Crews fought treacherous terrain and looming darkness to rescue a group of teens in an off-limits area of the Chelan Gorge Monday.
Four of six teens had scrambled onto an inaccessible rock ledge when a water release at Lake Chelan Dam came rushing through the gorge.
The other two then went up the hillside to call for help.
Chelan Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Brandon Asher said the initial report came about 5 p.m. and Chelan County Fire District 1 and the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office were called for assistance.
The teens were about 350 feet down in the gorge with water rushing between them and any way out.
Rescuers developed a plan to haul down a 35-foot ladder that could be used as a bridge to reach the teens, Asher said.
Climbing down the steep terrain, crews reached the area about 8:25 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Chelan County PUD had been contacted and began slowing the flow of water through the gorge.
Earlier Monday, the PUD had increased the water flow from the dam from 200 to 1,200 cubic feet per second after shutting down a unit for scheduled maintenance and a repair need that was discovered, said Kirby Reinhart, superintendent of hydro operations.
Asher said the rapidly rising water caught the trespassing teens off guard.
“They quickly realized something was changing and something wasn’t right,” Asher said, with one of the teens saying the rushing water blew a shoe off his foot.
Using rope techniques, the crews secured the ladder bridge as rescue swimmers got in place below, Asher said.
“Our goal was to get them across before it got dark,” he said.
The last of the four teens made it across the ladder about 9:20 p.m., he said, and the last rescuer about 9:28 p.m.
“That rescuer actually mentioned to me that he had to turn his head light on,” Asher said.
They all then had to make the steep hike back up to the road. And they encountered a rattlesnake along the way, Asher said.
“Luckily, we scared that back into the bush,” he said.
None of the teens and no rescuers were injured.
While the rescue was being organized, PUD personnel went to the site and Dan Garrison, PUD director of hydro, flew a drone in to make first contact with the teens.
The drone had a notepad and pencil attached.
“He was able to land on a rock next to the individuals,” Reinhart said. “They took the note off, scribbled on it that they were OK and would stay there until the rescue team could get to them.”
The PUD has “no trespassing” signs posted throughout the area that also warn of sudden river level and flow changes.