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Rescuer describes feat to save Maine rock climber

Bob Baribeau and his team of six technical rescuers took nearly two hours of climbing through a crack in a jumble of boulders to reach her

By Terry Karkos
Sun Journal

TOWNSHIP 6 NORTH OF WELD, Maine — The Portland rock climber injured late Tuesday afternoon on Tumbledown Mountain was an experienced indoor rock-gym climber transitioning to outdoor climbing, a rescuer said Wednesday.

Maris Toland, 28, and her boyfriend, Tim, whose last name was not given, were doing technical rope climbing and rappelling when the accident happened at about 5 p.m., Bob Baribeau of Mahoosuc Mountain Rescue said.

Mahoosuc is a search-and-rescue team based in Bethel and Newry.

"She is the better technical climber indoors, but he had more experience outdoors," Baribeau, an experienced technical climber of Bethel, said. "But outdoor climbing is really a different ballgame."

He said the pair had hiked four miles up the steep Loop Trail, which is the most difficult of four trails up Tumbledown, and then veered off on an old technical rock climbing trail.

Baribeau said Tim told him that the pair had climbed two pitches (or rope lengths) up when Toland attempted to down-climb from a difficult section and fell.

He said she injured both legs and ankles, suffering an open fracture on her right leg. One ankle was broken, but he wasn't sure about the other one.

"Both ankles were damaged and her left leg looked extremely swollen, so she probably had a very bad sprain," Baribeau said.

Despite the injuries, Toland and her boyfriend "did a great job of self evacuating, covering 180 feet on their own," Baribeau said.

"Tim said she was hyped up on adrenaline and made one rappel with a fractured ankle," he said. "When I first found her, she was on her butt with her ankle taped up and scooching down the trail."

They didn't have a cellphone, but there isn't any cellphone coverage up there anyways, so her boyfriend decided to run down the trail to get help, Baribeau said. He drove to Byron, called 911, and returned to the trail and hiked back up to Toland.

Baribeau said his team of six technical climbers were alerted at 8:45 p.m. Dispatchers first told them they were needed at a rappelling accident. On the way, they were told they were headed to the old iron rung area called Fat Man's Misery, which is closed off. It is an intimidating climb up through a crack in a jumble of boulders with iron rungs affixed to the rock to help climbers.

Once on scene, it took them an hour and 40 minutes to reach Toland, he said.

Rumford and Mexico firefighters and a Med-Care Ambulance crew, who were alerted an hour prior, had already hiked up the mountain, flagging a trail for rescuers.

"The Rumford and Mexico firefighters and Med-Care did a fantastic job," Baribeau said. "Thank goodness the Rumford and Mexico and Med-Care guys flagged a trail for us."

Toland was still wearing her climbing harness. Because of the injuries in her lower extremities, Baribeau said they tied her harness into the litter to prevent her from sliding forward when they were descending.

In 650 feet of initial rope work to carry Toland down the gnarliest stretches, he said the grade or slope pitch was approaching between 45 and 50 degrees and they had to contend with several 10- to 12-foot drops, all the while working in pitch dark by headlamps. There were a dozen to 14 rescuers to help work the Stokes litter down to more rescuers below.

Baribeau said Toland is a student pursuing a medical school degree at the University of Southern Maine and most of the way down, she worried about her rescuers.

"She was speaking to everyone, telling us to drink water and eat something, so she was active in her own rescue," he said.

When batteries in their headlamps began to lose energy due to the hours-long carry down, the Med-Care crew, who had brought high-powered, hand-held lamps, would walk ahead of the litter carriers and shine their lights at their feet so they could see where to safely step.

"I give the Rumford and Mexico guys high marks, because that terrain was so foreign to them," Baribeau said. "This was a significant rescue in Western Maine and I rank it in my Top 10 rescues."


©2014 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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