Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Analysis: Over 100 climbing deaths on Mount Rainier

The six people lost on Mount Rainier last week adds to the growing number list of people who've died climbing the mountain, with 91 people perishing while either attempting to reach the summit or on the way down, and another 25 dying while climbing on the mountain, according to an analysis of National Park Service records.

While it's still unknown how the six died - they're believed to have fallen or been swept off the mountain while trying to climb the difficult Liberty Ridge route - the review of the NPS database reveals the dangers of the mountain itself and the surrounding environs.

Falling is the leading cause of fatalities on the mountain, with 90 people dying in falls while climbing, hiking or taking part in other activities on the mountain or in the park since its inception.

Occasionally, victims are never found, as in the case of 11 people swept to their deaths in an ice fall in 1981 in Mount Rainier's deadliest accident. The same is true of a non-alpine accident in which a cargo transport plane crashed into the mountain in 1946 - the bodies of 32 Marines remain entombed.

"The mountain is so inaccessible and can be inhospitable. We can't always retrieve everybody who is lost there, unfortunately," said Patti Wold, a spokeswoman with Mount Rainier National Park.

The bodies of the two guides and four climbers who fell to their deaths last week on the 14,410-foot glaciated peak may never be recovered because of the hazardous terrain, authorities say.

"The degree of risk in that area, due to the rock fall and ice fall that's continuously coming down from that cliff onto the area where the fall ended, we cannot put anybody on the ground," Wold said.

It's unclear whether the climbers were moving or camping at the time of the accident, Wold said this past weekend. Searchers located camping and climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons buried in the snow at the top of the Carbon Glacier at 9,500 feet in elevation.

The most recent reported missing is Gerge Merriam, who disappeared in September 2013 on a day hike on the Pinnacle Peak Trail. He's believed to have fallen to his death.

The elements have claimed a number of victims over the years, with 11 people killed by hypothermia after getting lost or trapped on the mountain. The most recent happened in December of 2011 when snowshoer Brian Grobois became disoriented and descended into Stevens Canyon, where his body was found just above 4,600 feet.

The area will be checked periodically by air in the coming weeks and months, Wold said. They will also evaluate the potential for a helicopter-based recovery as snow melts and conditions change.

In 2012, park rangers recovered the bodies of three climbers about eight months after they disappeared during unrelenting storms on Mount Rainier.

In 2001, the body of a 27-year-old doctor was discovered more than two years after he vanished while snowboarding on the mountain. Also that year, the remains of three men were removed from the mountain after being entombed there for nearly 30 years after their small plane crashed. A hiker and former climbing ranger found the wreckage of the single-engine aircraft that crashed in January 1972.

In all, 411 people have died on the mountain or in the Mount Rainier National Park since federal government records were first kept.

The first death in the park was recorded in January, 1897, but it had nothing to do with climbing. E.H. Hudson died from "traumatic injuries" after a gun fell from his pocket and he was shot in the neck.

Wednesday 04 June 2014


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