000-foot chute where the hiker slid. (Photo provided by USCG)

 

“Incredible weather for hike yesterday… The medium was firm snowpack. Decision made to keep going,” Wright said in his online post.

After hiking the Verstovia trail to Picnic Rock at about 2,500 feet elevation, Wright continued towards Arrowhead Peak at 3,200 feet, according to a GPS track he posted to Facebook.

Sitka Fire Department engineer Zach Carlson was on duty at the fire hall when the 911 call came in.

“We got a call at 11:30 a.m.” Carlson told the Sentinel today. “A 911 call came in and the caller had fallen off the trail up on Verstovia and… they believed they were at about 2,000 feet elevation. They thought they were a couple hundred feet off trail but they weren’t sure, and at that point I got a description of what they were wearing and dispatched Search and Rescue.”

Carlson said several Search and Rescue team members were already at Picnic Rock for recreation, and they told him that it would be unsafe to attempt a rescue on foot.

“Our volunteers and staff that were up there skiing said they didn’t feel comfortable even going towards where they think the footprints went up the mountaintop, and that was kind of our go-to for (saying) we’ve got to get the Coast Guard involved,” Carlson said. “We think this might be too dangerous a rescue for the angle of the slope and everything… At that point, a Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched out and the Coast Guard conducted a rescue.”

The helicopter team hoisted Wright off the mountainside and flew him to the air station where an ambulance was waiting.

Online posts indicate that Saturday’s slide was not the first avalanche on the south face of Verstovia this month.

A video posted to the “Starling Birch” YouTube channel two weeks ago shows a hiker approaching the same spot where Wright started his fall. The hiker throws snowballs and triggers a series of avalanches that were filmed by a drone flying nearby.

Local backcountry snowboarder Lee House told the newspaper the final ascent to the summit of Verstovia can be problematic.

“The last section of the route to the summit is in steep and very consequential terrain,” House said via text. “If snow is present, the complexity of the terrain increases dramatically due to slippery, hazardous footing and being in avalanche terrain... If the snow is unstable or receives direct sunlight throughout the day, the snow can become soft and prone to avalanching.”

A Coast Guard video of the Saturday rescue shows Wright being hoisted aboard the helicopter. The footage also shows the instability of snow on the slope, and as Wright is lifted from the mountain, an avalanche forms where he had been lying moments earlier.

In his online post, Wright thanked all the rescue and medical personnel for their part in the rescue.

An initial Coast Guard report said Wright tumbled about 200 feet, but the GPS track recorded by Wright’s phone indicates that his fall started at just over 2,900 feet elevation and ended at the 1,800 foot level.

The track image on his cell phone indicates that Wright was at an open snowfield only 300 feet below the peak when he started his fall.

Comments  

 
# julperr18 2022-03-29 04:10
Glad you are ok, Jeff.

Julene Logue
 

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AK COVID-19

At a Glance

(updated 8-17-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Wednesday, August 17.

New cases as of Wednesday: 1,444

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 277,007

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,296

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,843

Case Rate per 100,000 – 198.11

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "High.'' Case statistics are as of Wednesday.

Case Rate per 100,000 – 211.20

Cases in last 7 days – 18

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,022

Hospitalizations (to date) – 29

Deceased (cumulative) – 7

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.

 

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20 YEARS AGO

August 2002

 Electric department officials are asking Sitkans to conserve electricity over the next few days while the city recovers from a three-hour power outage caused by a mudslide knocking out a span of the main hydropower transmission line near Heart Lake.

 50 YEARS AGO

August 1972

Legionnaires of the American Legion, Sitka Post No. 13, have been appointed to key committees in the state department. They are George H. Inman Jr., Carroll E. Kohler, Raymond C. Perkins and Edward J. Flynn.

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