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Fall Into Crevasse, Weather, Hypothermia, Washington, Mount Rainier

FALL INTO CREVASSE, WEATHER, HYPOTHERMIA

Washington, Mount Rainier

A four-person climbing team had summitted Liberty Ridge on June 14 and became separated (two roped teams of two) during their descent of the Emmons Glacier in severe winds and whiteout conditions. While route finding, the lead climber on the second rope team fell into a crevasse near 13,300 feet. The second climber, Bullard, held the fall in self-arrest for an hour while his partner ascended from the crevasse. Storm conditions intensified and the extended exposure of self-arresting caused Bullard to become wet and hypothermic. The team decided to bivy, but their megamid provided minimal protection from the 60 mph winds and heavy snowfall. They used their cell phone to call the Park and request assistance.

Their partners had safely descended the Emmons and became concerned when their teammates did not arrive at Camp Schurman. They contacted climbing rangers Gottlieb and Kamencik about the same time the White River Ranger Station received the telephone call. Inclement weather prevented assistance that evening and a rescue was organized for the following morning based on reports of improving weather. A three-person team (the two climbing rangers and one of the party’s team members) would climb from Camp Schurman while an Army Chinook helicopter would attempt to fly another team of rangers to the reported location. Cloud conditions improved, but extremely high winds prevented a helicopter insertion. Aerial reconnaissance helped to guide the ground team, which climbed through deep snow and fierce winds, sometimes on their hands and knees, to the climber’s bivy.

The rescue team found both climbers hypothermic, suffering from exposure and dehydration. Efforts to evade the wind and light the stove proved futile and the aggressive rewarming was needed for one member. The weather continued to improve and after a few hours the climbers and rescuers were able to descend under their own power back to Camp Schurman.

Analysis

Extremely fierce weather including whiteouts, high winds and substantial snowfall are not uncommon on Mount Rainier during the summer months. Weather may be the largest contributing factor to accidents, rescues, and searches. Inclement weather contributed to this team becoming split, but stronger efforts should always be made to stay together during such conditions. The immediate assistance of their teammates may have significantly changed the outcomeof the initial crevasse fall. It is also important to note that three other climbing teams reported passing the stranded climbers while descending Liberty Cap. They offered assistance however the two-person Bullard party declined, perhaps feeling their situation was not urgent at the time. (Source: Mike Gauthier, SAR Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)