Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2007-12-18
Submitted By: NWAC
Place: Mt Rainier National Park - Edith Creek Basin
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowshoer caught, buried, and killed

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Searchers find body of missing student

By Christina Siderius and Jennifer Sullivan

Seattle Times staff reporters

Searchers on Friday found the body of a Lynnwood-area snowshoer who went

missing in an avalanche on Mount Rainier earlier this week.

A search party recovered the body of 22-year-old Kirk Reiser Friday

afternoon, said Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher.

Reiser, an Edmonds Community College student, was swept away in the snow on

Tuesday after triggering an avalanche during a day hike outside of Paradise.

Reiser and hiking partner Troy Metcalf left Paradise to go on a five-mile

trip to Camp Muir, but they had to turn back about halfway because of bad

conditions. During the hike back, Reiser set off an avalanche -- about 40

yards wide by 200 yards long -- and vanished in the steep terrain.

Metcalf searched in vain for hours before returning to Paradise for help.

A large search effort was initiated at first light Wednesday, and the crew

was able to find the site where the avalanche occurred, which Metcalf had

marked with a ski pole.

On Friday, searchers set off explosive charges and triggered controlled

avalanches to make the area safer, Bacher said. A search team of about 40

people then used metal detectors and search dogs to find Reiser's body, near

the base of a waterfall about 100 feet from where the pair had been hiking

on the northwest side of the Edith Creek Basin. The area is a little more

than a mile from Paradise's upper parking lot, Bacher said.

Reiser's family was on the mountain during Friday's search, Bacher said.

More than 2 feet of new snow has fallen in the area since Reiser's

disappearance.

A person buried in an avalanche has about a 30-minute window of survival,

said Bacher, but rescuers and family members earlier this week were hopeful

that Reiser was not, in fact, buried under the snow.

Reiser is the sixth person this season to die in an avalanche. All of the

victims were hiking or snowboarding in the Cascades.

Earlier this month, Kevin Carter, 26, Devlin Williams, 29, and Phillip

Hollins, 41, disappeared in the backcountry near Crystal Mountain Ski

Resort. The three were wearing rescue beacons, but the signals were never

traced to the missing men, said Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest

Avalanche Institute. Rescue crews eventually abandoned the search.

On Dec. 2, Stacia Thompson, 33, and Craig Stanton, 38, were killed by an

avalanche near Snow Lake north of Snoqualmie Pass. Thompson's husband, Mark,

suffered a broken leg.

More than two dozen people have died in Northwest avalanches since 2001.

Baugher said it is proving to be one of the worst avalanche seasons he has

seen in 30 years.

While all of the six were described as experienced outdoors enthusiasts,

Baugher believes they put themselves in danger by not paying close enough

attention to avalanche forecasts.

"All the people who have been caught this year have gone out when the

forecast hazard was high or extreme," he said. "They have not interpreted

the weather correctly or decided they could beat it."

Baugher believes that avalanche-preparedness courses are vital before anyone

heads to the backcountry.

"In the Northwest, people are used to skiing in storms. But in the past

they've been lucky because what they didn't know didn't hurt them," he said.

"Now what they don't know is killing them. There's no substitute for the

training."

Baugher said the snowpack in the Cascades this year is unlike anything he has ever seen locally -- the snow is weak on the bottom and dense and heavy up top. This, combined with the recent high-altitude storms, has created perfect avalanche conditions, he said.

Baugher said people who haven't had avalanche training need to stay within the boundaries of ski areas.

International Mountain Guides, based out of Ashford, near Mount Rainier, and The Mountaineers, based in Seattle, both offer avalanche training courses.

Baugher, who teaches the courses for International Mountain Guides, said the classes teach participants "how to evaluate avalanche hazard and how to travel safely in avalanche terrain."

"People need to know before they go. Know the avalanche hazard, choose the safe route," Baugher added.

Times staff reporter Brian Alexander contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Christina Siderius: 206-464-2112 or csiderius@seattletimes.com