Looking Back, Jan. 20, 2005
Looking Back, Jan. 20, 2005: Snowmobilers survive overnighter
Mitch Kleyn of Quincy knew he was in for an adventure Monday morning when he and his friend, Mike Strickland of Moses Lake, headed up for some snowmobile action in the Salmon la Sac area in northern Kittitas County.
What they didn’t bargain for was Mother Nature. Driving rain and swollen creeks had turned their normal snow playfields into different conditions than usual.
Sgt. Fred Slyfield, a deputy sheriff with Kittitas County and the Search and Rescue coordinator for that area, said that “water is running under the snow everywhere up there.” He described the current weather patterns as the “weirdest” he has seen in 25 years of rescue work.
Kleyn and Strickland left for the Salmon la Sac area Monday morning. Kleyn was familiar with the terrain. He visits the area a couple of times every year on his snowmobile.
The pair set out, expecting a full day of activity before returning to their vehicles. It was raining in the area when the two men headed their snowmobiles into a canyon. Suddenly, the snow fell out from under Kleyn’s snowmobile and pitched the rig into a creek. Kleyn described the scene as an “under-snow creek.”
They spent Monday afternoon trying to extricate Kleyn’s vehicle from the creek, but had no success.
Strickland’s sled was still operational but didn’t have enough power to carry both men out of the steep sides of the canyon. Mitch walked and crawled while Mike drove his snowmobile up the sides of a hill.
The men had gone out on the trip well equipped with beacons, GPS and cell phones, but none worked in the remote area.
They decided to leave Mike’s snowmobile, too and started out on foot, following their snowmobile tracks, walking and crawling over the difficult terrain until 9:30 p.m.
Kleyn remembered that he often carries a great big garbage bag in case of an emergency. The two split open the large bag and used it like a big blanket as they huddled under some trees.
“We knew we couldn’t go to sleep,” Kleyn said. “We shivered all night. We were soaked from being in the creek and from the driving rain,” he added.
Tuesday morning the men decided to walk down a trail. “We were so cold, we had to get moving,” Kleyn explained. They split a Gatorade and two bags of peanuts, which they had resisted using up during the night.
Finally, around 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon the two men heard the unmistakable sound of snowmobiles in the area. They thought it was a party of other snowmobilers passing by, but it was a group of three rescuers, including Kleyn’s friend, Sean Sahli of Quincy.
Kleyn suffered no injuries, but Strickland was hospitalized Tuesday night for treatment of frostbite.