American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Bad Weather, Exhaustion, Frostbite, Washington, Mt. Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

BAD WEATHER, EXHAUSTION, FROSTBITE

Washington, Mt. Rainier

A search and rescue operation which involved the use of five aircraft, four Seattle Mountain Rescue members and numerous NPS employees was completed on May 8. This operation rescued one climber from a perilous point on the upper Carbon Glacier. All members of the four-man Sanford climbing party survived their encounter with the mountain, although two suffered from moderate to severe frostbite of the feet.

The Eric Sanford (27) party had begun their climb on May 2 from the Carbon River Ranger Station. Although no rangers were at the station at the time, they registered for their climb by completing climbing cards at the self-registration facility and began their climb at 6 a.m. Included in the party were Eric Sanford, the leader, Michael Loeffler (28), Stimson Bullitt (59), and his son Ben Bullitt (22). All were experienced climbers and two, Sanford and the elder Bullitt, had climbed Mt. McKinley in Alaska.

The party climbed to the 7,100-foot level on the Carbon Glacier on May 2 and established a base camp. Their plan was to ascend Liberty Ridge to Liberty Cap, descend the Winthrop Glacier, cross the lower Curtis Ridge to their base camp and ultimately return to Carbon River Ranger Station. On May 3, they crossed the upper Carbon Glacier to the base of Liberty Ridge and then climbed the ridge to the 12,700- foot level. Overnight the weather turned, and they soon became trapped for several days in a whiteout compounded by high avalanche conditions resulting from more than six feet of new snow. The party had planned to return May 5, but were unable to move until Sunday, May 6.

On Sunday, the other three in the party left the elder Bullitt, suffering from exhaustion, at the 13,000-foot level. He was found in good condition despite a two-day bivouac. On the way down, the party left Ben Bullitt, suffering from frostbite, at the lower level of 7,000 feet. Sanford walked out to the Carbon River Ranger Station, and later in the day Loeffler arrived. Meanwhile, aircraft rescue efforts had begun and, thanks to helicopter and rescue personnel, both Bullitts were retrieved from the mountain.

All the climbers recovered fully, although Ben Bullitt lost one toe. (Source: John Wilcox, Mt. Rainier National Park, and The Seattle Times, May 9, 1979)

(Ed. Note: No analysis was provided. It may be noted that the Liberty Ridge is a route for experienced climbers and that distance compounds mishaps and bad weather conditions.)

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