Port Angeles Officer JJ Smith helped a woman down from Mount St. Helens while she was off-duty Saturday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles Officer JJ Smith helped a woman down from Mount St. Helens while she was off-duty Saturday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Off-duty Port Angeles police officer helps rescue hiker on Mount St. Helens

PORT ANGELES — One of Port Angeles’ newest police officers cut her plans to summit Mount St. Helens short over the weekend to help an injured hiker off the mountain.

Officer JJ Smith — a 26-year-old who graduated from academy March 22 and began her field training March 23 — and four friends were hiking up the 8,366-foot-tall mountain Saturday before most of her group turned around at about 5,000 feet.

She and Aaron Huber of Snoqualmie continued hiking up to about 6,000 feet before finding a group of three people, one of whom was struggling to get off the mountain.

The woman, who Smith said is from Colorado, had dislocated her kneecaps while she was hiking.

“On their way down, her knees kept locking up,” she said. “They carried her arm over arm from 7,200 feet down to 6,000 feet.”

When they found the group, Smith said she heard someone talking on a radio asking for a snowmobile to help get the woman down.

The group was exhausted and overwhelmed, she said. The group had started their hike at about midnight and had been on the mountain for nearly 11 hours.

By that time the weather had worsened too. Though it was clear early in the morning, snow showers lowered visibility and winds were forecast for about 25 mph, she said.

“There were quite a bit of people up there, but I’m not sure anyone made it to the summit that day,” she said. “There’s really no reason to unless you want a sufferfest in the snow.”

Though Smith and Huber had planned to go to the summit, she said her top priority while hiking is always to ensure everybody gets off the mountain.

Instead of making it to the summit, she and Huber cut their journey short to help the woman.

Smith cut her snow pants down the middle to make a makeshift knee-brace for the woman before she and Huber helped her down.

Holding the woman, Smith would glissade — a way of sliding down a steep slope of snow or ice — slowly down the mountain whenever she could.

When they couldn’t glissade, she and Huber would carry or drag the woman while she was sitting on a piece of plastic.

They helped her down to about 4,000 feet, where they were greeted by snowmobiles.

“On the way down, they were saying how she had never really gone hiking, that it was her first time snowshoeing,” she said.

Smith said she is sure the woman would have eventually made it down the mountain, but it likely would have taken much longer, she said.

The incident likely could have been avoided if the woman was honest with herself about her capabilities, Smith said.

“People set goals and they try to attain them without preparing,” she said. “To prepare for a mountain like that you don’t have to be physically fit, but you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

She recommends researching ahead of time to see what gear is needed and what kind of stamina the hike takes.

“We’re really proud of JJ,” said Chief Brian Smith, who is not related to Officer Smith.

Chief Smith said that officers don’t stop serving and protecting the public just because it is their day off. He also said it’s common for hikers to help each other out.

“This is what climbers do for each other,” he said.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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