SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - A hiker from Germany who trekked the Pacific Crest Trail for months had to be rescued in Washington state by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team on Tuesday.
During a press conference on Wednesday in Snohomish, Katharina Groene credits the sheriff’s department for finding her, but also a fellow hiker who she met just a few days prior.
“My faith in humanity is definitely restored, so box checked,” said Groene.
Groene started on the Pacific Crest Trail in May. The trail is more than 2,600 miles and goes from Southern California to the Canadian border.
It was on October 24 when she met another hiker, Nancy Abel of Sultan. Abel said she was making her way back to Sultan from Stevens Pass when she met Groene.
“I have a daughter her age, who by the way lives in Germany. And my daughter has a similar spirit of adventure,” Abel said.
After talking for a couple of hours, Abel tried to convince Groene not to continue north to Stehekin because of expected cold weather conditions.
“I knew she didn’t have snowshoes. And I knew she’d be up there by herself. And I’d been through a storm in the same area and we couldn't go anywhere for three days. It was terrifying,” Abel said.
Groene, however, ultimately decided she was equipped for the weather and continued on the trail. Just days after their meeting she ran into snowy weather at Glacier Peak.
“My food was running out. I was stretching it. I had one Pop-Tart,” Groene said. She even decided to contact her loved ones to let them know she might die on the trail, “I already, via WhatsApp, informed my parents, apologized for dying on the PCT, for risking too much, for being too stupid to inform people how many days I’m going to take.”
But Abel’s intuition about the weather conditions and the German hiker's safety concerned her. She had started a forum on Northwest Hikers. Abel said that one person had responded saying they had met Groene near Lake Valhalla.
Abel believed she was in danger from the weather and was not going to make it to Stehekin. Abel contacted Search and Rescue on Oct. 29 to report her concerns, the sheriff’s department said.
“She (Abel) had a pretty good idea, in her mind on where she was going to be based on weather and the amount of weight she was going to be carrying,” said Sgt. John Adams of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team.
Search and Rescue launched their helicopter, SNOHAWK1, despite bad weather conditions.
“We had some moderate to heavy showers between here and the mountains,” said Bill Quistorf, Chief Pilot. “There’s no weather reporting stations or WSDOT cameras showing what the conditions are, other than at Stevens Pass.”
The big clue came near Mica Lake when pilot Einar Espeland found a set of human tracks in the snow.
“I did spot one set tracks, we got down real low to verify they were human tracks. It was one single set and the direction they were heading, they were headed north,” said Espeland.
The crew then flew to the next ridge next to the Milk Creek drainage above the snow line to see if they could re-acquire the tracks. That’s when they found Groene.
“I had just spotted her in the tall timber. She had just come into a little opening. She was wearing a reddish jacket, which was nice, it was bright,” Espeland said.
However, the crew was running low on fuel and they had to find a landing area, which proved to be difficult because of the deceiving landscape that looked flat but was really sloped.
“I told Einar to hop out. We had some logs and branches around us. I told him to grab three logs and then you put those three logs underneath the right skid,” said Quistorf.
But eventually, the crew found Groene.
“I was crying. I was screaming for help before,” she recalled.
Groene said she is grateful for Abel for saving her life.
“I knew who called. But who does call for a stranger? Like no people call for strangers,” Groene said to Abel during the press conference.
Abel replied with a laugh, "Well, you weren’t a stranger. You talked my ear off for two hours. I knew your whole life story by the time we parted ways.”
The women said they will be lifelong friends. According to the sheriff’s department, Groene will be staying with Abel until she’s ready to return to Germany.
The sheriff’s department reminded hikers that winter weather comes much earlier in the mountains and it is extremely important to be well prepared with proper clothing, shelter and food when backpacking.