NPS Climbing Ranger killed on Mount Rainier during rescue effort; four others injured – UPDATES, Saturday, Sunday, Monday

  by Bruce A. Smith

A climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park has died during a rescue attempt on the Emmons Glacier this afternoon, park officials announced Thursday evening, June 21, 2012.

Ranger Nick Hall, 34, fell from the 13,700 foot level to about 10,000 feet on the mountain’s northeast side as he was helping to prepare other climbers for extrication by helicopter.

Nicholas Hall, Climbing Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. Courtesy of the NPS.

Kevin Bacher, public information officer for the National Park Service at Mount Rainier, offered these details:

At approximately 1:45 pm this afternoon, Thursday, June 21, 2012, a party of four climbers from Waco, Texas fell at the 13,700 foot level of the Emmons Glacier as they were returning from a successful summit attempt on Mount Rainier.  Two members of the party slid into a crevasse.  A third member of the group was able to call for help using a cell phone, and during the subsequent rescue, at 4:59 pm as the first of the climbers were being evacuated by helicopter, Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall fell, sliding more than 3,000 feet down the side of the mountain.  

Hall did not respond to attempts to contact him and was not moving.  High winds and a rapidly lowering cloud ceiling made rescue efforts extremely difficult, but with the help of Chinook helicopters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, two of the original climbing party were lifted off the mountain by about 9:00 pm and taken to Madigan Hospital.  The other two members of the party are spending the night on the mountain with climbing rangers from Mount Rainier National Park, and rescue options will be reassessed in the morning.  All four suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Climbers reached Ranger Hall several hours after the incident began and found him to be deceased.  Information about Nick’s fall was not initially released pending notification of his family and that of other climbing rangers who might be worried prior to the release of Nick’s name.  Nick Hall is a 4-year veteran of Mount Rainier National Park’s climbing program and a native of Patten, Maine.  He was unmarried and has no children.  The names of the original four climbers will be released once all four families have been notified.

Rescue of the remaining climbers on Rainier and the recovery of Ranger Hall’s body will resume in the morning.  Sunrise, which is the primary public access point to the eastern portion of the park, had been scheduled to open for the season tomorrow morning and will remain closed while the incident is underway.  

However, park officials say they are hopeful that the Sunrise area will reopen later in the day.

Ranger Hall is the third climbing ranger in the history of the park to perish in the line of duty on the Mountain, and comes just a few months after law enforcement Ranger Margaret Anderson was killed by a lone gunman in the Paradise region. 

Update: 6.22.12, 12:44 am

The NPS is now reporting that three of the original four injured climbers were lifted off the mountain, not two as first announced. Only one climber remains on the mountain, and is bivouaced in a safe location with Mount Rainier National Park climbing rangers. Officials are hopeful that she may be able to walk out, but with assistance, under her own power Friday morning.

In addition, KOMO TV is reporting that the four climbers in trouble were two men and two women, in ages ranging from 18 to 53.  KOMO also reports that although all four were roped together, the women were leading and fell into the crevasse and the men were able to arrest their fall in time.

Update, Friday, noon:

The News Tribune is reporting that the four climbers who fell are: Stuart Smith, Ross Van Dyke, Stacy Wren and Noelle Smith.  Wren spent the night on the Mountain, and due to the storm that has moved  into the area she and her assisting Ranger team will most likely be hiking off the mountain this afternoon and not wait for a helicopter.

The TNT is also reporting that Stuart Smith is an exceptionally experienced mountaineer, having climbed the highest summits on all seven continents, topping Everest in 2002, Kilimanjaro in 1987 and the Vinson Massif in Antarctica in 2003.

In addition, KOMO TV is reporting that Ross Van Dyke suffered a dislocated shoulder in the fall.

Update, 6.22.12, Friday, 5 pm,

Patti Wold, Mount Rainier National Park, Interpretive Services, has issued the following press release this afternoon:

Upper Mountain Rescue and Recovery Operations Continue

Consecutive rescue and recovery missions continue on the upper mountain this morning to extract the final climber involved in yesterday’s incident and deceased Climbing Ranger Nick Hall.

A team of climbing rangers is walking down from 13,700 feet on the Emmons Glacier with the final climber from the group of four involved in yesterday’s incident.  Stacy Wren overnighted on the mountain with the climbing rangers after her climbing partners Stuart Smith, Ross Vandyke and Noelle Smith were airlifted off the mountain last night.  The three are currently hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

A ground team is en route to Nick Hall’s location.  They are currently at Camp Schurman at 9,500’.  The team’s mission is to bring Nick down the mountain.  They are encountering heavy precipitation and thickening clouds.  It is unknown at this time if they will complete their mission today.  Air operations are currently grounded by the unfavorable weather.  Air operations are supported by a Chinook and crew from Joint Base Lewis McChord and an MD 500 from Northwest Helicopters.

Mount Rainier climbing rangers are among the world’s most experienced mountaineers with many spending their off-season climbing the great peaks of the world.  The climbing program staff is comprised of over 20 individuals responsible for visitor and resource protection in the alpine regions of the mountain.  In 2011, climbing staff collectively accrued over 3,000 training hours on skills such as search and rescue, aviation, avalanche safety and high angle rope rescue.  The park conducts 30 -40 major search and rescue operations in an average year.  The park has had 395 fatalities since 1897 and 117 of those are climbing related.  There have been five line of duty deaths in Mount Rainier National Park’s history: besides Climbing Ranger Nick Hall’s death during yesterday’s rescue operation, Park Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot during a traffic stop last January; in 1995 two climbing rangers fell 1,200’ during a rescue on the Emmons Glacier; and a maintenance worker died in a work-related incident in the 1950s.

