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Exposure, Inadequate Equipment and Physical Conditioning, Weather, Inexperience, Washington, Mount Rainier

EXPOSURE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT AND PHYSICAL

CONDITIONING, WEATHER, INEXPERIENCE

Washington, Mount Rainier

On March 8, 1993, at 0920, RMI senior guide George Dunn radioed to Paradise that three independent climbers would need to be rescued. The climbers were members of the George Laquan party, and were suffering from frostbite, hypothermia, and exposure. They were located at the 9,500 foot level of the Muir Snow field. Dunn directed other guides to get litters ready and meet him at the rescue site. He had received the report from a member of the Rush party from Idaho, who had found the Canadian party while hiking down to Paradise and returned to Muir to report the incident. Before Dunn left Muir, two members of the Canadian party reached Muir and were attended to by RMI guide John Race.

Once Dunn reached the stranded climbers, he radioed to Paradise reporting that the three remaining men were suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. One of the men, Blair Robertson (27), was semi-conscious and could not talk. The other two were alert, but could not walk. Dunn requested three litters be brought down from Muir. Dunn reported winds in excess of 30 mph, which ruled out the use of a helicopter for the rescue. Two of the disabled climbers (Robertson and Jerry Bauer [26]) had been placed in double sleeping bags by the Idaho group prior to Dunn’s arrival. The third, George Laquan (29) was being led down by some of the Idaho group. Dunn was able to stop them and place the victim in sleeping bags.

Dunn, along with guide Arthur J. Rausch, the five Idaho climbers and 14 RMI clients, began the evacuation from Moon Rocks at 1030. All parties met on the top of Panorama Point atl400. All patients were lowered down the winter route and then on to Paradise, the first patient arriving at 1545 and the last at 1600. At the base of Panorama Point Blair Robertson was placed on oxygen. Hot packs were placed on each of the climbers.

At Paradise the three patients were turned over to two Shepard Ambulance crews and transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

Laquan had a core body temperature of 94 degrees when he reached the hospital; he had first degree frostbite on his finger tips. The doctors felt he would not lose tissue from the injury.

Blair Robertson was treated for contacts frozen to his eyes, hypothermia and frost nip. Jerry Bauer was treated for hypothermia and frost nip.

Analysis

Garry Olson interviewed the other two members of the party, Robert Pulfer (30) and Michael Conroy (25) at Paradise. They gave the following account of the incident:

The team of five checked out from Paradise at 1030 on March 17 and worked their way up the snowfield in the rain and wet snow conditions intending to reach Camp Muir. G. Laquan was moving slowly and not keeping up with the group. They made a decision to stop at 1845 if they did not reach Camp Muir and dig in while they still had daylight. At 1845, the group dug a 15 foot long trench that was three to four feet deep. They covered the top of the trench with skis and a space blanket, then prepared dinner and settled in for the night. Three of the climbers were sleeping under the tarp and the other two were in the pit, but not under the tarp. (Their camp was at the top of Moon Rocks at the 9,500 foot level.)

About an hour after they went to bed, the winds picked up and began to blow snow into their shelter. The two men sleeping away from the tarp had to get up several times to dig themselves out of the snow. The three under the space blanket were also being buried. Robertson got out of his bag to dig out from the snow, then the roof of the shelter collapsed, burying his bag. He got into a bag with one of the other men. By the time the sun rose, the winds were in excess of 50 mph and three of the men were nonambulatory.

At sunrise they got up and made plans for the day. Pulfer and Conroy would go to Muir and call for help on the radio there. Before they left, the Idaho group found them. They decided to continue on to Muir. One of these men had to borrow boots from Dunn. He had walked up in camp boots. (Source: Garry Olsen, Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)

(Editor’s Note: This was counted as a climbing accident because of the circumstances. There remains the question of what this party intended to do, and, what their level of experience was.)