A cliffside rescue began with rope skills taught at Union
When Kasondra Reel signed up to spend her summer working with Big Lake Youth Camp in Sisters, Oregon, she had no idea she would be assisting in a high-stakes rope rescue. But when a climber was stranded on the slopes of nearby Mount Washington, Reel and Pastor Les Zollbrecht, the camp director, raced to get him to safety.
“I became interested in rock climbing and technical rope skills while I was in college,” said the 2019 nursing graduate. “Until I came to Union, I didn’t realize the world had that to offer. I was in IRROC, the international rescue and relief outdoor club, for a few years, which provided a safe environment to learn about ropes and rescues and gear.” After college, Reel continued to develop her technical climbing skills while working as an emergency department nurse. When the call for help came, she was ready.
“We were preparing for family camp when I got an early morning call from Pastor Les,” Reel said. “He told me a climber had fallen on Mount Washington, and the local search and rescue team needed help locating him because they were hours away. He asked if I could go out to search, so I packed up, grabbed food, gear and a rope and headed up the mountain.”
Big Lake is an Adventist youth camp located at the base of Mount Washington, a 7,795-foot peak. “It’s approximately a four and a half hour approach to the summit base of the mountain,” Reel said. “We started our search about 8:30 in the morning. Around 1 p.m., we made verbal contact with the climber. We were able to reassure him we were there to get him to safety.”
As he was preparing to summit the peak, the 17-year-old climber had fallen approximately 40 feet. His cell phone smashed underneath him in the landing, but despite a low battery and broken screen, he had been able to make an emergency call. He was trapped on a ramp of loose shale very slowly sliding toward a 2,000 foot drop.
Reel and Zollbrecht managed to get approximately 20 feet from the young man. Attempts to get rescuers closer to him with a helicopter failed because the wind from the Black Hawk’s blades blew the sand and loose rocks, making his position more precarious. Reel said, “I tied in and belayed Pastor Les down to the climber. He was able to secure him and lift him to a more stable place to wait.” Dragging the climber up by rope took the Big Lake duo about 20 minutes, and it took another 20 minutes for a member of the mountain rescue team to reach them from a location the helicopter could safely operate.
After a medical assessment, the search and rescue team was able to use a helicopter to lift the climber and take him to a hospital. He had been stranded for more than eight hours. After the rescue, Reel, Zollbrecht and the mountain rescue team hiked back to the summer camp. “We got back around 5 or 6 p.m.,” said Reel. “It was a long day.”
“I absolutely believe every part of that day had God’s hand in it,” Reel said. “The fact that the climber survived the fall at all is amazing. The timing and location were too right; the right people were nearby. It makes me feel very secure in who God is.”
When she isn’t assisting in rope rescues, Reel works as an emergency department staff nurse at Kettering Health in Ohio. “I was definitely prepared to be a nurse at Union. Not only were my nursing classes helpful, but also the skills I learned in my leadership minor. Minoring in leadership was one of the best things I did in college. It gave me skills I use every day at work, and it made me a well-rounded individual.”
Working at Big Lake as a 26-year-old was an incredible experience for Reel. “I was able to bring my nursing and medical experiences to the camp, as well as the leadership skills I developed professionally and at Union. Watching God work through the staff and myself was incredibly spiritually fulfilling.”
by Annika Cambigue, senior communication and English major