Surviving climber rescued from Mount Rainier

Peter Cooley, left, and Scott Richards, right, are seen in this 2001 photo. The two men, both from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, were stranded on Mount Rainier after Cooley was injured Saturday in a fall.Family photo via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The surviving member of a pair of climbers stranded on Mount Rainier was evacuated by helicopter on Tuesday, the day after his severely injured companion died while being flown to a hospital.

A helicopter reached Scott Richards, 42, and two park rangers at 9:50 a.m., after a break in the weather, said Ranger Michael Larson. Richards earlier was reported to be in good condition, but he was being evaluated, he said.

His climbing companion, Peter Cooley, 39, was flown off the mountain Monday but died en route to a hospital, said Lee Taylor, Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman.

Cooley fell Saturday while the pair attempted to scale the peak and suffered a severe head injury.

Thick clouds, snow and winds on Monday prevented an air rescue from Cooley and Richard’s emergency camp on the 14,410-foot mountain’s north slope. But a brief break in the clouds allowed an Oregon Army National Guard helicopter to reach them late Monday afternoon.

“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of energy into this rescue effort, and yesterday was a seesaw of emotions,” park spokesman Kevin Bacher said Tuesday. “We were all obviously elated when the helicopter managed to get in through the clouds to get Peter off of the mountain. And when we heard that he hadn’t made it, that was a real blow to everybody here.

A hot breakfast before rescue
“So this morning everybody seems resolved to get everybody off the mountain safely now and to bring this to a conclusion.”

Richards and two rescue rangers left the precarious spot at 12,300 feet Monday night and descended to a camp at Thumb Rock at 10,760 feet elevation. On Tuesday morning, they had a hot breakfast while park officials considered the helicopter evacuation.

After Cooley’s fall, the two climbers were stranded on a 45-degree slope with steep and rocky terrain above and below them. Temperatures dipped below zero in whiteout conditions.

“There couldn’t be a worse place on the mountain to try to do a rescue; it’s very extreme terrain,” Taylor said. A helicopter managed to drop supplies, including a radio, food, water, warm clothing and sleeping bags, to the two climbers Sunday night and the two rescue rangers arrived Monday.

Ranger Stefan Lofgren, who was involved in Cooley’s rescue, praised Richards’ efforts in caring for his friend.

“In that environment, if you can imagine taking care of somebody — digging a flat spot, boiling water, trying to ration your food, ration your water, keep yourself warm — he did an amazing job.”

Park service praised
Cooley and Richards were described as experienced climbers who had scaled Rainier before. This time, they were trying to scale the peak by Liberty Ridge, one of the mountain’s most difficult climbing routes. The had tried that route once before, but bad weather forced them to take an easier route.

Cooley’s parents, Sam and Trig Cooley, flew west after learning of the accident.

“The park service has been absolutely fantastic,” Sam Cooley said. “It has been a long weekend for us.”

Cooley’s aunt, Kristi Witker, of New York City, earlier described him as “an excellent mountain climber” but added that “in my last conversation with him, I said, ’Please give up mountain climbing. You’re just getting to that point where you’ve been so lucky and nothing’s ever happened, but luck runs out.’ “