by Bruce A. Smith
The lethal beauty and power of Mount Rainier was once again on display this week as a recovery team of five climbing Rangers were able to seize advantage of the great weather and bring down the body of their fallen colleague, Nick Hall.
Hall, 32, had perished on June 21 during a rescue operation on the Emmons Glacier when four climbers from Texas were saved.
However, while Rangers were extracting Hall’s body on the north side of the Mountain, a skier lost his life in a bizarre, tragic accident just above the Paradise ranger station, in the Edith Creek region.
Here is the official NPS report:
“A team of five Mount Rainier climbing rangers and a search dog team were flown up to Ranger Hall’s location at about 11,000’ on the north side of Mount Rainier. The operation, including a preliminary reconnaissance flight went smoothly and was completed in approximately two hours.
“Air operations were supported by a Chinook and crew from the 214th Aviation out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a Hughes 530 from Northwest Helicopters.
“Rangers attempted to retrieve Ranger Hall the day of the original incident and again on June 28, but were forced to call off both missions due to high winds, deteriorating weather, and avalanche hazards.
“A memorial service honoring Ranger Hall was held last Friday. It was attended by an estimated 450 people, filling both floors of the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise. Many others watched the service via live streaming video at the Paradise Inn and at other locations across the park and country. Video coverage of the service can be viewed and download at the DVIDS, Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, http://www.dvidshub.net/video/148209/memorial-ranger-nick-hall
“A family memorial service is being planned for this Friday, July 6 in Patten, Maine. Members of the Mount Rainier National Park staff, along with other National Park Service representatives will be in attendance.”
The park has also announced that the Sunrise area has been fully opened to the public now that the recovery of Nick Hall’s body is complete.
Tragically, a few hours after giving these statements, the NPS issued another announcement about the death of the skier at Paradise:
Visitor Fatality at Paradise on Mount Rainier
“On July 4, 2012, a visitor was intentionally sliding down a slope in a controlled manner with his son in the Edith Creek area of the Paradise meadows. While sliding he broke through a snow crust over the creek and fell below the surface of the snow. He was swept about 30-feet down the creek, underneath the snow. His son immediately went for assistance at Paradise.
“A Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated group training in the area responded, and was the first on the scene. However, they located the individual in the water with his face submerged. A complex rescue operation ensued, involving RMI guides and National Park Service rangers. After risk assessments were conducted, they were able to extract the man, and start CPR. An ALS air ambulance was called in to fly the man to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“Staff and RMI Guides successfully and safely executed a highly complex rescue that was time-critical and hazardous, with specific attention to managing risks to all rescuers throughout the entire operation.”
The Tacoma News Tribune is reporting that the deceased was Dave Watson, a man in his fifties. Watson was an English teacher at the Green River Community College, and was the father of four children.
For more information on these events, visit the Mount Rainier Park Website http://www.nps.gov/mora/ .
In addition, information about these events can be found at:
Special to the Mountain News-WA, 2012.
Rainier offers much, but occasionally takes back as well. Most of the time it is either due to foolishness or error. Exceptions to this rule are people like Ranger Hall. Part of his job was to educate you on using your head on The Mountain. The other part was trying to help those who didn’t listen.
The mountain is beautiful and we are thankful for the recreation it offers. However, many tragedys could be prevented it people didn’t desire the danger and challenge. It is the public’s tax money that is required to go rescue the person that intentionally chooses to ignore the warnings. What a tragedy for the family of Mr Watson and my heart goes out to them. Hopefully it will send a message to others who stretch the boundaries of safety. Ranger Hall gave his life to rescue another who, God bless him.
Claudia, I feel compelled to respond and say that your sentiments were profoundly absent at Nick Hall’s commemoration ceremony. The folks who work on the Mountain and pledge themselves to save others do so out of a noticeable commitment to their sense of community. Specifically, they talked about saving their “neighbors.” They are inspired by what people are trying to do on the Mountain, which they do in a safe manner, mostly.
Even top management knows that people are drawing deep sustenance by challenging themselves in the wilderness. They know that means risk and sometimes death, and often rescues. It’s part of our glory that we try, and that we save others when we can. It’s also part of the gift that nature gives us.
I suppose it might be worthwhile to do a piece on the cost of rescues – where the money comes from and what it costs folks. Certainly, lots of folks object to the current system, and the comments section on the TNT is filled with statements similar to yours. In fact, many are angry about it – even vulgar – which makes me wonder why they don’t see the majesty of what is going on.
I reveled at Nick Hall’s ceremony, hearing so many people speak about the truth of how the Mountain makes us feel so alive, and that it was so self-evident for so many, even in death. Twas a beautiful moment, made all the more poignant when the NPS PIO standing behind me kept passing me tissues since I was going through them fairly quickly. So much for journalistic impartiality, objectivity, etc. I really am pretty weepy at these kinds of gatherings.
As for what happened to Dave Watson, it must have been a bizarre event and beyond any reasonable person’s expectations and preparations. How does a guy break through the snow and fall into the river beneath him? How much snow was there? It was July 4th! Five feet tops! But he got sucked down 30-feet worth of river. Whew. And his kid witnessed it. Yikes! If I had more get-up-and-go, boy, I’d get that story.
Ranger Hall gave of himself to be available to teach, guide and rescue people on the mountain. That is commendable and I applaud him and others like him. I stand by my opinion that many press the envelope on the mountain and disregard common sense. We see it happen every year. People ski in an avalanche area for example, or fail to make themselves informed on safety issues which causes loss of life, the need for rescues and consequences for the families waiting at home.