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Missing Climbers, Severe Weather — Washington, Mount Rainier, Muir Snowfield

MISSING CLIMBERS, SEVERE WEATHER

Washington, Mount Rainier, Muir Snowfield

Chris Hartonas (40) and Raymond Vakili (48) disappeared while climbing to Camp Muir on November 5. Hartonas and Vakili were experienced mountaineers and both men had been to Camp Muir before. Hartonas was an avid park visitor and mountain climber, known by many on the Park Service staff for his frequent ascents to Camp Muir, particularly under adverse weather conditions.

An extensive ten-day search ensued. Park Rangers, Rainier Mountaineering Guides, Volunteer Mountain Rescue, friends of the men, and search dog teams participated. Severe weather that included heavy snowfall and rain, high winds and whiteouts hampered efforts throughout much of the operation. US Army Reserve and private helicopters supported ground teams with aerial reconnaissance during periods of clear weather. The search was concluded on November 16 with no clues of the two climbers found.

Analysis

This was the fourth serious incident on the Muir Snowfield in 1999. Without clues, it’s difficult to speculate what exactly happened to the men. It’s perplexing when two experienced, cautious and mature climbers just disappear. They were well equipped and Hartonas was very familiar with the area. Both men have a history of good decision making in the mountains and neither had a reputation for “pushing it.” (Source: Mike Gauthier, SAR Ranger, Mount Ranier National Park)