One bad decision: The harrowing tale of survival in the Cascades

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Wally Fosmore

SHORELINE, Wash. – Wally Fosmore said it came down to prayer, focus and 10 essentials to stay alive on Saturday night when he found himself trapped on the wrong side of the mountain snowshoeing from Scottish High Camp.

Immediately after taking out his cell phone to capture a picturesque view near the end of his snowshoe trail, Fosmore said everything changed.

“It’s like walking into the inside of a pillow case, it is just white,” he said. He was caught in the heart of a snow squall. His instincts told him his descent was coming up, but he wasn’t sure.

He snowshoed this pass near Leavenworth for 25 years, but it never looked like this.

“All it was lighting up was the snow,” he said, talking about his headlamp in the snow flurry. “It was like this big ball of snow lit.”

With the sun gone, his headlamp was made virtually useless. He pulled out his cell phone and called his son. It would be the last phone call he’d make before losing service for the night

“Dad is missing,” said Melody Fosmore, recalling the moment her son phoned. “I need his Apple ID and password so we can geo-track his phone,” she said he told her. Fosmore’s wife remembered every minute of the 30 hours after she learned the worse had happened.

“I knew that he was spending the night and that his life was in danger,” she said.

It would be his training as a scout leader and member of search and rescue teams, along with God’s grace that would save him, she said.

“It was huddle in prayer and wait,” she said.

Wally said when he finally got down to the base of the mountain where his son and a cabin should be waiting, he knew he had missed the mark. It was too late to check his compass, which may have helped him before the decent. He looked for shelter alongside the riverbank he would later follow to safety and found a textbook bivouac.

It would be his job to stay awake and warm throughout the night.

“Finding that spot and finding that fuel and getting a fire built made the difference to whether I was alive in the morning,” he said.

The next day a search helicopter spotted Wally and dropping food, water, and a note to continue along the riverbank to meet rescuers. It meant hours of treading waist deep snow to be saved.

“Even though he had his wits about him and was making good decisions, he had to continue making one good decision after the next in order to stay alive,” said Melody Fosmore.

Just before the rescue mission was to be suspended for a second day, crews spotted Wally walking up a steep ridge. His lesson, he said, is the same one he has taught for many years.

“Be prepared for the worst thing that could happen and have what you need.”

His list of 10 essential items you need include:

  1. Extra Clothes
  2. Extra Food
  3. Plastic Shelter
  4. Map
  5. Compass
  6. Matches
  7. Candle
  8. Knife
  9. First Aid Kit
  10. Flashlight

Fosmore said he would add a backup battery to the list to charge a cell phone. His battery died quickly with spotty service. He said you can never rely on a cell phone to save you, it should always be looked at as another tool.

Fosmore said he won’t be snowshoeing that close to nightfall and will check weather reports closely for any winter advisories before heading out.

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