Valdez Glacier rescue has happy ending for all
Valdez man Aaron Rasmussen was rescued by fellow hikers Saturday after he broke through thin ice on the Valdez Glacier and found himself submerged up to his chest in icy water.
“We kept our heads together and my friends got me out in good order,” Rasmussen said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “They thought quick and got me out.”
Rasmussen, an Eagle Scout, also credits the fact the hiking party of three was indeed prepared for emergencies and were properly outfitted for the rigorous and dangerous hike.
Don Bickley, who works with Rasmussen at the IT department for Prince William Sound Community College, was with him during the hike and described the accident.
Bickley, Rasmussen and PWSCC student Shawn Standal were hiking on the Valdez Glacier, taking photos and shooting video. The trio came upon ice caves and large ice columns near the lake and decided to explore them a little further. Rasmussen was in the lead, but further on the right from his buddies when the incident occurred.
“We heard some cracks,” Bickley said, “The ice broke and he went in.”
Rasmussen estimates that with the weight of his backpack and other gear he probably weighed in at 400 pounds when he fell into the frigid pool of water. Fortunately, he was wearing the proper gear for the environment and was prepared to get wet in icy conditions.
Bickley said he managed to grab Rasmussen’s backpack and other gear from him before he and Standal attempted to pull him from the hole.
“He kept getting stuck in the chest area,” Bickley said.
He hit on the idea of having his friend position himself horizontally instead of vertically so he could be pulled out.
The story could have ended much differently.
“I’ve learned through experience and other stuff how to gear for certain things,” Rasmussen said.
Having been born and raised in Valdez, Rasmussen grew up hearing and seeing tales of outdoor experiences going wrong.
“A lot of things could have gone wrong,” he said. “Everything aligned just right.”
Rasmussen described himself as experienced, but not “experienced, experienced” at Alaska outdoors activities. If he’d learned anything, it was to be prepared. This trio of hikers were indeed prepared and were able to save their imperiled friend in a matter of minutes.
“It was really, really quite quick,” he said.
Rasmussen said he wanted to share his story to warn other hikers on the Glacier about patches of thin ice in the ice caverns on the glacier. During the interview, he said he got an email from the wife of another hiker on the glacier that had experienced a similar fall through thin ice recently.
Bickley, whom Rasmussen called a very experienced hiker, had advice for others considering hikes on the glacier – and what to do if the unexpected occurs.
“I’d just say, if you’re going on the glacier, be prepared,” he said. “Stay calm and don’t freak out.”
Last summer, Valdez experienced two dramatic rescues of hikers that were unprepared for the rigors of the Alaska outdoors. While both stories had happy endings, rescue volunteers put their lives on the line to save inexperienced and unprepared hikers from situations that experts say could have been easily avoided.