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Colorado guides receive national bravery award

Mountain Trip guides recognized for saving a climber’s life on Denali
Mountain Trip guides, from left, Karl Welter, Erin Laine and Bill Allen get recognized by the Department of Interior last week for helping to save a climber’s life on Denali in Alaska. The guides received the Citizen’s Award for Bravery. (Courtesy of Mountain Trip)

Mountain Trip guides Bill Allen, Karl Welter and Erin Laine were leading a team of climbers up the West Buttress of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest peak, on June 5, 2017.

The team was sleeping in their tents at Camp 1, at an elevation of 7,800 feet, on the Kahiltna Glacier and after midnight they heard someone outside asking for help. An international climber who didn’t speak much English reported that his partner had fallen into a crevasse without a rope and vanished.

The guides quickly packed their gear, roped up and went down the glacier to look for the fallen climber. When they reached the edge of the crevasse, they saw a hole in a snowbridge over a crevasse where someone had punched through and heard some barely audible groans coming from deep in the crevasse below, but couldn’t see the victim down in the crevasse.

They set up an anchor and Allen rappelled down the extremely narrow crevasse, which could only accommodate one person at a time, while Welter and Laine set up a rescue hauling system on the surface of the glacier. They found Martin Takac of Slovakia badly injured and wedged tightly in the narrow blue ice walls about 40 feet down.

A climber makes his way on a ridge on Denali. Denali, located in Alaska, is the highest mountain peak in North America with an elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. (Courtesy of Mountain Trip)

Allen was able to clip Takac into a rope to prevent him from slipping any farther into the crevasse, but that was just the beginning of a challenging rescue involving several guides and the National Park Service Ranger crew. The team took turns descending into the crevasse in an effort to free Takac, counting on the rescuers on the surface of the glacier to bring them back up from the cold cramped workspace.

An NPS ranger rescue team was later flown in by helicopter and, armed with power tools, they were able to free Takac from the ice. It took the crews 14 hours to free Takac, who was then flown to a hospital in critical condition with suspected trauma injuries and hypothermia.

On Sept. 8, Allen, guide and co-owner of Mountain Trip, and Mountain Trip guides Welter and Laine were honored with the Department of the Interior’s Citizen’s Award for Bravery in Washington. Allen and Walter both live in Telluride, where Mountain Top is located, while Laine lives in Silverton.

The Citizen’s Award for Bravery recognizes private citizens for heroic acts or unusual bravery in the face of danger. Recipients have risked their lives to save the lives of Department of Interior employees or the lives of other people while on property owned or entrusted to the Interior Department.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland presented the award to Allen, Welter and Laine at the 76th Departmental Honor Award Convocation ceremony last week.

“I'm honored to accept this award on behalf of all of the guides who make big and small sacrifices every day to help keep our guests and other members of the climbing community safe in the mountains,” Allen said. “This award is a testament to the actions our colleagues and professional mountain guides take every day to help people achieve their goals in the mountains. I was super proud of the way our team came together to help on that day, and it’s great to see them all recognized by the Department of the Interior.”

Denali is a multiweek expedition that requires complex glacier travel, route finding and crevasse rescue skills in arctic, high-altitude conditions. Safety and survival necessitate all team members have previous expedition experience. As one of the original permitted concessionaires on Denali, Mountain Trip has helped more climbers reach the summit of Denali than any other expedition leader. Mountain Trip’s lead guides are required to have several years of experience on Denali, professional guide training through the American Mountain Guides Association and current medical certifications.

Allen has successfully climbed all of the seven summits (Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson and Carstensz Pyramid) and has guided over 30 expeditions on Denali.

Laine grew up in the high peaks and windy planes of Southwest Colorado. Following her passion for a life of mountain guiding, mountain rescue and mountain safety education, she lives in the San Juan Mountains in Silverton.

Welter started outdoor guiding with backpacking expeditions for teenagers in the Brooks Range of Alaska in 2007. He works with the Telluride Ski Patrol and Snow Safety Team, is as an active volunteer with the local search and rescue team and devoted paraglider pilot. Welter first climbed Denali in 2015 and has led eight expeditions for Mountain Trip.

For more information, visit mountaintrip.com.