1 climber killed, 2 hurt in rockfall that swept through camp on Mount Rainier

The rockfall swept through the site where six climbers were camping on their way to the summit of Mount Rainier, park officials said.
Image: Mount Rainier
The northwest side of Mt. Rainier from Fort Lewis, Wash. on June 18, 2004.Ted S. Warren / AP file

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By Phil Helsel

One person was killed and two others were injured when they were caught in a rockfall on Mount Rainier Wednesday night, the National Park Service said.

Search-and-rescue teams reached the victim, the two injured climbers and three others who were uninjured on Thursday. The rockfall happened at an elevation of around 10,400 feet and was reported about 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to Mount Rainier National Park.

The six people, who were in three pairs of two, were camping at the site on their way to the summit of the mountain, which is 14,410 feet above sea level.

The climber who reported the rockfall to 911 was on the Liberty Ridge route, the park said. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office told NBC affiliate KING of Seattle Friday that the climber who was killed was Arleigh William Dean, 45, of Alaska.

A spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle said that the hospital received one patient, a 37-year-old man, who was in serious condition. He remained in intensive care in serious condition Friday morning, the hospital said.

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The park said the climber who was airlifted to Harborview was the most seriously injured of the two hurt climbers. The second injured climber was taken to a hospital in Morton, Washington, which is southwest of Mount Rainier National Park.

Park rangers responded Thursday morning and used a helicopter to locate and retrieve the climbers, and the three uninjured climbers were flown off the mountain at 4:45 p.m., the park said.

The climbers involved were not with a guide service, KING reported. The station reported that about 10,000 people a year register to summit Mount Rainier.

The Liberty Ridge route is said to be one of the more technical and advanced routes on Mount Rainier.

All six caught in the rockfall are experienced and capable climbers, said Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.

There is no time in the climbing season that is without risk on Mount Rainier, but this time of year is considered a "sweet spot" — too late for spring storms and blizzards that can add risk, and before warmer weather can increase the chance of rock falls, Bacher said.

Bacher said the rockfall happened in a remote location late Wednesday, around dusk, and at a location considered too hazardous to get to before Thursday morning. The person who died is thought to have died immediately after the rockfall, he said.

The difficulty of the Liberty Ridge route is part of the draw for climbers, Bacher said. "It's a breathtaking route," he said. "Pitting yourself against the challenge and the risk is part of the attraction for climbers."

Deaths on Mount Rainier have in recent times averaged at about two per year, although there is a lot of variability between seasons, Bacher said.

In 2014, six climbers died in what is believed to have been a fall of 3,300 feet near the party's last known location at 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge, the park said at the time. Their bodies have not been found.