Joe Puryear, a former Mount Rainier National Park climbing ranger, died Tuesday (Tacoma time) in a climbing accident on 24,170-foot Labuche Kang in a remote region of Tibet.
Mike Gauthier, the former supervisory climbing ranger at the park, learned this morning that Puryear apparently fell 1,500 feet after breaking through a cornice while ascending the peak.
He was climbing with David Gottlieb, the park’s lead climbing ranger, when the accident occurred.
Gauthier said Gottlieb did not see the incident. Apparently Gottlieb ascended to the top of a ridgeline only to find Puryear’s tracks leading to a broken ledge. Gottlieb climbed down 1,500 feet to find Puryear, who did not survive the fall. A short time later, Gottlieb retrieved the satellite phone the two had with them and he was able to make a call home.
According to a blog following their expedition, climbtibet.blogspot.com, the two climbers had been battling poor weather conditions for the last two weeks.
The two climbers were hoping to find new routes on the massif, Puryear wrote on the blog. The peak had been climbed once, via the West Ridge, in 1987 by a Tibetan-Japanese expedition.
“Our plan is to head into the south side of Labuche Kang and make our way to below the giant south faces of the massif, where likely no foreign expedition has ever explored,” He wrote on Sept. 7.
Puryear joined the climbing ranger staff in 1996 and spent four seasons at the park.
“He joined the staff at Camp Schurman … with Mark Westman and Lara Bitenieks,” Gauthier wrote in an e-mail. “They represented a new cadre of skilled climbers who together helped changed the way our climbing rangers did business and served the public for the National Park Service.
“For two years, Joe led the climbing rangers on the east side of Mount Rainier and participated in many difficult rescues. He was greatly respected for his climbing skills and ability manage complex situations both on the mountain and in the front country,” Gauthier wrote.
“He was a nice guy, a good climber. He was a friend to a lot of people,” said Eric Simonson, co-director of International Mountain Guides.
After leaving the park, Puryear’s mountaineering career included writing books on climbing in the Alaska Range and in the desert of Southwest America. He also was doing product development for Sherpa Adventure Gear.
The Leavenworth resident is survived by his wife, Michelle.