The park’s Incident Command System team will be transitioning management of the incident with the National Park Service Intermountain Regional Incident Management Team.

Update, Saturday, June 23, 2012; 2:45 pm

Park officials had been hoping that a “weather window” would open this morning and allow a helicopter to arrive at the site of Nick Hall’s body and facilitate its retrieval.

Plans called for a helicopter to pick-up a team of climbing rangers to assist in the recovery, and place Hall’s body aboard via a “long line.”

However, the clouds did not part and even though two helicopters were on stand-by – one at Kautz Creek and a second at JBLM – they were not able to fly up on the Mountain.

NPS spokesperson Fawn Bauer told the Mountain News that a back-up team of eight climbing rangers have been stationed at Camp Shurman on the east side of Mount Rainier awaiting to make a ground approach to Nick’s body in case the choppers couldn’t fly.

However, weather conditions were too extreme for this second recovery effort, with at least three-feet of new snow on the upper slopes of Mount Rainier, and the recovery group was forced to return to Camp Shurman, situated at about 9,000 feet.

In related news, park officials said that all four of the group of climbers from Texas are now off the Mountain, with Stacy Wren hiking down Friday with her NPS Ranger guides to the White River campground.

Further, officials reported that the other members of the party are recovering from their ordeal, but one individual is still in ICU at Madigan Hospital with a dislocated shoulder and other injuries.

Officials say that another retrieval attempt wil be made on Sunday, when weather conditions are expected to improve.

Update, Sunday, June 24, 2012Noon

From the NPS:

Recovery Efforts for Climbing Ranger Continue in Mount Rainier National Park

 Inclement Weather has Caused Difficulties to Park Efforts

 Recovery efforts for Mount Rainier National Park Climbing Ranger Nick Hall continue today, Sunday, June 24, 2012.  Hall, 33, fell approximately 2,500 feet down the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier on Thursday, June 21, during a rescue attempt in which four climbers fell into a crevasse on the glacier.  Climbing Rangers assisting in the rescue of the four climbers were able to reach Hall several hours after he fell, and upon arrival found that he was deceased.

 Mount Rainier National Park has experienced several days of inclement weather that has slowed efforts to recover Hall’s remains.  Heavy cloud cover, in conjunction with several feet of new snow, has made attempts to reach Hall’s location extremely difficult.  Additional amounts of snow are forecast today as well; however the park is expecting a small weather window that may be utilized to reach Hall’s body.  Access to the Sunrise Road continues to be restricted as it provides the safest access for an aerial recovery of Hall’s remains.

 Mount Rainier National Park Rangers, local search and rescue team members, a Chinook helicopter with crew from Joint Base Lewis McChord and an MD-500 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters out of Olympia, Washington continue to assist in the attempted recovery of Hall’s remains and to assure the safety of other climbers on Mt. Rainer.

 The family has asked that donations in honor of Nick Hall, in lieu of flowers, be made through the following accounts:

 Nick Hall Memorial Fund

P.O. Box 431

Patten, ME 04765

Please make checks payable to Nick Hall Memorial Fund

 Also, donations to this fund will support search and rescue in Maine and assist the Hall family with travel expenses.

 Donations can also be made to:

Mount Rainier National Park (MORA) Search and Rescue Fund

55210 238 Avenue East

Ashford, Washington 98304

 Please make checks payable to Department of the Interior (DOI-NPS) and note that the donation is in honor of Nick Hall.

 Cards and condolences may also be sent to the above addresses.

Update, Monday, June 25; 5 pm

The NPS is reporting today that weather conditions remain unfavorable to mount either an aerial retriveal of Nick Hall’s body or by ground.

Officials say, however, that weather conditions should improve by mid-week and they estimate that Hall’s body will be airlifted on Wednesday or Thursday.

In the meantime, the body is wrapped and secured in place at the 10,000-foot level until such time that it is safe to remove it.  Heavy snows and icy conditions continue to exist at the site.

 Special to the Mountain News-WA

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5 Responses to NPS Climbing Ranger killed on Mount Rainier during rescue effort; four others injured – UPDATES, Saturday, Sunday, Monday

  1. Claudia Branham says:

    It is commendable that people like Ranger Hall and his team are willing and available to help people in distress. His family must be devastated. What is not commendable is the vast number of people who risk their lives and the lives of others to climb moutains just because they are there. Dangerous exploits affect many people, not just the ones that are injured or die during fool hardy endeavors.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Well, that is the argument – should people put themselves at risk by climbing mountains or going out into the willderness, and to do so with some level of expectation that others will come to their rescue if trouble happens. I say go for it, with intelligent preparation – I certianly don’t want stupid people swarming the slopes of the Mountain, or anywhere else.

      Something else also has to be considered. What happens if people do not go into nature? What if they don’t climb to lofty summits or soar in the skies. What then? What happens to their imagination, their curiosity, their resourcefullness, their sense of being alive and exhilarated?

      Jon Krakauer explores this dynamic splendidly in his many books, such as “Into Thin Air.” And to have Jon as a Seattle neighbor is a double treat..

  2. Sea says:

    As a young widow I know what it is like for the family and the pain it causes to be left behind, but I am glad he was living his life to its fullest. We all make our choices as to what we want to do. Even the people attempting to help made that choice; how wonderful that we have them Bless all of them and my deepest condolences for all of you who are left behind.

  3. Josh Magill says:

    Thanks for the updates Bruce.

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