Mountain climber killed, two others trapped

June 10, 2008 7:24:20 PM PDT
A man on a Mount Rainier day hike died Tuesday and two companions were awaiting rescue after the group got caught in a blizzard, officials at the national park said. The three spent Monday night and early Tuesday trapped on the Muir snowfield before one of the hikers reached Camp Muir, a staging area for climbers high on the volcano's flank. From there he directed rescuers to the other hikers, one of whom died at the camp.

A helicopter was standing by to bring the hikers off the mountain, but officials were waiting for the weather to break, Park Ranger Sandi Kinzer said Tuesday afternoon. Camp Muir is at about 10,000 feet elevation on the 14,410-foot mountain.

Three doctors, clients of a climbing concessionaire in the park, were at Camp Muir with the two surviving hikers, who were suffering from frostbite and hypothermia but were in stable condition, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.

"Right now, the best place for them to be is sheltered at Camp Muir, rather than taking the chance of exposing them to try to carry them down the mountain," Kinzer said. "Since they are safe and stable where they are, we'll wait until we get a weather window to get them off the mountain."

Snow showers were forecast to decrease at the mountain by Tuesday night, the National Weather Service said.

Kinzer and Bacher declined to release the hikers' names, saying park officials were having difficulty contacting the hikers' families.

The three hikers were described as two men and a woman in their early 30s, all from Bellevue, east of Seattle. The dead hiker was one of the men, Bacher said.

All three were experienced in the outdoors, and two had reached the summit of Rainier previously, Bacher said.

After a winter of heavy snowfall that forced repeated closure of mountain passes, unseasonably cold conditions have continued long into spring in Washington's Cascade Range. Paradise, the jumping off point for the trail to Camp Muir, received 2 feet of fresh snow overnight, with 5-foot drifts at the camp, Bacher said.

Bacher said rangers received a call at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday that the hikers were trapped in a blizzard.

Weather prevented a rescue attempt at that time, but one of the hikers reached Camp Muir at 7:15 a.m. The other hikers were found near Anvil Rock, a large outcropping at the edge of the Muir snowfield about 500 feet lower than Camp Muir.

Guides for local climbing companies have been assisting park rangers with the rescue.

International Mountain Guides had eight climbing clients and four guides at Camp Muir, while Rainier Mountaineering Inc. had 15 clients and a handful of guides there Tuesday. Both companies said their employees and clients were doing well, but hunkered down awaiting better weather.

"I do know it was a tough night up there for the weather, just because of what they were forecasting - high winds and low visibility and snow," said Jeff Martin, RMI operations manager.

"Definitely not your typical June weather."

The bodies of two other hikers were found in California's Sierra Nevada backcountry last week.

El Dorado County Sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell said an autopsy performed Tuesday revealed that 70-year-old Thomas Hylton died of a heart of attack on June 2, the day he and 78-year-old Jerome Smith set out for a four-day backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness just west of Lake Tahoe.

Smith left for help after his friend collapsed but fell down a hillside on his way back to the highway. The sheriff's office said he died from his injuries and exposure to the chilly overnight temperature.

The men's families reported them missing Thursday when they failed to return home to Lincoln, a bedroom community north of Sacramento.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-06-10-08 2046EDT