September 24, 2007 in City

Peak known to imperil climbers

By The Spokesman-Review

Dragontail Peak, which took the lives of a Spokane father and son last week, is known for giving climbers more mountain than they anticipated.

Climbers attempting to summit the 8,800-foot peak in a single weekend regularly find themselves still on the mountainside come Monday. Named for the “rock needles” on the crest southwest of its summit, the peak is located near Colchuck Lake in the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness, about 10 miles southwest of Leavenworth.

“We get a lot of calls weekly about people who are overdue because they think it’s a 16-mile hike they can do in a weekend and it’s not doable,” said Gene Ellis, Chelan County sheriff’s deputy.

Only once or twice a year does Chelan County’s search and rescue unit get called out for a full-blown recovery like the one that ended tragically Saturday at 3 p.m. when searchers found Otto Vaclavek, 53, and his 12-year-old son, Max.

Experienced climbers, the father and son started their trek Sept. 15 and were supposed to have returned the following Monday. The search, which included Vaclavek’s co-workers from outdoor outfitter Mountain Gear Inc., began Thursday after Vaclavek’s wife reported them missing Wednesday, Ellis said.

Sunday, as Spokane’s tight-knit mountain climbing community grieved, officials struggled to determine what caused the climbers’ deaths and exactly when the accident occurred. An official announcement is expected from the Chelan Sheriff’s Office today.

The Vaclaveks were found at an elevation of 7,360 feet, where the terrain can be icy year-round, Ellis said. Technical mountain climbers sometimes crawling on their hands and knees had to use ice axes and crampons to reach them. A helicopter was used to get the victims down.

The Vaclaveks were seasoned climbers, said Paul Fish, Otto Vaclavek’s friend of 20 years and his employer at Mountain Gear, which is based in Spokane Valley.

“He was a great mountaineer and a safe mountaineer and an outstanding climber. It was totally unexpected this would happen,” Page said.

Friends of the Vaclaveks plan to create a memorial account in Otto’s name at Spokane Teachers Credit Union to benefit the climber’s wife and daughter.

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