ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Don Jardine and two climbing partners had spent days digging their tents out of deep snow and waiting for a chance to continue their bone-chilling expedition on Canada's highest mountain.
They had given up and started down when the wind picked up, blowing away their tent and some gear. They spent three days trapped in a blizzard.
"It's like you're sticking your head out a car window going 65 miles an hour while someone is throwing rice at you," Jardine said Saturday, hours after the hikers were rescued from Mount Logan (search), 25 miles east of the Alaskan border in the Yukon Territory.
Jardine, 51, Alex Snigurowicz, 45, and Erik Bjarnson, 41, were plucked from the 19,500-foot peak by rescuers from Alaska working with Canadian parks officials. They were in an Anchorage hospital recovering from frostbite.
The three climbers set out May 4 on an eight-member expedition to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the North Shore Search (search) and Rescue team of North Vancouver.
They spent a week skiing up to King's Col, a saddle ridge at the 13,500 level, basking in the warmth of clear weather.
"It was like summer, almost too hot," Jardine said. "Everyone was getting a suntan."
Then the first storm came, stranding the climbers for five days. Each morning they dug their tents out of deep snow and shivered in temperatures as cold as 25 degrees below zero, waiting for an opportunity to continue their trek, Jardine said.
When the sun came out again, the party resumed the climb. Eventually, they reached 18,000 feet.
But at a plateau called Prospector's Col (search), temperatures dropped again, and the trip began to take its toll on the three men. They decided to turn around and began their descent Wednesday as the other five expedition members continued on.
Before long, the wind kicked up again, so the trio camped out, hoping for better conditions in the morning. But the weather only worsened: "The wind actually lifted the tent floor with me on it," Jardine said.
The 240-pound firefighter was no match for the wind, which eventually flipped the tent over with him in it. He ran out with his sleeping bag and the wind flung the tent off the mountain, along with shovels and a stove.
That night the men burrowed into a snow cave like sardines. By Friday morning, they were suffering from hypothermia and Jardine could no longer feel his toes. Snigurowicz became confused and passed out a couple of times.
"At one point, Alex asked for a can of Pepsi or something like that," Jardine said. "We said OK, we'll have a helicopter fly it right up."
Eventually, two descending climbers left a tent for the men, who kept in touch by radio with other members of the expedition.
On Friday morning, the other members of the party used a satellite phone to reach Tim Jones, a Vancouver climber who helped coordinate the rescue effort that included Canadian and Alaskan officials and the Alaska Air National Guard.
Late Friday night, a helicopter arrived.
One at a time, the helicopter lowered the ailing climbers in a cage dangling from the chopper to a lower part of the mountain. From there, they were evacuated early Saturday in a HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter sent by the Guard. A transport plane took them to Anchorage.
At the Guard's Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage (search), Sgt. Kenneth Bellamy said he feared for the men's lives when he first joined the effort to find them.
"People were afraid one, maybe more of them, were deceased," he said. "When I came in today and saw all three had made it, that was a nice surprise for me."
Now Jardine's toes looked like they've been dipped in grape juice and his hands look like they've been dipped in fingerprint ink, he said. But it's a happy ending as far as he's concerned.
"This is what movies are made out of," Jones said. "This is a classic situation of experienced climbers getting themselves into trouble and fellow climbers coming to their rescue."