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Fall on Snow/Ice, Climbing Alone and Unroped, Faulty Use of Crampons

At 0840 on September 1, a 49-year-old climber arrived at the JVC Ranger Office to check out for a summit climb. After indicating he was planning to go alone, the climber was advised by Climbing Ranger Dan Ostrowski of the solo climb regulations and also of the poor weather and climbing conditions on the upper mountain. He was also told the Park Service was discouraging climbing on the upper mountain because of these poor conditions.

During the entire conversation with Ostrowski, the climber was very evasive about giving information concerning his climbing experience and his address. His attitude about climbing seemed reckless to Ostrowski. He also seemed very excited for so early in the morning and Ostrowski suspected he might be using drugs. The climber was told by Climbing Ranger Garry Olson that he would have to apply for a solo climbing permit in writing and that it normally takes about two weeks to go through the process. He stated he was familiar with the solo climbing regulations as he had talked with a Ranger before, but stated he moved around a lot and it was not convenient for him to apply. Ranger Olson advised him that he did not have permission to climb solo, but that he could possibly hook up with another climbing party and make a climb in that way. The climber indicated he would try to find someone at Muir with whom to hook up. He left Paradise, arriving at Muir that afternoon.

Camp Muir Ranger Ann Lowery had been advised to watch out for this climber by Paradise and that he might attempt a solo climb. Lowery talked to all the climbers at the public shelter around 1545, advising them that the weather had improved somewhat, but it was still not good. Lowery said she felt this climber's reaction to her cautions seemed casual and as if he was amused by her questions. When they were discussing his climbing boots he indicated they weren’t very comfortable and might prevent him from climbing. He explained he had hiked up most of the way from Paradise in flip flops.

Around 1645, Lowery noticed the climber leaving Camp Muir alone headed toward Cathedral Rocks. He was contacted by two RMI guides and they advised him of the conditions. He was traveling without a pack, had an ice ax but no crampons, and was dressed in light clothing, even though the weather was changing, temperature dropping and snow beginning to freeze.

The climber returned to Muir and Lowery contacted him immediately. He stated he had just gone up toward the Flats to “check things out.” Once again he was advised climbing solo beyond Muir was illegal unless permission had been given by the Superintendent. His attitude during the conversation continued to be very casual and he did not want to provide Lowery with his name or any other information. She contacted Paradise for the information.

On September 2, the climber left Muir alone climbing to the top of Disappointment Cleaver. At the top of the cleaver, he talked with the Guide Service who advised him of the poor conditions and the fact that a fatality had occurred. The climber indicated he was going to go help, but the guides advised him they didn’t need him. He turned around at this point and began descending. The guided party observed that he caught a crampon on his gaiter, fell and began to slide. They yelled at him to self-arrest, but he made no attempt to stop himself, and fell approximately 800 feet, coming to rest in a small crevasse.

Two RMI guides worked their way down to the fallen climber. Finding no signs of life, they reported him dead at approximately 0815. Since another rescue was going on simultaneously involving a fatality and a critically injured climber, the guides climbed back up to assist with the rescue. About 1340, a recovery team of NPS and Seattle Mountain Rescue personnel was flown to the top of Disappointment Cleaver. They worked their way down to the climber's body, removed it from the crevasse and prepared it for pickup by the helicopter and transport to Kautz Creek where it was turned over to the Pierce County Medical Examiner. The recovery team was flown back to Kautz at 0830.

Analysis

This climber was given adequate warning by NPS personnel and he failed to heed the precautions given by them and RMS Guides. He was offered a position on a rope with another climbing party, but declined.

It is recommended that Mount Rainier National Park authorities (1) continue to require solo climb approval for climbers above 10,000 feet, (2) continue to warn climbers of hazardous conditions on climbing routes, and (3) make a reasonable effort to get third party recovery of rescue costs based on this climber's blatant disregard of the cautions provided. (Source: From a Board of Inquiry report chaired by William F. Douglas)