Man who survived fall on Cannon Mountain shares story, tips for other climbers

A climber from Seattle fell hundreds of feet down a mountain in the Enchantments near Leavenworth, fracturing multiple bones.

Bleeding and seriously hurt, he managed over two days to crawl and hobble his way out to find the rescuers who were searching for him.

Ryan Cairnes, 36, is a manager with Microsoft and lives in Seattle. He said he went to the Enchantments alone on the first weekend of November, summitted several peaks – then took a fall that had him thinking he would die on the mountain.

That Sunday, he was climbing down from the summit of Cannon mountain when something went wrong.

“Something just let loose. I knew I didn't get my handhold, and I just start sliding. And I kept sliding, sliding, and sliding,” Cairnes said.

“I just remember shooting off these ledges, smashing on the rocks,” he said. “There was no part me inside that said I was going to live. I just said, I’m falling off a cliff. And people die when they fall off cliffs. And I hoped when I do die, that it’s not bad,” he said.

He said the fall lasted an entire minute and fell 300-400 feet, finally coming to a stop after crashing into a boulder.

“This excruciating pain, I couldn't breathe, I just wanted to breathe so, so bad. I couldn't breathe. And all of a sudden I got a breath,” Cairnes said.

His climbing helmet is covered in dents.

Photos a friend later took shows his stuff and rocks in the area covered in blood.

The only person who knew exactly what mountain he was on in the Enchantments -- his mom who he had texted out in Pennsylvania.

She's the one who called search and rescue.

“I was panic stricken, I just knew,” said Joan Cairnes, his mom.

She said already lost a daughter who got sick when she was young.

“I said please don’t ask this of me, please don’t take another child from me. I don’t’ want to go through this again,” Mrs. Cairnes said.

Ryan Cairnes said heard helicopters the next day but said they didn't see him and resolved to get out on his own.

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said a search helicopter began flying a search area above Cannon Mountain and eventually located what were believed to be human tracks in the snow descending the west side of the mountain. The aircraft encountered 40-knot winds during the initial search, and eventually had to call the search off from the air at nightfall.

Two Chelan County Mountain Rescue personnel were also placed at the summit and followed tracks down the mountain's west approach. The tracks stopped around the 6,000-foot elevation mark.

Cairnes said with a walking stick he managed to move painstakingly, around 200 feet an hour, and eventually found the trail, running into rescuers.

“They're like were looking for you. And I'm like, ‘Oh my God I can’t believe you're here,” he said. “I'm very, very grateful they were out there searching for me,” he said.

He ended up fracturing his neck, sternum, kneecap, left ankle, and has rib injuries -- but is now home, after just a few days in the hospital.

“I hit with so much force, I don’t know why I’m here,” Cairnes said. “Something bigger than me looked out for me for sure,” he said.

"He was conscious and alert with significant injuries from the fall he suffered on Sunday," Chelan County Sheriff's staff said. "A rescue team with a wheeled litter was requested and Cairnes was taken to the trailhead where a Cascade Medical Center ambulance was staged. Cairnes was transported to the hospital in Wenatchee.

Cairnes said he wants to share his story to others so people can learn from what he did right and wrong. He said he had most of the 10 Hiking Essentials recommended by the Washington Trails Association – including a zero degree rated sleeping bag that he said he would have died without.

He said he should have told more people exactly where he was going, and will no longer take climbs alone.

He also did not have an emergency beacon – and has plans to get one.

Before heading out authorities encourage climbers to fill out an itinerary, which you can do at this link, and create a trip report, which you can do here.

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