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Missoula climber, avalanche survivor shares his epic story

By Faith Smith, KECI Reporter, fcronin@keci.com
Published On: May 30 2013 10:33:46 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

It's an epic tale of survival - an avalanche forces three climbers to fall hundreds of feet down an ice cliff and miraculously all three make it out alive.

Thursday NBC Montana sat down with the Missoula climber who nearly lost his life on Mount Rainier.

23-year-old Tim Smith is currently being treated at St. Patrick Hospital for frost bite but tells us this journey could have ended much differently.   

“I look up and see him coming down and I couldn't really register...I saw him tumbling off the cliff,” said Tim. 

He said the slide happened so fast his first thought was to hang on for dear life.

“It was right on top of me so I just planted my axes and my crampons and stuck my head in the snow,” he said. 

Tim tells NBC Montana once the avalanche passed he lifted his head and saw his brothers girlfriend Sydney flying backward off the cliff and into the snow.

“I was tied to them so I knew I was about to get yanked,” said Tim. 

Once to ordeal is over the groups find Tim’s older brother Corey has a broken leg and with nightfall looming and tent poles lost to the slide the trio does their best to make it through the night. 

“We improvised a shelter and stayed the night up there,” he said.  “It got below 20 and my frost bite got a lot worse.”

In the morning, Tim and Sydney decide they’re going to have to leave Corey behind and go find help.

“We left him the next morning it was really hard for me,” said Tim.  “I was bawling that next morning I thought I was leaving my brother in a grave.”

When they reached the summit they came across a group of mountain tour guides and suddenly were overjoyed with hope.

“They had radios that connected with the park rangers and immediately it was you know were saved,” he said. 

After a couple weeks in the hospital and a possibility of losing his toes Tim tells us that's the least of his worries.

“The three bigger toes I might lose tips, I’ll probably lose the tips on them but honestly I don't really care it's...I'm happy to be alive and I'm happy my brother's here,” said Tim.  “I’ll relearn to balance that's inconsequential really to me.”

When we asked him if he plans to keep climbing and mountaineering he simply laughed and replied – “Oh yeah if I can find shoes that fit.”

Tim tells NBC Montana he wants to thank all of the climbers and tour guides that helped them survive; he says without them he doesn't know if they would have made it.

Tim said he’ll be released from the hospital tomorrow and then he plans to head home to Bozeman.