The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Published 5/29/13 | Log In
Rock nearly claims life of SPU coach
By DANNY CIACCIO, Sports Editor
Published: October 31, 2012
Jane Larson nestled herself on the cliff’s edge and looked out to the horizon. The snow-capped North Cascades created a beautiful, jagged landscape. This moment of serenity was quickly interrupted by an overhead yell—a warning cry.
“All of a sudden, I felt this very dark shadow roll over the top of me and a crunching sensation,” Larson said.
On July 15, Larson and her boyfriend John Ricardi were climbing Sahale Mountain, an 8,500-foot glaciated mountain in North Cascades National Park. Larson, a 2010 Seattle Pacific graduate and assistant cross country coach, was put in a life-threatening situation after a loosened boulder struck the left side of her body.
Her injuries included a broken collarbone, four broken ribs, broken tibia and broken fibula. With no access to immediate help, they had to do a self-rescue.
“We started to climb down, and it was an incredibly slow and painful process,” Larson said. “Every movement was excruciating.”
Larson and Ricardi were looking forward to their first climb of the summer together. Sahale seemed like the perfect choice, due to its lower level of difficulty and surrounding beauty.
“We wanted to have an easier climb for our first one (of the summer) and see some of the most beautiful country in America,” Ricardi said. “We just wanted to have a good weekend.”
At 3 a.m. on July 15, Larson and Ricardi began the trek on Sahale. Ricardi’s brother, Josh, and their friend, Luke Shy, were climbing nearby Boston Peak. At 8 a.m. they set up base camp at the bottom of the glacier.
By mid-afternoon, Larson and Ricardi came up to an exposed face of the mountain near the summit. Although it wasn’t especially technical, Ricardi, an experienced mountaineer, figured this would be an appropriate situation for Larson to practice the procedures of putting on a harness and climbing up.
“The plan was to take the rope up and fix the rope at the top, throw it down from the summit and belay her up,” Ricardi said.
As Ricardi free-climbed up the mountainside, he reached for a big cube of rock that was looser than it appeared. The refrigerator-sized boulder came loose and tumbled into a free fall. It struck Ricardi’s right leg before tumbling onto Larson.
“For a split second I thought it had knocked her off the mountain,” Ricardi said. “That emotion was complete fear and emptiness.”
Ricardi soon saw Larson on the edge of the 100-foot cliff. The rock struck Larson’s left side and continued to roll, knocking off Ricardi’s backpack, but nothing else.
“Neither of us moved, but it definitely could have pushed us off easily,” Larson said. “It felt like God was holding us onto the mountain.”
Josh Ricardi and Shy were about 800 meters away when they heard rocks falling. They came over immediately to assess the situation. Larson was severely injured and was incapable of moving on her own. They also feared she had internal injuries. In order for Larson to survive, the foursome knew they had to methodically get down the mountain.
“With each cliff, each traverse, each snowfield, with each little section, we had to evaluate the situation, make a plan, discuss the plan, check the plan and had to execute the plan,” Larson said. “We knew we had to get down and off the mountain; the weather was looking iffy.”
It took them six hours to climb down most of the glacier, which took only an hour to climb up. While Larson sat on the ice to rest, her collarbone shifted and began poking out. The excruciating pain forced Larson to stay on the ice. As her boyfriend stayed by her side for support, other climbers brought up tents and food from the base camp.
Meanwhile, Josh Ricardi sprinted down the mountain towards Cascade Pass, where he heard there was a ranger on duty. A few hours later, Larson saw the red dot—Josh Ricardi in his coat—in the base camp. John Ricardi knew that his brother had found someone, or else he wouldn’t have come back.
“He went up and down the mountain a few times during the day,” John Ricardi said. “There are not too many people that could do what he did.”
At the bottom of the glacier, Larson continued to wait on the ice. With her constant pain and exhaustion level becoming unbearable, she found herself clenching her boyfriend in silence, praying for the arrival of the helicopter.
Suddenly, out of the stillness in the mountain air, they heard the “quip quip quip quip” of the helicopter blades.
“It was the most enjoyable sound in the world,” Larson said. “How often is there such a direct answer to prayer in the moment when you most need it?”
The ranger assessed Larson’s injuries and determined that they would need a larger helicopter. Forty-five minutes later, another helicopter came and the ranger tethered down to the ground. Larson was transported from the glacier on an 85-foot cable. After dangling from the helicopter for 10 minutes, Larson was moved to an Airlift Northwest helicopter that took her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Larson was in the hospital for four days. She attributes her lifelong commitment to running as a reason for her survival.
“Being an athlete prepared me to focus on the task at hand and not the pain that I was feeling,” Larson said. “The moment you start to do that, you start to fall apart.”
Since the climbing incident, Larson has undergone a long recovery process. After being in a wheelchair for two months and using crutches for another, Larson is now walking freely. Another major milestone happened one month after the incident.
On Sept. 15, Larson and Ricardi became engaged.
“We were already talking about getting engaged, but it’s pretty cool because (the incident) certainly brought us way, way closer,” Larson said. “To go through something like that and how we were able to work together in that dire situation was amazing.”
Larson, an 11-time national qualifier in cross country and track & field with a degree in English, is in her first season as the assistant cross country coach at SPU. Erika Daligcon, the head cross country coach, believes her experience on Sahale will benefit Larson in the long run.
“I think she has grown through it and this will help shape her as a person and her direction with others, especially in coaching,” Daligcon said.
Larson continues to take each day one step at a time, but she ultimately wants to return to the place that nearly took her life.
“I do want to go back, probably not for quite a while,” Larson said. “I do want to go back and climb that mountain.”