Snowshoers share avalanche story

By Sara Bruestle | Apr 24, 2013

Chris Sohn was snowshoeing on Red Mountain on April 13 when an avalanche hit.

All of a sudden, he was surrounded by snow.

Sohn, 44, of Mukilteo, was up at about 4,800 feet when he was caught in the avalanche near the Snoqualmie Pass ski resort with a group of a dozen snowshoers. The avalanche struck at 12:30 p.m.

“I heard one of my friends yell, ‘Avalanche!’ and then I was upside down, sliding from the top of the mountain,” Sohn said. “It was so fast, I didn’t see the snow coming at us.”

He slid 15-20 feet in the snow, hit a tree and then slid some more until he was stopped by a second tree and found himself stuck in loose snow around the trunk on a steep slope.

Snow buried his face and half of his body, and Sohn realized he was still upside down.

His legs were scissored under the snow, and he was tangled up in his shoes and poles. He could hardly move. He managed to free his right hand and make a breathing hole in the snow.

Then he waited.

Another snowshoer in his group, Won Shin, 56, also from Mukilteo, landed about 100 feet away, also by a tree. About 15 minutes later, he saw that Sohn was tangled in the tree and rushed over to help his friend.

“I couldn’t reach him, because it was too steep,” Shin said. “I climbed up and secured myself in the tree with a rope, and tried to get close to [him] in the tree.”

Shin, who has more than 15 years experience snowshoeing, had packed survival gear for the climb, including a rope, a GPS and a compass.

He carefully reached out and wrapped the rope around Sohn as a harness and braced against the tree to pull him up.

The group of 12 was split up by the avalanche, with four making it off the mountain on their own by 5 p.m. Sohn and Shin were among the four who made it off Red Mountain first.

Search and Rescue teams from Seattle, Everett, Pierce County and Yakima searched for the nine others. Shin said he tried to go back up with them, but the rescuers wouldn’t let him.

He said the group of four was lucky because they were close to trees that broke the avalanche’s impact.

However, a woman who had been showshoeing with her dog near the group was not as lucky. She was buried in the avalanche and died nine hours later, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“We saw the one lady with the dog just before the avalanche started,” Sohn said. “That was the last time I saw her.”

The other eight snowshoers realized the woman was missing when her dog, alone, approached them afterward. About 45 minutes after the avalanche struck, they located the woman face down under about 5 feet of snow.

She had a pulse, and they did what they could to keep her warm while they waited 2 ½ hours for rescuers to hike to them.

It took another six hours to dig the woman out and get her on a sled. After she was brought down from the mountain, she was pronounced dead around midnight.

The 12 friends are experienced snowshoers who go into the mountains every weekend.

Sohn and Shin said they’ll never forget how fortunate they were to get off Red Mountain not only alive but largely unharmed.

“I’m lucky that Won Shin was there,” Sohn said. “He is the reason I’m still living. I appreciate him a lot.”

Shin said: “I’m not a hero. I’m the one who was lucky to find him.”

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