Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Rescued hiker returns to mountain, labor jobs


October 20, 2011

Ten months after breaking his back during a fall off Mount Ripinsky, Keith Hutchins has returned to the peak on regular hikes.

A 41-year-old deckhand and construction worker, Hutchins figures he has been to the top about 15 times since the accident that led to his dramatic, aerial rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard.

He was back on the mountain about six weeks after the Jan. 6 rescue. "My doctor got pissed, but I can’t sit around very long. I’m not a sitting-around person. If I did, I’d go crazy. That’s why I go up there in the first place," he said in an interview this week.

Hutchins said he has nerve problems and muscle spasms at the center of his back, and pain daily, but he has continued to work construction and deckhand jobs. "Right when I was supposed to start physical therapy, I went fishing. I needed the money. From what the doctors said, I think I was going to have pain anyway... All in all, I’m doing pretty well. I have pain and problems but nothing I can’t work through or deal with."

Coiling line on fishing boat has strengthened his back, he said.

Hutchins was scheduled to leave Alaska for San Diego Friday, a trip that had been scheduled for the day after his fateful January hike. "I had to wait until I healed. Then when I healed, I didn’t have the money."

As of Wednesday morning, Hutchins was near Ripinsky tree line, hiking the mountain again, effectively replicating the morning of his fall.

Everyone told him not to tempt fate, Hutchins said. "I’ve thought about my mistakes for a long time. I go with a GPS and a map and a compass and my phone and there’s not near as much snow." It was a feature on Hutchins’ new iPhone that allowed rescuers to pinpoint him, after several falls, at 2,100 feet on the mountain’s west flank at night.

Hutchins said a day doesn’t pass that he doesn’t think about the accident. He said he now remembers a lot more about the details of events leading up to his fall, and the things he thought about as he clung to the mountain through the night. "I can remember certain moments. Being on the mountain has helped trigger it."

He said he was looking forward to the trip to San Diego. "I can’t wait. It’s going to feel really good lying on the beach. I have a one-way ticket."