Loewen, who lives in Carnation, writes a page-turner of a memoir about her volunteer work with Seattle Mountain Rescue.
“Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue”
by Bree Loewen
Mountaineers Books, 202 pp., $17.95
Reading Bree Loewen’s memoir, “Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue,” seems just about as emotionally exhausting as dashing out in the middle of a stormy winter night to slog miles through mushy snow in hope of saving some hapless mountaineer who has compound fractures, hypothermia and who-knows-what internal injuries after tumbling like a rag doll down an icy cliff near Snoqualmie Pass.
Just writing that sentence has left me drained.
Yet that is the kind of Adrenalin-pumping, survival-in-the-balance call-out around which life revolves for this at-home mom who lives in Carnation.
The author of “Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue” will speak at 7 p.m. June 7 at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way, Seattle; tickets are $12 at the door or at mountaineers.org/blog/bewild-2017-speaker-series
Loewen’s stream-of-consciousness storytelling makes for a page-turner. The tales of adventurers in trouble kept grabbing my attention the way calls for help come on her cellphone — relentlessly, without warning, sometimes in the middle of the night.
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She drops what she’s doing every time there’s an avalanche on Mount Snoqualmie, or a stranded climber on Guye Peak. Anyone who’s ventured east of Issaquah with a day pack in the Subaru will read about plenty of familiar places. Each chapter is titled for the mountain, waterfall or hiking route where a life is in peril: Rattlesnake Ledge, Pebble Creek, Otter Falls …
Some victims survive to make amazing recoveries; others go home in a body bag.
Ultimately, a subliminal message emerges through the murky whirl of snowflakes that seems to blow from the pages every time you open this book: Without dedicated volunteers such as Loewen, a core value of our Pacific Northwest life would wither on the belay line.
We couldn’t play in the mountains the way we do.
Certainly there are professional rescuers employed by sheriff’s departments, national parks and the like; Loewen was once a Mount Rainier National Park climbing ranger. But groups such as Seattle Mountain Rescue, with whom she volunteers, put vital feet on the ground: outdoors-obsessed people who are there to rescue their own when everything goes south.
With a real stake in the outcome, they add credibility to the effort, often add the margin of success, and lighten the load on taxpayers who’ve never experienced joy at the perfume of alpine firs on a July day. With no pay, and minimal community support, they help lots of people make it home to their families.
Among intriguing ticktock storytelling, Loewen weaves her emotional challenges of being a female leader in a field heavy in testosterone, including the dilemma of being married to another rescuer (and what happens to little Vivian if both parents die in the mountains?).
“Russell and I share a preschooler with big blue eyes and blond pigtails that stick up in the air, who is asleep at Grandma’s right now, spooning a pink polka-dot security blanket,” Loewen thinks as she weighs whether they both should be heading down an avalanche chute on Red Mountain to recover an almost-certainly dead skier on a cold, dark night.
Still, she goes.
“This is a job for a human, not a hero, a human who has nothing else to do today but this,” she writes of her pastime. And that’s how she finds reward: by helping without pay, by giving aid and dignity to others who love what she loves — communing with mountains — but who need help at the end of the day.