Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Birthday hike turns into cold night on mountain top

Father and son rescued from icy ledge in Sawtooths

Express Staff Writer

A father and his son were plucked off an icy ledge near the summit of Thompson Peak in the Sawtooth Mountains north of Ketchum on Saturday after surviving a night of freezing temperatures and snow.

Wearing only jeans and light jackets, Thomas Dopp, 49, and his 16-year-old son, Logan Dopp, of Meridian, were unprepared for the freezing rain and six inches of snow that fell on the area Friday and Saturday.

Ketchum Fire Chief Greg Schwab, who was incident commander of the rescue, said rain turned to snow on Friday, glazing the rocks with ice. Custer County Sheriff Tim Eikens said the Dopps misread their map and took a wrong turn. They became trapped on a ledge that had "a vertical drop of approximately 300 feet (and) was so small they could not sit down," Schwab said.

"The father stood on the ledge for 28 hours, and his son was above him sitting on a rock that was frozen to the side of the cliff," Eikens said. "That's where they stayed, they couldn't go up or down.

"We're very, very lucky this wasn't a recovery."

Thomas Dopp, who was celebrating his 49th birthday, reached Custer County dispatch via cell phone Friday afternoon and asked for help. Custer County then requested assistance from Ketchum and Sun Valley's Backcountry Medical Rescue Team, Schwab said.

A total of 15 agencies participated in the rescue—a high figure that Schwab said was necessary due to the pair's precarious location.

"It was just unbelievable terrain," Schwab said. "We called in a lot of people with a lot of rock experience."

Schwab established a command post at Redfish Lake Friday evening and Ketchum paramedics Miles Canfield and Seth Martin were airlifted by helicopter to about 10,000 feet on Thompson Peak to initiate contact with the Dopps.

Schwab said the paramedics made voice contact with the pair and assured them that help was on the way, but could not reach them because of their position. Two other rescue teams began hiking up Thompson Peak at 10:35 p.m. Friday and 8:15 a.m. Saturday.

A helicopter crew from Grand Teton National Park successfully lifted the pair off the ledge at 6:50 p.m. Saturday.

"My hat goes off to everybody involved," Eikens said. "They put their lives in danger to save (the Dopps') lives and did a magnificent job with a positive ending. I can't say enough about their professionalism and dexterity."

The Dopps were eventually transported to Boise for treatment of hypothermia.

"They were very thankful and very cold," Schwab said.

"They were in amazing shape for what they went through," Eikens added.

Schwab stressed that people need to be prepared when heading into the backcountry, especially the Sawtooths, where winter-like weather conditions can arrive at any time of the year.

Eikens, Schwab and others involved in the rescue will meet later this month to discuss the expense of the operation. Custer County has the option of paying the bill or passing it off to the Dopps.

The poor weather coupled with the difficulty of negotiating resources on a holiday weekend made the rescue particularly challenging.

"It was unbelievable," Schwab said.

In an interview with a Boise TV station, Dopp and his son said they are happy to be safe and hope others will heed an important message from the incident—always be prepared in the mountains.

An experienced rock climber, Dopp said they made the mistake of treating Thompston Peak as just another mountain while planning a casual outing. He said it was a mistake to leave at home equipment they might have needed, such as ropes, harnesses and carabineers. He also acknowledged that they had deviated from the route they had planned to take up the mountain.

Dopp praised the "diligent work of rescue workers." "That crew was incredible and we are really grateful for their skills. Very grateful," he told a KTVB reporter. "Everyone did their job well."

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