Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2010-06-05
Submitted By:
Place: Ingraham Direct Route, Mount Rainier
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 11 climbers caught, 10 recovered, 1 still missing - presumed dead


From The News Tribune

by Craig Hill; Staff writer

Published: 06/07/10 7:30 pm | Updated: 06/08/10 8:55 am

Read more:

At least nine of the climbers caught in Saturday’s avalanche on Mount Rainier were warned that conditions were unsafe before they departed, a national park spokesman and multiple sources told The News Tribune on Monday.

Just hours after the warning, 11 climbers were caught in an avalanche on the Ingraham Glacier. One, identified as 27-year-old Mark Wedeven of Olympia, is presumed to be the 96th known mountaineering death in Rainier history, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.

Avalanche conditions remained high Monday and prevented rangers from searching for Wedeven, Bacher said. It is unclear when conditions will permit the search to continue.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center released a statement warning of “significant unstable snow accumulations” on Rainier and much of the Olympics and Cascade ranges.

Climbing ranger Tom Payne was stationed at Camp Muir on Friday night and Saturday morning and notified all of the parties camped there that the avalanche danger on the upper mountain was extreme, Bacher said.

“Most of the parties decided not to climb,” Bacher said.

The three- and six-person parties who were caught in the avalanche were among those warned by Payne, Bacher said. The other two climbers did not register for their climbs, so it is unclear whether they received the warning or checked avalanche conditions, Bacher said.

Wedeven reportedly started climbing from Paradise late Friday night or early Saturday and did not stop at Camp Muir. Park officials identified him based on descriptions from other climbers and a missing person report filed by his family.

International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. decided Friday night that they would not attempt the 14,411-foot summit on Saturday and relayed the news to their clients.

Instead, both groups left Camp Muir later than usual and climbed to Ingraham Flats to show the clients the upper mountain.

The RMI group reached the flats first, and guides were showing clients how to do a pit test to check for avalanche danger when the wall of snow began its deadly descent.

“The guides turned and told the clients to run,” said Paul Maier of RMI.

Because of their position below where the avalanche stopped, the RMI guides needed just 10 minutes to get in position to help rescue climbers. IMG guides weren’t far behind.

While climbers not buried by the avalanche were the first to start digging, RMI guides Tyler Jones, Adam and Caroline George, Mark Falender and Thomas Greene helped dig out three climbers.

Many of the climbers weren’t wearing avalanche transceivers, so guides had to probe the snow and pull on ropes to find them. None of the rescued climbers was buried deeper than about 1 foot, but two were blue by the time they were rescued, Maier said.

Wedeven was traveling alone, so he was not roped up and perhaps not using an avalanche transceiver. Wedeven’s parents, David and Carol, told KIRO-TV that their son had climbed Mount Rainier numerous times.

“He said to me, ‘Mom, if I die on a mountain, don’t worry about it,’ and I’m sure it was instant and it was over,” Carol Wedeven said to the news station.

All of the buried climbers were pulled to safety within 10 minutes, about the time IMG guides Eric Remza, Josh Smith, Mike Haft and Austin Shannon arrived and started tending to those who were hurt.

“They were lucky because they were in the right place at the right time to help,” Maier said of the guides who helped in the rescue.

The current high avalanche danger is not unusual in June when winter and summer conditions mix, said Paul Baugher, co-director of International Mountain Guides and director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute.

Most of the avalanche danger comes early in the season, and so far this season more of IMG’s climbing parties have turned around than have reached the summit, he said.

The nice weather Saturday morning might have given climbers a false sense of security, he said.

“You go up a little bit to take a look and it’s so nice that you get lured into going a little bit farther,” Baugher said. “Or you see others going and you think, I better get going.

“People get away with a lot of bad decisions.”

With nasty weather battering Rainier for the past three weeks (at one point last week three hours of 100 mph winds ruined several tents at Ingraham Flats), climbers and guides alike were itching for a nice day that would allow them to summit.

“I give a lot of credit to the guides to be able to resist the temptation (to climb on Saturday),” Baugher said. “It’s always OK to turn around.”

Wedeven is presumed to be the first mountaineering death on Rainier since 2005, when a Jefferson County firefighter fell down Gibraltar Chute. From 1998 to 2005, park records show there was 0.18 fatalities per 1,000 climbers.

With the risk of avalanche still high, Baugher says climbers must be diligent about checking conditions before they climb.

“Watch the avalanche reports,” Bacher said, “and take them extremely seriously.”


From King5 news:

by and Associated Press

Posted on June 5, 2010 at 2:31 PM

Updated on June 5, 2010 at 12:21 AM

MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. – Deteriorating weather conditions halted search efforts Saturday evening for a missing climber buried in an avalanche on Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold said several climbing teams were overtaken by a slab avalanche at the 12,500-foot level at 4:45 a.m. The slab, estimated to be 1 to 2 meters thick, and 300 to 400 feet wide, slid down the mountainside more than a thousand feet.

Eleven climbers were buried in the snow during their summit attempt on the Ingraham Direct climbing route, which follows the Ingraham Glacier on the mountain's southeast side.

Ten of the eleven are accounted for, said Wold, most rescued by guides and emergency teams, including two men that were airlifted off the mountain. A skier managed to make it out on his own.

Teams were not able to locate the eleventh climber, believed to be a Korean national who may have been hiking alone.

"Really kind of hits you hard, you know, especially to hear ... somebody was pulled out, another guy had lacerations on his head, just kind of a scary thing," said Dale Ackley, whose team was attempting to summit the mountain early Saturday morning about 300 yards behind those who were caught in the avalanche.

"We could already see another group of climbers with their headlamps," he said, "It's really all you could see at night, just the little dots of light."

Ackley said his guides were cautioning their team to move slower because of the avalanche danger.

"Minutes after that, I heard the guide behind me yell on the radio, 'Tyler! Run!' Tyler was our lead guy. And we all looked up and we could see the avalanche plume coming right at us," Ackley said.

Ackley said his team ran to the right and took up defensive postures against the coming snow, but the debris field stopped about 150 yards ahead of them. Ackley said as soon as guides felt the coast was clear, they began rushing up to help the climbers ahead of them, "because we saw the headlamps disappear in the avalanche."

A helicopter from the U.S. Army Reserve out of Fort Lewis removed the two injured climbers and several rescuers from the scene Saturday afternoon. Wold said those two climbers were flown to an area hospital and were in stable condition with lacerations and other injuries.

A third climber walked to Camp Muir.

"The missing climber did not register for his climb, so we are focusing our efforts on identifying him. Until we do, we are unable to notify his family of the situation," said Mountaineering District Ranger Stefan Lofgren in a press release.

A helicopter conducted an aerial search, which was later called off due to the conditions. A ground search is not possible because of high avalanche danger.

In a slab avalanche, a large plate of snow breaks away. Wold said.

Weather conditions deteriorated late Saturday, and park officials estimated it may be another 48 hours before it is safe to resume searching, with avalanche danger and air conditions making it unsafe for both air and ground operations.

According to Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there have been 34 avalanche fatalities nationwide in the 2009-2010 season.

About 5 percent of the more than 10,000 who climbed the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier last year used the Ingraham Direct, according to a park report.