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Well it was not a good weekend here in the Bitterroot. Sometimes these stories help us remember how fragile we are. I thought I would share it with you. A tragedy on the mountain where two were killed, has left us in a somber mood. You know the dangers out there, but this stuff really drives the point home. Take time to read the below article, and keep in mind the dangers next time you go out. Some times even the best of us end up in a bad situation at times. Keep the families of these two in your prayers. Also the rescue people could use some prayers. I know first hand when you recover dead bodies, it is very hard. You always second guess yourself. What could we have done to find these people quicker, kind of thing. You know you did everything you could, but that still rolls around in your head in the middle of the night, while you lay awake in bed. If you are SAR you know what I mean.

Stay safe out there.

Ravalli Republic
STEVENSVILLE - Max Haldeman and Lisa Jones hiked to the top of St. Mary’s Peak Saturday in the Bitterroot Range and had just started down when something went terribly wrong.

It may have been Max’s golden retriever dog, Maggie, that slipped first. Or maybe they just got too close to the edge of the towering cliffs. No one will ever know for sure.

“There was snow up there, but not a lot of it,” Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman said. “It had gotten warm. The snow had melted and then refroze. It was certainly slick.”

At 1:53 p.m., the 29-year-old Haldeman called Ravalli County 9-1-1 to report that he and Jones, 42, had lost their footing on an icy slope on the northeast side of the mountain. The two slid down hundreds of feet over ice, snow and sharp rock before finally coming to rest near a large rock.

Haldeman told the emergency operator that Jones was unconscious, but still breathing. He said his leg was broken below the knee and that he likely had internal injuries.

“At one point in the conversation, it sounded like his dog slipped over the edge and took them with her,” Hoffman said. “He later said something about it being so slippery. They may have just slipped and couldn’t stop sliding.

“Anything that I say now is speculation. We’ll never know for sure what happened.”

The 9-1-1 operator stayed on the line with Haldeman until about 4:30 p.m. when communications were lost.

By 2:15 p.m., Burleigh Curtis, president of Ravalli County Search and Rescue, was gathering his team, all members of the Mountain Rescue Association.

Although the road to the St. Mary trailhead was icy, it was passable, and Curtis said his team began assembling there by 3:15 p.m.

As three rescuers prepared to move up the trail on foot, Curtis worked to get a helicopter airborne in hopes it would spot the injured hikers.

“We had an excellent location on them because we were able to ping the coordinates from the cell phone, but they were a long way from the trail at that point and we weren’t going to find them just walking up the mountain,” Curtis said.

Two helicopters, one from Community Medical Center in Missoula and a private helicopter from R&R Conner Aviation in Conner, both made passes over the peak in late afternoon, but couldn’t get low enough to spot Haldeman and Jones because of high winds.

“It was extremely turbulent up high, with winds over 30 knots,” said Curtis.

Because of those winds, Curtis also worked with the U.S. Air Force to get a chopper out of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls. The military helicopters are capable of handling more difficult flying conditions and might also be able to put rescue gear or a doctor on the ground.

“This was a situation that was probably going to only be resolved successfully from the air,” Curtis said.

About 4:20 p.m., Curtis called 9-1-1 to get an update on Jones and Haldeman. The phone line, 9-1-1 said, was still open, but the only sound was the howl of the wind.

“I’ve got to figure that he was passed out by that point,” Curtis said. “They said he’d been getting increasingly disoriented as he talked, and he had some pretty bad injuries.”

The rescue team climbed up the main trail for a while, but eventually had to go off-trail to move toward the cell phone coordinates. Curtis said the going was tough and that the rescue climbers wore crampons on their boots.

Jones and Haldeman had no crampons, ice axes or other climbing equipment, Curtis said.

“It was really pretty tough conditions, particularly off the trail,” he said.

At about 10:30 p.m., a Life Flight helicopter crew equipped with night vision equipment spotted a flashing light. They directed a three-person search and rescue team to the source, which turned out to be the LED light on Haldeman’s cell phone.

“Unfortunately, when rescuers arrived, they found that both hikers were deceased,” Hoffman said.

A state medical examiner said Monday the two died from blunt force trauma related to the fall.

“That’s a hard time for our people, but really about all that you can do is start getting them ready to be taken off the mountain,” Curtis said.

The first team, which had been out nearly eight hours, downclimbed to the trailhead, and Curtis sent a second two-man team in about 1 a.m.

That team arrived at 5:45 a.m. and stayed with Jones and Haldeman until daylight Sunday morning, when the chopper from Conner Aviation returned and ferried the bodies off the mountain and back to the trailhead, where the Ravalli County coroner waited.

Both hikers were from Missoula. They worked for the same Missoula building general contractor, Hoffman said.

Haldeman’s mother lives in Ogden, Utah.

“His mother told me that Max loved the mountains,” Hoffman said. “That was one of the reasons that he moved here. He loved the outdoors.”

On Monday, Haldeman’s family left a comment about Max Haldeman on the Missoulian’s Web site.

“He loved the wilderness, especially the Bitterroot Mountains,” the comment said. “The fall was a terrible accident in which he never gave up trying to get help for Lisa and himself. He will be remembered by his family for his kindness and his courage. We want to thank all the people who assisted in the rescue and retrieval. We will forever appreciate the dedication of all involved.”

The Ravalli County Search and Rescue is an volunteer organization.

“They are just an awesome crew,” Hoffman said. “They are very dedicated people.”

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158 Posts
God rest their souls. Can't work out why you'd take a dog up there though in those conditions though. Situations like this are hard for the rescuers and the 9-11 operators too.

Improvise Adapt Overcome!
12,005 Posts
Yes, this is Sad. It does sound like the hikers were unprepared for the conditions. It also sounds like they were not very far out, as the cell phones were working. This is a point to think about. Accidents can happen anywhere, any time. It's not a matter of where you are, but whether or not you are inside, or outside of your skill level.

2,232 Posts
Same thing happened in our neck of the woods about 7 years ago. Father and son were hunting and got caught by a snow storm, vehicle got stuck and boy got cold so dad put him in tree well and tried to hike out,both died.

1,978 Posts
this is indeed sad; a blameless tragedy, while they could have carried ice axes or crampons, it would have seemed a silly to me for a short little hike in familiar territory. What a Shame.

377 Posts
Not yesterday but last Monday I sent a kid to the hospital who fell down the stairs at school. Accidents can happen anywhere. Most accidents happen within three miles of the home.

It is hard to see any happy walk turn out this way though. I will keep the family in my thoughts.


trois pour cent
5,942 Posts
You can be right in your judgements 99.9% of the time and still be dead in an instant. Nature is simply unforgiving.

Thoughts and condolences to the families.
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