Search & rescue officials urge hikers to stay out of Big Four Ice Caves
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. -- Frustrations are mounting for search and rescue crews in Snohomish County as hikers continue to venture back into the Big Four Ice Caves in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The area, which is located south the Mountain Loop Highway east of Verlot, is peaceful and inviting.
One mile up a paved, groomed trail sits a mound of snow at the base of steep cliffs that reach far up into the clouds.
Sgt. Danny Wikstrom understands the draw.
"There is a natural pull, a natural drive to get closer to take a closer look and I get that," he said.
More and more, though, he’s seeing photos posted on social media that show hikers venturing off the trail and into the ice caves.
It frustrates him.
Through his work with Snohomish County Search and Rescue, he’s responded to several incidents here where people have died in or near the caves. A plaque at the end of the trail honors 11-year-old Grace Tam, who was crushed by an ice slab in July 2010.
In 2015, 2 more people were killed.
"Before I got into search and rescue, I’d go back in there. I’d probably walk around on top, I’d probably stand out in front, I’d probably walk inside. I wouldn’t do that anymore. I don’t get anywhere close to that thing," Wikstrom said.
U.S. Forest Service rangers patrol the area on a regular basis.
There are also new signs along the trail to warn hikers about the dangers of the ice caves.
Search and rescue volunteers say there’s only so much that can be done to keep the naturally curious away.
"You can only say over and over ‘Pay attention to the warning signs.’ They are there for a good reason. There are actually far more dangerous places that don’t have any warning signs," said volunteer Mike Loney.
One of the toughest parts of the job is talking with the families of those whose lives were cut short at or near the ice caves, Loney said.
"Particularly the young girl, I have a young girl who was her age. And to see the father and the family at the scene and their just emotional devastation… you can’t help but feel a little bit of that yourself," Loney said.
He hopes with more awareness that more hikers will make the conscious effort to keep their distance.
"Inevitably, people are still gonna go back there, they’re gonna get on top of it, they’re gonna stand in front of it, they’re gonna walk inside, and I hope that I’m not around for that," Wikstrom said.