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HAPE and HACE, Washington, Mount Rainier


Washington, Mount Rainier

While spending the night on the summit of Mount Rainier, off duty climbing rangers Gauthier and Patterson were contacted by the leader of a scientific research team, who informed them that one of his team members was suffering from mountain sickness. The rangers found Haley in his tent, disoriented, suffering from slurred speech, and unable to support himself. Team members indicated that his condition had deteriorated significantly in the previous 15 minutes and that his behavior was abnormal. A helicopter was requested, but nightfall and altitude prevented a safe response. Within 15 minutes of the initial assessment, Haley became unconscious and unresponsive. Assisted rescue breathing was provided throughout the night while a climbing team from Camp Muir attempted to reach the summit with oxygen, but newly formed crevasses and whiteout conditions prevented their efforts and Haley was evacuated shortly after sunrise by an Army Chinook helicopter and flown to Madigan Hospital. He was unconscious and in critical condition.


Haley suffered from High Altitude Cerebral and Pulmonary Edema (HACE and HAPE.) Although Haley was part of a team that had spent four days and three nights transporting gear to the summit, he still reported headaches and a feeling of nausea. Haley also commented that he did not drink much water on his summit day By the time his condition had deteriorated seriously enough to alert his team members, Haley was immobile, so a safe, rapid descent was out of the question.

Climbers on Mount Rainier frequently feel the effects of altitude sickness, but most do not get seriously sick because they descend to sea level before many of the medical complications arise. Acclimatization on Rainier is difficult because most climbers go from sea level to 14,411 feet in less than 24 hours. Parties that expect to stay at altitude should have a systematic plan of acclimatization. Anyone exhibiting or complaining of the signs and symptoms of acute mountain sickness should be taken seriously. A rapid descent is the best treatment. It is imperative that team members watch each other. It is not uncommon for climbers to dismiss their symptoms as other maladies and push on. (Source: Mike Gauthier, SAR Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)