Three Colorado guides honored with National Bravery Award for daring glacial rescue

From left to right: Karl Welter, Erin Laine, and Bill Allen
From left to right: Karl Welter, Erin Laine, and Bill Allen(Mountain Trip)
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 3:49 PM MDT
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TELLURIDE, Colo. (KKCO) - Three Coloradans pulled off a daring 14 hour rescue of an injured climber trapped inside a glacial crevasse on the slopes of the highest peak in North America, earning them the Department of the Interior’s most prestigious award.

Bill Allen, owner of guide company Mountain Trip, and Mountain Trip guides Karl Welter and Erin Laine were awarded the DOI’s Citizen’s Award for Bravery for their efforts to save an injured climber.

From left to right: Karl Welter, Erin Laine, and Bill Allen in 2017, during the Denali...
From left to right: Karl Welter, Erin Laine, and Bill Allen in 2017, during the Denali expedition.(Mountain Trip)

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland presented the award to Allen, Welter, and Laine during the 76th Departmental Honor Award Convocation ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 8.

Allen, the Mountain Trip co-owner, has summited Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson, and Carstensz Pyramid multiple times and has guided over 30 expeditions on Denali.

Welter, a Mountain Trip guide, lives in Telluride and works with the Telluride Ski Patrol and Snow Safety Team. He also volunteers with the local search-and-rescue, is a paraglider pilot, and has lead eight expeditions for Mountain Trip.

Laine, a Mountain Trip guide, grew up in southwestern Colorado and has experience in guiding expeditions, mountain rescue, and mountain safety education.

“I’m honored to accept this award on behalf of all of the guides who make big and small sacrifices every day to help keep our guests and other members of the climbing community safe in the mountains,” said Bill Allen, co-owner of Mountain Trip. “This award is a testament to the actions our colleagues and professional mountain guides take every day to help people achieve their goals in the mountains. I was super proud of the way our team came together to help on that day, and it’s great to see them all recognized by the Department of the Interior.”

Denali base camp
Denali base camp(Mountain Trip)

The Rescue

Allen, Welter, and Laine were leading a team of climbers on an ascent of Denali, North America’s tallest peak, on June 5, 2017. The climbers pitched their tents at 7,800 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier when their slumber was interrupted after midnight by a fellow climber asking for help from outside the tent.

The climber’s partner had fallen into a nearby crevasse without a rope and vanished. The three guides quickly stowed their gear, tied in, and started looking for the fallen climber. When they arrived at the crevasse, the climbers saw a hole punched in a snowbridge where the climber they were searching for had likely fallen through.

The group reported barely audible groans of pain coming from deep inside the crevasse, but couldn’t see the source. The climbing group then set an anchor, and Allen rappelled down the crevasse. The climbers reported that the crevasse was extremely narrow and could only fit one person at a time, so Welter and Laine set up a rescue hauling system nearby.

Roughly 40 feet below the lip of the crevasse, Allen met Martin Takac of Slovakia, who was badly injured and wedged tightly in the narrow walls. Allen was able to prevent Takac from slipping deeper into the ice by clipping him into a rope, but this was just the beginning of a challenging rescue in already extreme high-altitude arctic conditions.

A rescue crew comprised of other guides, a National Park Service Ranger crew, and a rescue team equipped with power tools flown in by helicopter finally freed Takac after 14 hours.

Takac was then flown to a hospital in critical condition with traumatic injuries and hypothermia.