Hiker dies on Mount Rainier, 2 stranded

June 11, 2008 4:24:35 AM PDT
A man on a Mount Rainier day hike died Tuesday and his wife and another hiker 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.

Two helicopters were standing by to bring the hikers off the mountain, but the weather did not improve enough to attempt an evacuation by Tuesday evening. The attempt was put off at least until Wednesday morning, weather permitting, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said. 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, 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 the woman's husband, 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. The three apparently built a snow shelter at about 9,500 feet.

Weather prevented a rescue attempt immediately after the call, 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.

Bacher said day hikers are not required to check in with park officials, and the three hikers who got caught in the blizzard didn't. He said it's a good idea any time of year to inquire about conditions on the mountain, where weather can quickly turn deadly.

The death was the first reported on the mountain this year. In December, a 22-year-old man was killed when he was swept up in a snowslide while on a day hike on snowshoes.

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.

- Headlines at a glance


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