Climber falls more than 300 feet on Mount St. Helens - and survives

Brittany Fintel recovers in the hospital after falling hundreds of feet on Mount St. Helens. (KATU Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. — How Brittany Fintel survived a steep, 300-foot plus fall on Mount St. Helens is anyone's guess.

Fintel left the climber's bivouac Saturday morning. She planned to summit the 8,663-foot volcano around noon, but she never made it to the top. Around 10:30 a.m., Fintel lost her footing on snow and ice and fell hundreds of feet.

She slid down the snow, tumbling over and over, knocking into boulders until she came to a sudden stop.

"The moment I slipped, I literally thought I was dead, "Fintel told KATU in an exclusive interview. "I was just expecting that this was the end."

Fintel came to rest just above another steep drop-off.

"I could’ve been going on for quite some time," she said. "It was pretty much a miracle."

A group of hikers saw Fintel fall.

A nurse and a search and rescue volunteer scaled slippery snow patches, but her 7-year-old German shepherd service dog, Indy, reached her first.

"He was my first responder, essentially," she said. "He made sure that I wasn’t in shock. He laid beside me, he licked me, he was extremely comforting."

The nurse and SAR volunteer eventually came to her aid. They assessed her injuries and radioed for help. Because of her location, and the mountain's steep rocky terrain, responders called for a helicopter.

Five hours later, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived.

"I said, 'Oh crap, I’m being saved by Coasties,'" Fintel laughed.

A minor blow to the ego of this Navy veteran.

"She cracked a joke at me," rescue swimmer Colton Tourtway said when he got to her. "We like to joke around. She just showed me she is in good spirits."

Tourtway maneuvered around the rocky slope, and with the help of others, they worked as a team to get Fintel into the rescue basket.

"The search and rescue volunteer dug out a flat spot for the [basket], which was a huge help," Tourtway said. "It was a great rescue. The team did a good job."

Fintel was flown to OHSU. Doctors diagnosed her with a broken hip, a concussion and several deep lacerations, but nothing more serious. She expects to be in the hospital for a few more days before transitioning to outpatient care.

While she was wearing micro-spikes, Fintel said she would do things differently next time.

"I probably should’ve been a little bit smarter when I came to the mountain. I didn’t have proper equipment for the ice, didn’t have an ice pick to do self-arrest."

Fintel said she was hiking up the climbing route, but left the trail to hike on snow because her dog was more comfortable hiking on the cold, even surface.

"Mountains are dangerous things," she said. "I just feel like I underestimated it."

Fintel is from Omaha, but living in San Diego. She is traveling the West. The climbing accident will delay the completion of her trip, but she says if her recovery goes well, she hopes to be back on the trail in six to eight weeks.

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