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Bozeman climber hurt in Absarokas
Blake Chartier, assistant helitack foreman for the Yellowstone National Park search-and-rescue team, is flown out with the victim of a climbing accident on Monday at the intersection of Mill Creek and East Riverside roads. The victim, a 48-year-old Bozeman woman, was then taken to St. Vincent Healthcare by HELP Flight.

A Bozeman climber remained hospitalized Tuesday after she suffered chest and back injuries from a falling boulder on Sunday while climbing down from 11,212-foot Mount Cowen in the Absaroka Mountains.

She could not feel or move her legs after being struck and falling about 30 feet onto a rock ledge, according to a Park County Sheriff's Office report. The climber has not been identified, and no more information on her condition was available Tuesday.

Because she couldn't be immediately evacuated, the 48-year-old Bozeman woman spent Sunday night on the mountain. She was evacuated by helicopter Monday morning and then transported to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings by HELP Flight.

"She was in pretty good spirits" during transport off the mountain, said Blake Chartier, assistant helitack foreman for Yellowstone National Park's search-and-rescue team. Chartier helped evacuate the woman from the mountain.

Park County Search and Rescue was notified of the accident at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday after one of the woman's climbing partners descended to make a 911 call. A third climbing partner, who sustained minor injuries in the same accident, stayed with the victim. The injured climbers were in a steep, 15-foot-wide gully at about 10,600 feet.

Late Sunday, the Gallatin County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Alpine Team doctor was flown to a site near the patient by helicopter pilot Mike Carisch to provide treatment, spend the night with the victim and prepare her for rescue Monday morning. Helicopter crews ran out of light before she could be evacuated Sunday.

On Monday morning, Yellowstone's helitack crew strapped Chartier to a 150-foot line while pilot Matt Turner flew him from the intersection of Mill Creek and East River Road about five miles in to the site where he was dropped off to prepare the patient for transport.

The patient was bundled into an inflatable immobilization mattress and then placed on a stretcher and in a canvas evacuation bag that has a four-point harness that attaches to the helicopter haul line. Chartier clipped into the line, making the flight off the mountain with the victim to the rendezvous point. From there, the woman was transported by HELP Flight to St. Vincent.

"It was the wildest ride I've ever done," Chartier said. "I've personally been involved in five of these, but this was the steepest, most technical spot I've ever had to be inserted into."

Chartier said the altitude was at the upper operating limit for the Park Service helicopter, a Eurocopter Alouette III/Llama designed for high-altitude rescues.

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"I'm proud of everybody because that was a rough place up there," said Park County Sheriff Allan Lutes. "This was a very difficult and dangerous rescue and demonstrated spectacular skill on the part of the rescuers and pilots. It is also an excellent example of interagency cooperation in the true spirit of Montana."

Other teams involved in the rescue included the Park County Rural Fire Department and Livingston Fire and Rescue.

Mount Cowen is the highest peak in the Absarokas, located about 27 miles southeast of Livingston in the Gallatin National Forest. The climb in from Mill Creek gains almost 6,000 feet over 13 miles, passing by Elbow Lake, and is estimated to take six to 10 hours to climb, according to "Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone" by Thomas Turiano.

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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