American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Various Incidents and Some Data, Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004


Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount Rainier

There were 9,714 climbers registered in 2003, a relatively light year when compared to the record high of 13,114 in 2000. Of those registered, 3,520 were led by a guide service and the remainder climbed independently. Disappointment Cleaver remains Mount Rainier’s most popular route. Over 4,700 climbers registered for it this year.

Camp Muir and Camp Schurman were staffed almost daily throughout June, July, and August. Climbing rangers provided updated route, weather, and safety information. Toilets were regularly cleaned and maintained. For example, the door to the Camp Schurman toilet had to be replaced twice because of wind damage.

Climbing rangers staffed the Paradise and White River Ranger Stations for more than 1,200 hours. Climbing-specific information and general public service is provided at these locations daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with weekend coverage in May and September.

High altitude, expansive glaciers, pristine beauty, and easy access make Mount Rainier one of North America’s most popular mountaineering destinations. To ensure its preservation, the National Park Service works closely with climbers to eliminate additional impacts in fragile alpine areas. Some important tenets of resource protection include properly disposing of human waste, never creating new rock walls or tent platforms, staying on trails, and packing out all trash. In 2003, over 35 barrels of human waste (six tons) were collected from high camps and Panorama Point. However, rangers also noted over 170 incidents of improper human waste disposal around the mountain. Rangers carried down over 650 pounds of trash from high camps, collapsed 213 cairns, dismantled 81 rock walls, and contacted 23 parties who were camping in high impact zones. But the majority of climbers do their part and “leave no trace,” allowing climbing rangers to spend most of their time and energy working directly with the public.

This year there were eight major rescues and no fatalities. Along the way, climbing rangers responded to a variety of other incidents such as: 19 medicals, 127 climber assists, five litter carryouts, and ten “mini” searches.

Some of the major and more interesting rescues of 2003 included:

Assistance to nine hypothermic and disoriented climbers on the Emmons Glacier who requested help through a 911 cell phone call - June

Medical Evacuation of a female climber (30) with a distressed knee injury from the Carbon Glacier - June

Rescue of a guided male client (50) struck by icefall on the Ingraham Glacier - June

Rescue of a male climber (29) with a broken leg on the Emmons Glacier -June

Medical evacuation of a female (15) from Camp Muir suffering from seizures and blackouts - July

Medical evacuation of a male climber (27) suffering a severe diabetic reaction, Kautz Glacier route - July

Medical evacuation of a male climber (34) with altitude related illness, Camp Muir - July

Rescue of a male climber (43) with a broken leg on the Emmons Glacier -July

One less exciting rescue involved the “short-roping” of a solo climber from the summit to Camp Muir in July. This climber chose to ascend despite warnings from guides and other mountaineers. He did not have a solo permit, proper equipment (overnight gear) or preparations (adequate amounts of food and water). Once on the summit, he requested (through other climbing teams) a rescue, stating that he was too tired and hypothermic to descend safely. Climbing rangers from Camp Muir ascended to the Crater Rim and escorted the climber over the course of 11 hours back to Paradise. The climber was cited and convicted in court for endangering the lives of others and soloing without a permit.

Rescues on Mount Ranier are completed by teams, whether they are in the field, in the air, or in the incident command post. Mount Rainier National Park recognizes and thanks Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. and the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) for their continued assistance and teamwork in the rescue of persons lost or injured. (Source: Mike Gauthier, Climbing Ranger)

(Editor’s Note: This was the information available at the time of publication. If any incident reports that may subsequently be forwarded prove to be informative, they will be included next year.)

(Editor’s Note: Last year the Wyoming narratives somehow got dropped from the final manuscript. There were only four climbing accidents in the Tetons in 2002. One narrative is presented below. There was one fatality. Rangers found a solo climber at the base of Symmetry Spire who had obviously fallen, but no other details were evident. The other serious incident was on Nez Perce, in which a belay anchor failure resulted in fractured ribs and a pneumothorax. There were no details as to what caused the anchor to fail.)

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