July 6, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Gary Noland
A former resident of Salmon Prairie was killed while trying to reach the summit of McDonald Peak in the Mission Mountains Wilderness at the beginning of the July Fourth holiday weekend.
Michael J. Laabs, 47, of Swan Lake, died Saturday when he slid an estimated 1,200 feet down a snow slide area near the peak of the mountain while a climbing companion, ahead of him, reached the peak without knowing of Laab's fall.
Lake County Sheriff's Investigator Andy Cannon said Laab and Bill Higgins of Lewistown had gone into the Missions from the Condon area on Friday with the intention of climbing McDonald Peak.
Cannon said the two experienced climbers began the climb toward the summit Saturday morning from west of Cliff Lake.
Higgins told Cannon he was in front as the climbers approached the summit and that he didn't see Laab, but assumed he was following. After reaching the summit, Higgins waited for Laab, then backtracked but was unable to find him.
He returned to base camp around 9:30 p.m., then walked out Sunday morning when Laab had still not returned and called for emergency help.
Search and rescue operations were initiated by Missoula County Deputy Sheriff Bob Parcell in the Condon area and quickly involved Tribal Fish and Game search and rescue units as the mountain is within the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' Mission Wilderness, and Lake County search and rescue.
Laab's son, Kelly, who was not on the climb but became involved in the search, told searchers to look in an area where once he himself had slid some 200 feet down a snow slide. In that general area Laab's body was spotted from a helicopter, which was able to land 300 yards away, Cannon said.
Cannon said Laabs died from trauma blows to the head when he slid 800 feet down a steep snow slide area, off a 50 foot vertical drop onto rocks, then another 400 feet down the slide.
Laab is survived by his wife and three sons.