Occurred: 07/30/2016 1203 hours
Location: South Sister Climber’s Trail
Rescued: James Esposito, 36-year-old male, Portland, OR
Assisting Climber: Brian Sebastian, 30-year-old male, Redmond, OR


On the listed date and time, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue was dispatched to a report of a hiker lost on South Sister after heading down from the summit. The reporting person and hiker, Esposito, advised he had gotten off the trail and was climbing on some rocks having lost the trail about an hour earlier. Esposito reported he was hiking alone and had a little food and water left with him. Esposito added that he was dressed in running shoes; running shorts, a light T-shirt and an ultra-running vest.

Esposito’s GPS coordinates were obtained during his call to dispatch, which placed him about 1000 feet west of the climber’s trail at about 9400 feet elevation. The accuracy of the coordinates was reported to be +- 182 meters. The battery on his phone was about 20% at that time. A Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office SAR Deputy was able to communicate with Esposito by phone long enough to confirm he was not comfortable proceeding any further after he was provided directions to the climber’s trail. Esposito advised he would be able to wait at his location safely until Search and Rescue members arrived. A phone plan of texting every 30 minutes of his status was agreed upon to conserve the cell phone battery while keeping it in airplane mode in the interim.

Two Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue hasty team members were deployed to the location followed up with a team of six.

A climber that was on his way to the summit via the NW route was hailed by Esposito at about 1425 hours. Esposito was able to get the message to the climber, Brian Sebastian, that he had called SAR and provided Sebastian the DCSOSAR Deputy’s phone number. This was an important update after not receiving a text from Esposito since the phone plan started. Sebastian was able to see that Esposito was in a precarious location on the west slope of the mountain versus Esposito being on the south slope.

At 1550 hours, Esposito was able to make a phone call to advise he had 1% battery left and he had stayed in place. Esposito advised he had been attempting to send text messages without success.

At about 1900 hours, the first DCSOSAR team reached the summit while team two was still ascending. Attempts to locate Esposito were not successful before darkness set in and the risk of creating rock fall was a concern. Attempts to make voice contact with Esposito were not successful.

Airlink was placed on standby to transport more DCSOSAR personnel and equipment to the summit prior to nightfall, but the focus shifted to securing a military helicopter that would be able to hoist Esposito from his location based on the difficulty in accessing him safely prior to darkness.

It was not learned until after midnight, that the military helicopter would not be an option until the next morning.

Two DCSOSAR members spent the night on the summit while six members returned to Bend arriving at about 0330.

At about 0530 hours Sunday morning, Airlink transported two DCSOSAR members to the summit to team up with the two members that spent the night, to continue the search to locate Esposito. Airlink assisted by searching from the air. Initial efforts to locate Esposito via Airlink were unsuccessful.

One DCSOSAR MRU member was lowered from the summit of South Sister to the last known location for Esposito. This MRU member, from an elevation of approximately 10,000′, was able to see and make voice contact with Esposito, who was on a ridge northeast from him and at a slightly higher elevation. Esposito was uninjured, but shivering and battling hypothermia.

DCSOSAR members re-positioned and completed another lower to Esposito’s location. Utilizing an extra harness and ropes, DCSOSAR members were able to raise Esposito to the summit of South Sister. Airlink responded back to the summit of South Sister, retrieved Esposito and transported him to St. Charles in Bend to be assessed.

Airlink further assisted DCSOSAR by returning to the summit of South Sister to fly all DCSOSAR members off of the mountain.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind those who are recreating in these types of areas to ensure they have ample food and water, proper footwear, adequate clothing, a topo trail map, a spare battery and or a charging option if the circumstances of the hike should change unexpectedly. Hikers should consider having a hiking partner, especially if they are recreating in areas they are unfamiliar with.