Nancy Abell, 34, met Katharina Groene, 34, on October 22 when she gave the German hiker a lift to Stevens Pass, a mountain pass through the Cascade Mountains at the border of King County and Chelan County in the state of Washington.
Groene, who began a hike of the Pacific Crest Trail on her own in May, was hoping to make it to the Canadian border, however, Abell knew a snowstorm was expected to hit and attempted to convince Groene to postpone the trip.
“I knew she didn’t have snowshoes and I knew she’d be up there by herself,” Abell, who lives in Sultan, Washington, said. “I’d been through a storm in the same area and we couldn’t go anywhere for three days. It was terrifying.”
Despite Abell’s warning, Groene headed off, leaving Abell concerned. She suspected her new friend might be in danger, so she phoned Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue.
“[Abell] had a pretty good idea in her mind of where [Groene] would be based on weather and the amount of weight she was carrying,” Sgt. John Adams said. The sheriff’s office sent its rescue helicopter, SNOHAWK1, and two co-pilots, Einar Espeland and Bill Quistorf, who were barely able to navigate through the storm.
It turns out Abell’s hunch was right. Groene had been stranded in the mountains and was almost out of food. “I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out at all. My food was running out,” said Groene, who attempted to call for help was unable to get through. Instead, she left phone messages for friends and family, apologizing for dying on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The police reported that Groene was not prepared for the rough weather on the trail. Her tarp had been blown away and she was drenched. Luckily, the rescue team located the hiker and airlifted her to Duvall, Washington, where she received medical attention.
“If Nancy had not taken action Katharina would have most likely died in the mountains,” police said in the statement.
Abell's kindness, however, didn’t end with that phone call to police. She has given Groene a place to stay until she can to return to Germany.
In February 2012, in the Tunnel Creek section of Stevens Pass, an avalanche that was 200 feet across and 3 feet deep was triggered during a ski run. There were three fatalities and one injured. Three days before the avalanche, a snowstorm dumped 32 inches into Stevens Pass, which resulted in an unstable snowpack that was dislocated by the skiers.
The avalanche started at an elevation of 5800 feet and a slope of 42 degrees, and fell 2,650 vertical feet, dragging away five of the skiers. One of the skiers managed to wedge himself between two trees and was able to avoid being carried away. Another skier, Elyse Saugstad, deployed an avalanche survival airbag and suffered only minor injuries, while the three other skiers, Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and John Brenan, were killed by blunt force trauma and asphyxia.