Climbing rangers at Mount Rainier receive awards for valor during 2002 rescues

 Special to the Mountain News

The national spotlight that was placed upon Mount Rainier National Park over the past few months – first in the tragic shooting death of NPS Ranger Margaret Anderson, and then days later in the dramatic disappearance and search for seven different mountaineers lost in epic winter conditions– has brought sharper focus on the extraordinary heroics of two climbing rangers in earlier exploits.

 Mt Rainier supervisory climbing Ranger Glenn Kessler and former Mount Rainier seasonal climbing Ranger Paul Charlton received the Department of Interior’s Valor Award last week in Washington DC, Chuck Young, Rainier’s Chief Ranger announced this week. 

The awards were presented by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for the actions that Kessler and Charlton took in rescues on the Ingraham Glacier on June 6, 2002 that saved the lives of three climbers, and recovered the bodies of two other mountaineers from a second party. 

 Here is Mr. Young’s narrative of Kessler’s and Charlton’s heroics:

 Nearly ten years ago, on June 6, 2002, three individuals climbing the Ingraham Glacier on Mount Rainier were seriously injured after a wind gust blew them off their feet, and they slid uncontrollably on hard, icy snow for 150 feet before falling another 60 feet into a crevasse. 

 National Park Service Rangers Paul Charlton and Glenn Kessler led a rescue team to the accident site, where at an elevation of 11,800 feet they directed the extraction of the injured climbers from the deep crevasse.  This involved the technical act of lowering personnel down a 60-foot narrow chasm of vertical ice onto a snow shelf where the climbers had landed.

 The injured were then triaged and prepared for a rope lift out of the crevasse.  After the extraction, Rangers Kessler and Charlton devised another rope system to lower the injured climbers hundreds of feet to a location where a helicopter could safely extract them.   

 Due to their exceptional mountaineering abilities and skill, Charlton and Kessler safely managed this arduous and technically challenging rescue in sub-freezing temperatures, at high altitude, and on treacherous and unforgiving terrain of ice and snow – thus saving the lives of three individuals.

 In addition, while managing this rescue Charlton and Kessler also noticed that two other climbers – ones they had encountered the previous day – were missing from their camp tent, where they should have been given their plan of summiting and returning to their tent the day before.

 Charlton and Kessler then organized a second search team and launched another ascent of the Ingraham Glacier to check the likely fall lines and crevasses in hopes of finding these additional climbers alive.  

 To assist their efforts, they summoned another helicopter to provide aerial surveillance.  Subsequently, the helicopter spotted two individuals on the slopes, just below a 100-foot ice cliff near the 12,400 foot mark on the Ingraham Glacier.

 However, the helicopter was unable to get a closer look at the climbers or the location; therefore Rangers Charlton and Kessler went on foot and had to navigate uncharted and treacherous glacial terrain filled with steep ice and crevasses, enduring windy and sub-freezing temperatures to get there. 

 When they finally arrived at the base of the 100-foot ice cliff, though, they found the two missing climbers entangled in their ropes after an obvious fall, and both had suffered fatal injuries.

 For their extraordinary courage and heroic efforts under extreme environmental and physically challenging conditions – to save the lives of the three injured climbers and to attempt the search and rescue of the additional two missing climbers on Mount Rainier on June 6, 2002 – Paul Charlton and Glenn Kessler were awarded the Valor Award of the Department of the Interior.

 Chief Ranger Chuck Young stated “The work that park staff does day-to-day is amazing, shows great dedication, and often goes beyond the call of duty.  Every so often, the work they do can be described as extraordinary – this is one of those times.”

Secretary Ken Salazar, second from right, with his valitorious rangers from Mount Rainier, last week in Washington DC.

This entry was posted in Events, Mount Rainier, Nature, Remarkable men and women, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Climbing rangers at Mount Rainier receive awards for valor during 2002 rescues

  1. Paula Morris says:

    Thanks for this information Bruce. With Mt. Rainier right in our backyards, it’s gratifying to read about the end results of searches and rescues, etc. Kudos to the two rangers.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Indeed. Perhaps 10 years ago this rescue was considered just another day on the Mountain. Well, the rescuers did remarkable work, and it needed to be honored. I’m glad it finally has been.

      When Ranger Anderson was buried in January and the NPS brass was here, they responded to the many requests asking to honor Margaret with some kind of monumenton the Mountain, and Salazar and the others mentioned these rangers as well, and said something had to be done for all of them, plus two fallen rangers who died a couple of years ago during yet another rescue effort. They mentioned a memorial plaque that should include Anderson and the other heroes of the Mountain. I guess this award was the first reflection of those sentiments, and will be succeeded by other actions, such as a monument.

      Plus, it’s important to remember – and honor – that not all rescue attempts succeed. In fact, some may cost the lives of the rangers, too.


  2. Dick Thurston says:

    These guys (and gals) do great work and deserve awards, but why did it take 10 years for the Inferior Department to recognize it? I have worked with Park rangers on search, rescue and recovery missions and they are outstanding people. But the personnel department must consist of Yogi abd Boo-Boo.

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