4 climbers stranded on treacherous Mount Rainier route; military helicopter assisting in rescue attempts
By ASIA FIELDS | The Seattle Times | Published: June 5, 2019
SEATTLE — Rangers at Mount Rainier National Park are attempting to rescue four climbers stranded on the challenging Liberty Ridge route to the summit and issued an emergency closure for the route Wednesday.
The climbers became stranded at 13,500 feet, below Liberty Cap on the north side of the mountain, Monday afternoon after high winds blew away or destroyed their tent and climbing equipment. The wind and poor visibility have prevented rescuers from reaching them with helicopters, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said in a statement.
Park rangers, along with the military, were preparing ground rescue operations Wednesday afternoon. Attempts to rescue the hikers by air will continue, although inclement weather is expected to continue to prevent these efforts, Bacher said.
One climber died and two were injured on the Liberty Ridge route last week, after their group got caught in rockfall at about 10,000 feet in elevation. The route is known to be treacherous even in good weather, as climbers face a steep ascent and risk from avalanches, crevasses and rockfalls.
The group had been climbing for three days when they became stranded Monday. The climbers have been identified by Bacher as: Yevgeniy Krasnitskiy of Portland, Ruslan Khasbulatov of Jersey City, and Vasily Aushev and Kostya “Constantine” Toporov of New York. At least two have been described by family as experienced climbers, Bacher said.
After receiving a report of stranded climbers, a park helicopter surveyed the route at 4 p.m. Monday. They found the climbers signaling for help, but 30 mph gusts of wind made rescue impossible using short-haul techniques, which involve transporting people by rope under a helicopter, Bacher said.
The wind also prevented rangers from dropping off equipment to the climbers. The supplies instead were dropped off about 1,500 feet below the group, where conditions were better for flying, in hopes they could climb down to reach it.
Rangers tried to reach the climbers twice Tuesday, who by then had descended about 250 feet to a spot that was more sheltered, but still dangerous. Heavy winds again got in the way of rescue efforts, and a later attempt was hampered by a layer of clouds.
A U.S. Army Chinook helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord arrived Tuesday afternoon to assist in the rescue, along with three pararescue jumpers from the Air Force’s 304th Rescue Squadron in Portland. Poor visibility and heavy wind kept them from reaching the climbers twice.
Rainy, cloudy weather kept rescuers from attempting to reach the climbers by air Wednesday. Rangers decided Wednesday evening to prepare for rescue efforts on the ground and by air.
The route will remain closed until the rescue is complete.