A hiker in Washington’s Cascade Mountains was saved from freezing temperatures and life-threatening exposure thanks to the concern of a stranger she met while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Katharina Groene, 34, a hiker from Germany, met Nancy Abell on Oct. 24 when Abell gave her a ride to Stevens Pass, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
Abell, herself an avid hiker from Sultan, Washington, initially tried to talk Groene out of continuing her journey, warning her about the extreme winter conditions after noticing that the hiker was unprepared for snow.
Abell even hiked a few miles with Groene and continued to plead with her to stop the hike, but Groene refused and continued toward her goal of reaching the Canadian border.
According to the sheriff’s department, Groene began her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in May. The 2,650-mile trail spans from Mexico to Canada and crosses through California, Oregon, and Washington.
Unable to convince Groene to stop, Abel returned home, but remained concerned about Groene and monitored weather reports for the next few days. When the weather got colder, she contacted Snohomish County search and rescue on Oct. 29.
The sheriff’s office sent out their rescue helicopter, SNOHAWK1, to search for the woman, according to Courtney O’Keefe, Snohomish County Sheriff’s public information officer.
“Nancy was very worried and she provided a whole lot of information,” Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Adams said in a press conference Wednesday with Abell and Groene.
Knowing Groene’s pack weight, average daily mileage and the weather conditions, Abel was able to give the sheriff’s department a good estimate of where Groene might be.
“I just kept thinking about her being up there by herself,” Abell said at Wednesday’s press conference. “And I knew what it was going to be like.”
After an hour and a half of flight time, pilots located Groene through her tracks in the snow and found her near the trail.
“I spotted her right in the tall timbers, she had come into a little opening,” pilot Einar Espeland said during the conference.
Pilots attempted to land the helicopter over 10 times but were unsuccessful due to the weather and rough terrain.
They were finally able to land after Espeland “jumped out of the helicopter and stacked logs to create a level platform to land on,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Rescuers found that Groene’s shelter had blown away, she was wet, running low on food and had no locator beacon, according to the sheriff’s office.
Groene told the sheriff’s office that she attempted to call for help the day before, but was unable to because of the lack of cell service. Fearing the worst, she even left messages on her phone apologizing to her friends and family for dying on the trail.
“I informed my parents, I apologized for dying on the PCT, for risking too much,” Groene said.
Groene was airlifted to Duvall, Washington, where she was medically evaluated and met by Abell.
When asked why she would show such concerned for a stranger, Abell said she had a daughter Groene’s age who has a similar spirit of adventure. “How could I not?” said Abell.
“If Nancy had not taken action Katharina would have most likely died in the mountains,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Groene will be staying at Abell’s home until she is ready to return to Germany.